Notre Dame Football: Brian Kelly's Biggest Worries Headed into Spring Practice

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IMarch 4, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 03:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish talks to coaches on the headphones during a game against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Notre Dame Stadium on November 3, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Pittsburgh 29-26 in triple overtime.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

From the perspective of an outsider, life on the mountaintop seems pleasurable and gratifying, though Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly might beg to differ.

Days away from the commencement of spring practices, concerns about the formation of another championship-contending team have begun to creep into Kelly's conscience. 

Despite having returned Notre Dame to national "relevance," Kelly's mind, like any other coach in America, is incessantly churning and spinning, a motor fueled by the drive to succeed. 

That motivation has likely snapped Kelly's attention to a particular few areas of the roster in need of improvement during spring practices. 


Offensive Line

Kelly has made it no secret that his desired formula for sustained success is winning the battle at the line of scrimmage, particularly on the offensive side of the ball. 

With three returning starters in left tackle Zack Martin, left guard Chris Watt and right tackle Christian Lombard, the Irish should boast a solid front line, though replacing former starting center Braxston Cave will be a hefty challenge for Kelly and second-year offensive line coach Harry Hiestand. 

Naming Cave's replacement likely won't occur until fall camp, though Kelly has stated that Mark Harrell, Nick Martin and Bruce Heggie will be the leading candidates. 

Naming a starter is one thing, though; finding an adequate replacement for Cave may prove to be quite another.

Even with three returning starters, the task at hand is to establish a rapport among all five starters, which is anything but a walk in the park. 


Left Inside Linebacker

The Manti Te'o era at Notre Dame has come to a close, culminating in a bizarre scandal that took the country by storm that even led Te'o to appear on Katie Couric's daytime talk show. 

As it relates to football, the Irish will be tasked with naming Te'o's successor. Former commit Alex Anzalone, who has since enrolled at Florida, was destined to fill his shoes, but will now do the Gator chomp in Gainesville, Florida.

Jarrett Grace and Kendall Moore, backups to Te'o the previous two seasons, will compete to earn the job. Another potential scenario to keep in mind would be Carlo Calabrese, who splits time at right inside linebacker with Dan Fox, sliding over to fill Te'o's former spot. 


Running Back

As I wrote last week, Notre Dame will have four candidates vying for the starting running back position during spring practices, though that number will increase to six by the time fall camp arrives, as freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston will enter the fold. 

Kelly, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and running backs coach Tony Alford will need to decide whether to employ a committee approach or go the route of a feature back. 

The committee approach seems like the wise choice, as none of the four available backs on the spring practice roster boast starting experience. 


Free Safety

Zeke Motta's four years at Notre Dame have come to a close, opening up his former starting spot. 

Nicky Baratti was listed as his backup during the 2012 campaign and recorded his lone interception of the season during a 13-6 win against Michigan, though he has stiff competition arriving during the fall in the form of 5-star recruit safety Max Redfield. 

It's widely expected that Redfield will start immediately, though nothing can be stated with absolute certainty at this point. 

Spring practices will give the coaching staff a more complete picture of whether Baratti will be a legitimate contender for starting duties. 


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