A quick look at the extended weather forecast for South Bend, Indiana, gives you no indication that spring is on the way. Early next week is going to be bitterly cold and the temperatures will struggle to get above freezing at any point during the next two weeks. But there is a sign that the better weather will soon be arriving in northern Indiana: Notre Dame is kicking off spring practice this weekend.
After making their way into the College Football Playoff in 2018, expectations will again be high this coming season. Despite some key personnel losses, plenty of talent and experience remain. Brian Kelly has stocked the shelves enough that the battles for vacant positions will be contested by players that were coveted prospects coming out of high school, which will make the sessions over the next six weeks interesting to follow.
5 Storylines to Watch During Notre Dame’s Spring Practice
1. What do the Irish have in Phil Jurkovec?
No matter what football program you follow, it’s all about the quarterback position. That is especially true at Notre Dame. The offensive staff knows what Ian Book can do. He’s an accurate passer with mobility, but he struggled with throws downfield. The trend in college football is that younger, more talented quarterbacks are getting the nod over experienced signal-callers and Jurkovec was a highly decorated prospect when he was recruited out of Gibsonia, Pennsylvania. Book is the starter, that’s not a debate. But this spring we will find out if Jurkovec is good enough to give Book a run for his money in August.
2. Does a lead running back emerge?
Once Dexter Williams returned from his suspension after four games, he quickly became the Irish’s primary ball carrier. In 2016 and '17, Josh Adams ran for more than 2,300 yards and two years prior, C.J. Prosise had a 1,000-yard season. Notre Dame has options at running back, but the question is, are any of them good enough to become the bell cow? Tony Jones has the most experience, but he lacks the explosiveness of the previous three Irish tailbacks. Jafar Armstrong showed some promise early last year, but he got banged up and is still learning the position after transitioning from receiver. Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister will be in the mix, but a close look will be given to early enrollee Kyren Williams. The next few weeks could go a long way in determining if one back steps forward or if it will be a committee approach in 2019.
3. The defensive interior
Notre Dame is fortunate that the four defensive ends that caused so many problems for opponents last fall all return. The changes will occur inside where Jerry Tillery and Jonathan Bonner are longer on the roster. The next wave of players are talented, but beyond nose tackle Kurt Hinish, there is very little experience. Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa is coming off an injury and we will probably not see him at 100 percent this spring, but at least he should be out on the field. Jayson Ademilola will be a factor and early enrollee Jacob Lacey has immense potential as well. Depth beyond those four is a problem, especially with injuries to Jamion Franklin and Hunter Spears, but it will be fun to see who takes charge in the middle of the defensive front.
4. How will the linebacker and Rover positions shake out?
After the the 2017 season, the Irish defensive staff moved Drue Tranquill from Rover to Buck linebacker, a move that was controversial at the time, and the fifth-year senior excelled. Now that Tranquill and middle linebacker Te’Von Coney have moved on, a similar move could be made with last year’s Rover, Asmar Bilal. That Notre Dame has a solid Rover prospect, Shayne Simon, waiting in the wings may factor into the decision. What the irish staff has to determing this spring is whether Bilal is capable of making the switch and whether Simon — or perhaps Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah — can thrive as a starter. Also, it looks like Bo Bauer will get the first look at Coney’s Mike linebacker spot.
5. Kicking game
In most cases, on a team like Notre Dame that as several intriguing positional contests ready to commence, the kicking game would not seem to be one that warrants primary attention. But in this situation, what happens with both the punter and placekicker are of utmost importance. Tyler Newsome’s four years of punting for the Irish are finished and freshman Jay Bramblett was put at the top of the depth chart as soon as he walked on campus six weeks ago. The kicking situation is even more concerning. Justin Yoon left Notre Dame as the school's all-time leading scorer and Jonathan Doerer, a scholarship player from the class of 2017, struggled to even keep the ball inbounds on kickoffs this past year. Preferred walk-on Harrison Leonard will get a chance next fall, but this spring Doerer will attempt to prove that he can do the job.
— Written by Jon Kinne, who has been part of the Athlon Contributor Network for three years, covering the ACC and Notre Dame. Follow him on Twitter @JonRKinne.