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Five things: Notre Dame training camp

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For more on Notre Dame football, follow Justin Kenny on Twitter at www.Twitter.com/jkenny_ns

QB battle, defensive front depth among the questions for the Irish

Monday, August 4, 2014 - 12:01 am

Brian Kelly's fifth season at the helm of the Notre Dame football program begins today as the Fighting Irish begin training camp on the campus of Culver Military Academy.

With the season opener against Rice just 26 days away, there are plenty of questions to be answered as Notre Dame adjusts to familiar faces departing and new faces entering the fold.

While media access will be limited throughout camp, here are five storylines to keep an eye on over the coming weeks.


1. The quarterback battle

No position in college football falls under more scrutiny than the quarterback at Notre Dame, and the spot is much more open at this point than many would believe.

Everett Golson returns after missing a season due to academic transgressions, with the initial belief being he would slide back into the starting QB role.

However, Golson was spotty throughout the 2012 season and, to put it bluntly, needed bailed out in a few games by Tommy Rees when he was ineffective. While Golson's play improved as the season progressed, he still finished 36th in the country in total quarterback rating, sandwiched in between Kain Colter of Northwestern and Ryan Nassib of Syracuse.

Meanwhile, Malik Zaire shined in the Blue-Gold Game while looking polished and poised in the pocket. But looking impressive in April and being effective at Florida State in front of 82,000 Florida State fans are two completely different things.

Notre Dame needs whoever wins the job to be a star offensively. This year's team will not have the luxury of 2012 in which the defense was one of the best in the country.

Look for a starter for Rice to be named in the middle of camp at some point.


2. Brian VanGorder's defense

Make no mistake, the transition from Bob Diaco's bend-but-don't break 3-4 scheme to VanGorder's aggressive, blitz-happy configuration is not an easy one. Nearly every player on the field now has a different set of priorities from what they had under Diaco.

Up front, Notre Dame will mix it up between having two pure defensive tackles and two ends and one space-clogging defensive tackle with two other linemen in a three-technique. Instead of playing a two-gap style under the previous system, the linemen will be asked to simply beat the man opposite them and make a tackle.

In this system, the linebackers will be much more active in terms of creating chaos in the backfield with blitzes and stunts. VanGorder's style is to pressure teams into mistakes, instead of Diaco's scheme that was more in keeping everything in front of you and wait for the opponent to screw up.

The Fighting Irish will also display a greater variety of coverages in the defensive backfield. A lot of cover-1 and cover-2 will be seen out of the secondary.

Overall, VanGorder's style is more complex in some areas than Diaco's. Notre Dame may need some time to adjust and grow more comfortable.


3. Defensive line battles

The loss of Bishop Dwenger product Tony Springmann is a big one for a line already lacking in proven, experienced defensive linemen, particularly at the tackle position.

Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day enter the fall atop the depth chart at defensive tackle, but there is a lot of uncertainty after that.

Chase Hounshell is projected as a backup at tackle, but has missed two straight seasons due to injury. Justin Utupo has not seen much action in his Notre Dame career but will also be asked to shoulder some of the defensive tackle load.

In his press conference Friday, Kelly said that pure DTs Daniel Cage and Pete Mokwuah may need to step in and contribute as true freshmen.

Defensive end isn't much better, with Romeo Okwara and Ishaq Williams the projected starters. Behind that duo is a wealth of players converted from other positions and true freshmen, hardly a depth chart that will pass inspection on a casual glance.

But that's not to say the youngsters will not grow up quickly and make an impact. In fact, Notre Dame needs them to.


4. Wide receiver depth

Whether its Golson or Zaire to get the start at quarterback, both will be presented with a wealth of pass catchers who have not played with either in a game situation.

Only Davaris Daniels is a familiar face, playing with Golson in 2012.

Despite the unfamiliarity, there is plenty of talent. Corey Robinson should emerge as a top receiver in his second season while Ben Koyack could be the next big pass-catching tight end at Notre Dame.

The Fighting Irish need Amir Carlisle to rise up in the slot and make some plays, while youngsters Will Fuller and Torii Hunter Jr. could also provide some depth.

There may even be a contributor from the freshman class with Justin Brent and Corey Holmes.

The competition in regards to who emerges at wideout is one to watch over the next few weeks.


5. Jaylon Smith's leadership

The Bishop Luers product returns for his sophomore season as one of the veterans on the Notre Dame defense, showing just how many new faces there are for the Fighting Irish.

With veterans like Dan Fox, Carlo Calabrese and Prince Shembo at linebacker a year ago to show the way, Smith could integrate into the college game rather quietly in terms of taking the reigns in the middle of the defense.

Now, Smith will be looked upon to mentor some players, despite moving to outside linebacker.

Smith has always let his play do the talking on the field, but Notre Dame needs him to step up in a more vocal role. While only a sophomore, he already is one of the best linebackers in the country.