Spring Primer: Notre Dame

If the Irish can settle on a quarterback, it could be a special year in South Bend.

If the Irish can settle on a quarterback, it could be a special year in South Bend.

- by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)

Notre Dame Fighting Irish

2010 Record: 8-5
Spring Practice: March 23 – April 16

Returning Starters: Offense – 8, Defense – 8

Spring Storylines facing the Irish:

1. Fortunately, there may only be one glaring question mark on this football team heading into the summer of 2011. Unfortunately, that big uncertainty comes at the game’s most important position. Dayne Crist has starting experience, loads of raw talent, a touted pedigree, difficulty with consistency, a history with injuries and an almost too perfect name for South Bend. Tommy Rees has an unblemished, albeit very limited, starting resume and limited physical tools. (The Brady Quinn-Joe Montana comparison could only be better if it was actually Joe Montana’s son instead of Rees.) That being said, Brian Kelly hasn’t exactly had trouble finding productive field generals. The best bet is that Crist will get the chance to expand on the flashes of brilliance he has demonstrated in the past. This will be an interesting spring for Golden Domer passers.

2. The defense, which for the first time in years was a major strength down the stretch in 2010, returns all but three starters. Finding replacements for Ian Williams up the middle at tackle and Darrin Walls on the outside looks to be the only issue on defense. Covermen Gary Gray and Robert Blanton were elite recruits who appear to be living up to the hype, so the secondary should be in good hands. The defensive ends on this team, including the nation's best incoming DE class, should also be in great shape. Sean Cwynar will return to the nose guard position with 33 tackles of experience from last season. Can he man the interior or will he need help? This is likely the biggest — and really only — question mark on this defense heading into the summer.

3. Establishing the running game. Robert Hughes and Armando Allen, as well as guard Chris Stewart, have moved on. Cierre Wood showed flashes of electric ability last year — he actually led the team in rushing. Can his smaller frame hold up between the tackles, or will Kelly need to find a bigger, complementary back? Does Kelly's offense even need a three-down workhorse back? With four excellent starters returning along the line — and elite pass catchers stretching the field on the outside — the running game should be plenty productive this season.

4. Notre Dame doesn’t exactly get overlooked too often. This team has the makings of a preseason top ten unit. Loads of returning NFL talent, a rock star head coach and an outstanding incoming freshman class mean the lights will be brighter and more plentiful than usual. It also means that every team on the brutal 2011 slate will have the Irish circled. They have to be ready to take everyone’s best shot. However, Kelly doesn’t seem like the sort of coach who allows complacency.

Redshirts to Watch: DT Louis Nix, OT Christian Lombard, TE Alex Welch, QB Andrew Hendrix

Fantasy Tip: Brian Kelly offenses have been fantasy havens for years. No matter who plays quarterback, Wood, Floyd and Riddick could all be elite options in any league format. Even tight end Tyler Eifert has a chance to be productive at an incredibly thin position.

Early Enrollees: QB Everett Golson, DL Aaron Lynch, DE/LB Ishaq Williams, DL Brad Carrico, K/P Kyle Brindza

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<p> Athlon previews spring practice for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish.</p>

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