10 questions for Notre Dame football

COMMENTARY

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

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Start the countdown: 55 days ’til the Notre Dame football team gets to try out its new artificial turf against Rice.

Between now and then, Irish fans will have to find a way to put the impending campaign into perspective. Here are 10 questions that, once answered, should give folks a pretty good idea of what to expect.

• In the new configuration of the perimeter of Notre Dame Stadium, where will the new Jumbotron be placed?

Couldn’t resist throwing that one in. Just make sure Touchdown Jesus has a good view. It’s not in the plans just yet, but….

• How are those new Under Armour uniforms going to fit?

Good thing Louis Nix doesn’t have to try to squeeze into one of those.

 Who will step forward to play leadership roles this season?

Never underestimate the role that leadership plays on a team. Look at what happened in 2012. Manti Te’o and Kapron Lewis-Moore willed that team to 12 victories. Then again, look at what happened in 2013…

Linebacker Jaylon Smith has the personality, but he’s a sophomore learning a new position (inside linebacker) in a new scheme. Quarterback Everett Golson has that personality, but he has to prove himself after last year’s forced hiatus.

• Who’s going to be the dominant running back?

Stiff competition should make Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and Cam McDaniel better. Folston has the preseason edge.

• Will the Irish schedule be as tough as it seems?

Duh. Florida State, Arizona State and Southern Cal on the road. Michigan and Stanford at home. “Trap” games like North Carolina, Louisville and Northwestern at home.

This is a schedule that would impress a playoff selection committee if the Irish came into the final weeks of the season with one or no losses. But, it’s also the type of schedule that doesn’t lend itself favorably to a defensively-challenged (is that politically correct enough?) team.

• How well will DaVaris Daniels fit in after missing the spring semester because of an academic problem?

As the season progresses, young receivers like Corey Robinson, Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Torii Hunter, Jr., and Justin Brent are going to have their chances to emerge as stars. But, early in the year, Golson is going to want some familiarity. He and Daniels knew each other well from 2012. They have to rekindle the chemistry for the offense to be effective.

• How badly will Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox be missed?

Last year’s starting inside linebackers weren’t the fastest players on the field, but they always had a pretty good idea of where they were supposed to be. There’s something to be said for a guy who can get to the right place on the field, even if he’s not there at precisely the right time. That could be a challenge this season.

 How long will it take freshman Nyles Morgan to establish himself as an impact player at inside linebacker?

Better happen in a hurry. Players ahead of him at the position – Joe Schmidt and Jarrett Grace – are both quality character guys. They’re smart. Schmidt (6-foot-1, 230 pounds), not a gifted athlete, may be too small to take the continuous pounding. Grace has struggled to come back from a devastating leg injury last season. Morgan may evolve into the best long-term solution.

• Can defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme make up for a lack of impact players on defense?

It has to. Heading into the season, Smith and cornerback KeiVarae Russell are the only proven commodities with a swagger on defense. Tackle Sheldon Day still has to show he can excel without talents like Nix and Stephon Tuitt getting special attention alongside of him. It will take some time for other impact players to emerge.

 Does Malik Zaire really have a chance to beat out Golson at quarterback?

Probably not, but that doesn’t matter. What’s critical is that he’s better prepared to handle a relief appearance than Andrew Hendrix was last season.

By the very nature of his game, Golson is going to take hits. He’s added some bulk from 2012, but there could come a time when Zaire gets a call. He needs to be ready.

Feel better now?

Don’t worry, between now and the start of preseason camp at the end of the month, there are bound to be at least 10 more questions.

That’s what makes it fun.

ALesar@SBTinfo.com ¦ 574-235-6318

Is this the year that wide receiver DaVaris Daniels will be a key guy in the Notre Dame football lineup? (SBT photo/JAMES BROSHER)