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Notre Dame Football: Fighting Irish's 2022 Spring Preview

Tyler Buchner, Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football

After backing up Jack Coan last season, Tyler Buchner will battle with Drew Pyne and others for the Fighting Irish's starting quarterback job

Marcus Freeman came to Notre Dame with guns blazing. Hired as defensive coordinator and linebackers coach on Jan. 8, 2021, Freeman immediately went to work with head coach Brian Kelly and helped secure a recruiting class that featured eight 4-star prospects on his side of the ball while also directing a solid unit on the field.

Now that Freeman has been elevated to Kelly's position, he obviously has several more responsibilities. While he got a taste of what it’s like in preparation for the Fiesta Bowl, it will begin to really sink in as spring practice opens this week. Here are five important things that Freeman must analyze during these sessions.

5 Storylines to Watch During Notre Dame's Spring Practice

1. Tyler Buchner vs. Drew Pyne

You can throw in Ron Powlus III and early-entry freshman Steve Angeli if you'd like, but in reality, the battle for the starting quarterback position will come down to Buchner and Pyne. Most analysts favor Buchner, as the sophomore seems to have more physical tools, got more reps as the backup last fall, and came into Notre Dame as a more publicized recruit. But Pyne is a tough competitor who has been in the system a year longer than Buchner. For Notre Dame to maximize its potential in 2022, one of the two will have to emerge as an impact player.

Related: College Football's Top 2022 Spring QB Battles

2. Sophomore receivers and running backs

Along with Buchner, the 2021 recruiting class was filled with impactful offensive skill players, and with wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr. and running back Kyren Williams heading to the NFL, opportunities await for all of them. Lorenzo Styles caught 24 passes in Year 1, and he could develop into a No. 1 target for the new quarterback. Deon Colzie saw some meaningful snaps, and, along with Jayden Thomas, Notre Dame could have three second-year receivers making major contributions. At running back, junior Chris Tyree will have to fend off two sophomores in Logan Diggs and Audric Estime to claim the starting spot. Regardless of who opens the games, all three will be part of the running back rotation.

3. Offensive line vs. defensive line

There are reports that center Jarrett Patterson and defensive linemen Jayson Ademilola and Isaiah Foskey will be held out this spring, but this will still be an interesting battle to watch. Last spring, it was clear early on that the defense was having its way and that carried over into the regular season when the offensive line struggled early on. Despite losing Kurt Hinish and Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa — and facing the possibility that Ademilola and Foskey are will not participate this spring — the defensive line still has plenty of talent. But this time they will be facing a more seasoned offensive line coached by Harry Hiestand.

4. How will the defensive backfield will be constructed?

Cam Hart at cornerback is a known commodity, but even he is relatively new to the position. Beyond that, though many of the 2021 pieces return, the secondary is a bit of a mystery. Brandon Joseph comes in from Northwestern, and while no one should expect him to be Kyle Hamilton, he should solidify that vacant safety spot. Oklahoma State picked on Clarence Lewis repeatedly in the second half of the Fiesta Bowl, and the Irish must find an answer at the corner opposite Hart. Houston Griffith, DJ Brown, Tariq Bracy, Ramon Henderson, and Xavier Watts all return, and sophomores Philip Riley and Ryan Barnes are ready to compete, so the defensive coaches will have a task in determining who fits best where.

5. Cohesion of the coaching staff

Right after Freeman was hired, it appeared that much of the staff was sticking around. But outside of coordinator Tommy Rees, the offensive coaches are all new. And on defense, Al Golden replaces Freeman as coordinator and linebackers coach while Al Washington takes over for longtime line coach Mike Elston. With so many new faces and new voices, it is imperative that this group is on the same page.

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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.