Notre Dame returns to the field for its spring game on Saturday afternoon. After losing to Alabama in the national title game a couple months ago, the Fighting Irish hope today's exhibition is the first step toward another memorable season in South Bend.
Although more important practices and scrimmages are on the horizon, the spring game is the first real opportunity for Brian Kelly and his staff to see what type of progress players have made. From bulking up to watching film and everything in between, it will be clear which players are putting the work in.
Returning players and fans alike are probably eager to leave those national championship memories in the past. Today's action should help with that. Let's analyze a couple players everybody will be watching during the Blue-Gold game.
What Golson accomplished in his first season of action with the Irish was done through natural ability. He threw for over 2,400 yards and rushed for nearly 300 more while accounting for 18 touchdowns. For a quarterback getting his first taste of college action, it was a solid showing.
That said, there's still plenty of work left to do. Most importantly, Golson must begin to showcase more accuracy, especially on throws where he receives a clean pocket. Those simple pitch-and-catch situations got away from him too often last season.
The other thing the coaching staff will be looking for is a better understanding of defenses. The more Golson is able to read before the snap, the better his chances of finding an open receiver. He needs to start breaking down the schemes at the line instead of always being forced to react to them.
George Atkinson III
The top spot on the running back depth chart is there for the taking, and Atkinson has a chance to establish himself as the clear favorite in the spring game. The junior back averaged more than seven yards per carry in limited action last season.
While the aforementioned Golson should continue to develop, it's unlikely to reach a point where he's capable of carrying the offense. The Irish are still going to need a strong running game to control the pace opposite their strong defense.
Atkinson has never been asked to handle a heavy workload at the college level, so there are question marks about his transition into that role. But he can put at least a few of those to rest with a good outing on Saturday. His playmaking ability should be on full display.
The biggest void Notre Dame must fill heading into next season is the one left by Manti Te'o in the middle of the defense. His production and leadership leave big shoes to fill. Grace now begins the process of showing he can handle the pressure.
After playing limited snaps in his first two seasons, the most important thing for him right now is gaining experience. It doesn't matter if it's on the practice field or in a scrimmage like today, he needs to get as many reps as possible in an attempt to lock down the role.
Having watched Te'o lead the defensive charge for a couple years should give Grace a good idea of what it takes to succeed. Now, he must transform his potential into results on the field. The spring game is a good starting point.