FORT WAYNE — Notre Dame opens training camp Saturday, and after Irish coach Brian Kelly addresses the media today, he will have plenty of other things to sort out before the football season kicks off Sept. 1 against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
Here are five things the Irish, who were ranked No. 24 in the USA Today coaches preseason poll Thursday, will need to address throughout camp:
The race to run the offense took a twist as it became a three-man competition for the season opener after last year’s starter Tommy Rees was suspended, along with linebacker Carlo Calabrese, for the opener because of a May 3 arrest.
Andrew Hendrix, Everett Golson and Gunner Kiel will compete to start against Navy, and Rees will be back in the mix for Week 2 when the Irish come home to play Purdue on Sept. 8.
With the quarterback position unsettled and star receiver Michael Floyd in the NFL, the Irish do not have a clear leader on offense like they have on defense with linebacker Manti Te’o. Running back Cierre Wood has the talent, running for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season, to earn respect and is vocal enough to lead. Tight end Tyler Eifert, a Bishop Dwenger graduate, could also emerge as a leader. He had 63 receptions for 803 yards and five touchdowns last season.
Defensive lineman Sheldon Day, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice, has the best shot to contribute right away. Day’s chances of playing increased when defensive end Aaron Lynch left Notre Dame and enrolled at South Florida. The Irish will also likely turn to newcomers Davonte Neal, Chris Brown and Justin Ferguson to bolster a receiving corps with no proven playmaker. Defensive backs Nick Baratti, C.J. Prosise, Elijah Shumate and John Turner can also work their way into the mix quickly in a thin backfield.
The Irish secondary took two major hits in the offseason: Defensive back Tee Shepard left school after enrolling early and safety Austin Collinsworth had surgery to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder. Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta are a strong safety combination, but cornerbacks Lo Wood, Bennett Jackson (a converted receiver), Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown and Cam McDaniel (a converted running back) will have to prove they can secure the edges. Fifth-year senior Dan McCarthy, senior Chris Salvi, Eilar Hardy, who didn’t play last season, and Chris Badger, who returned this summer after his Mormon mission, also provide depth.
Along with getting ready for Navy’s triple-option offense in Ireland, Notre Dame’s schedule has plenty of challenges.
The Irish face five teams ranked in the preseason coaches’ poll, playing No. 3 USC (Nov. 24), No. 4 Oklahoma (Oct. 27), No. 8 Michigan (Sept. 22), No. 13 Michigan State (Sept. 15) and No. 18 Stanford (Oct. 13).