By:Kyle Gibson

Of all the position groups these have the least work to do thanks to minimal personnel losses and proven players returning from injury. It seems to be a common theme around the entire team to have impact players rejoining the work force after missing most or all of last season, but none will be as influential as the guys in these groups.


Lost: –

There’s really nothing that can be said here that hasn’t been covered from every angle possible by everyone out there but let’s pretend for a minute that you just became a Notre Dame fan 5 minutes ago. Heading into the 2016 season, the Irish have three QBs capable of starting. It’s a ridiculous embarrassment of riches, it really is. Backtrack to this time last season. Malik Zaire was the hot new thing. The rising Junior who scared off Everett Golson after a strong Spring and an exciting performance as the starter in a big bowl win against LSU. He was going to be everything we wanted and needed from Golson but couldn’t get consistently. Golson 2.0 some called him, with better legs, a strong arm, a ton more confidence and swagger, coachable and a leader. Entering the season he was labeled by many as the most critical player on the team, a “can’t lose” player. After a near flawless performance in the opener against Texas going 19 of 22 for 313 yards and 3 TDs, the Heisman hype train was already warming up its engine. Then week two happened and the shiny new toy that had everyone’s hopes sky high broke a wheel. The hearts of Irish nation cracked wider with every grimace of pain on Zaire’s face as he sat on the ground grabbing his ankle. Enter the redshirt Freshman, DeShone Kizer, who was robbed of quality reps through most of the off-season due to the grueling QB competition ahead of him, an afterthought as the third man down on the totem pole.

The rest is history. A thrilling come back in his first real college action on the road against Virginia was the beginning of Kizer’s nine win season in which he kept the Irish in every game down to the last seconds with the exception of an ugly bowl game against Ohio St. Now he’s the battle tested and proven veteran with a boatload more experience than his counter-part. But it looks like no matter how this “competition” plays out, regardless who’s named the starter against Texas, we’re going to be seeing a lot of both QBs while Brandon Wimbush spends his time not only wearing a red hat as a signal caller on the sidelines, but with a red shirt as well to preserve a year of eligibility.

Tight Ends

Lost- Alize Jones, Chase Hounshell

Looking at those two players lost is a bit of a unique situation. Hounshell was a converted defensive end trying to find any type of role where he could contribute as a graduate student. He did exceed some low expectations but his presence won’t be tough to replace. In fact the Irish have similar project in the works with Jacob Matuska who flips over to TE from the D-Line. Matuska did play TE in high school but his position change was likely a bit forced in the Spring when the Irish weren’t expecting to have Tyler Luatua. With Luatua’s return it hampers the amount of time that Matuska will likely play but it could be an interesting battle in Fall camp.  Both will look to play the role of a big in-line blocker and after an inconsistent year from Luatua last season, Matuska will have a shot get in there if he proves himself. Luatua spent the Spring away from Notre Dame planning to transfer but decided to rejoin the Irish, a move that is proving to be extremely valuable after the loss of Jones. Luatua is an impactful asset due to his size, relegated primarily to blocking duties and even serving as a full back in the back field. He’s on the shorter size for a TE at just a tad under 6’3 but they may look to expand his role and give him more chances in the receiving game this season. If he has the hands, he’ll be a pain to take down after the catch.

The primary all-purpose TE role will be played by returning starter Durham Smythe and Junior Nic Weishar. This time last year there was a lot of hype surrounding Smythe but he didn’t get a chance to show us much after suffering a season ending injury in week 2. He’ll look to get back on track as the main man again heading into this season. Weishar has shown flashes of potential but still didn’t quite break out last season when given the opportunity in Smythe’s absence. We expect both to be improved players this year and although neither seem to have Eifert like potential, they can both be factors in the receiving game. Even if Alize Jones was still in the mix he likely would have been behind both Smythe and Weishar in terms of true TE duties. Jones was expected to be a glorified WR with a TE label, so the impact of his loss probably effects the WR corps more than the TEs. In today’s day and age of elite receiving TEs we often forget about the other duties of the position. With these four options available the Irish have those duties covered.

Running Backs

Lost: CJ Prosise

The only other position as loaded as QB on roster is at running back. As nice as it would have been to see what Prosise could do with a second year at RB, it’s going to be difficult enough to divvy up carries without him. Tarean Folston was another one of those “can’t lose” players heading into 2015 but much like at QB, the effect of his injury turned out to be rewarding. CJ Prosise was for the most part an experiment at RB after shifting from WR in the off-season and Josh Adams seemed like a probable redshirt. Instead two stars were born and things are going to be very interesting now with Folston back at full-strength.

If you haven’t gotten a glimpse of Folston lately he’s added some weight in a good way and looks every part of a featured back. There are no signs of lingering issues from the injury and he’s been getting after it hard so far in camp. Some think that he even looks better than he did before he got hurt. It’s easy to forget a player’s potential and talent when they miss a whole season but Folston is determined to remind us very quickly why he was the unquestioned number one heading into last season. As a very well-rounded back that’s added size and strength, it’s going to be exciting getting to see him back in the offense.

As much as Folston looks ready to go full beast-mode, there’s no drop off behind him. We all watched what Josh Adams could do last season as a raw true Freshman and there’s no reason to think his game isn’t going to improve. The question is how does he handle the expectations that come after a break-out season like that. What’s nice for Adams is that he’s not going to be carrying all the weight and it’s not crucial for him to have a repeat of historic numbers. With Folston back it allows Adams to once again just do his thing without a ton of pressure. There’s always a threat of the old Sophomore slump but Adams is just a natural and he’ll continue to be that home run threat with his speed every time he’s on the field. What’s making things interesting is Dexter Williams. Fans know about Folston and Adams but Williams might be the exciting new piece that has us wanting more. When Adams and Williams arrived as Freshmen together, many had Williams pegged as the better of the two and this offseason he’s showing flashes why. Standing at just a tad under 5’11 Williams has more of your traditional RB size than the taller Adams. While he didn’t get a chance to showcase much of his ability last season, he’s turning heads in camp this year. He’s displaying some serious explosiveness and taking off once he hits holes. All of Notre Dame’s backs are versatile as inside/outside runners and Folston looks like he’ll be much better inside with his added size but Williams could emerge as the most dynamic runner between the tackles, an area where the Irish have been lacking in recent years. That would give this offense a three headed monster at RB, each with different strengths and styles allowing them all to play situational roles. No matter what, all three need to get carries and with the WR corps and passing game still needing a lot of development we could be seeing a heavy dose of the ground game early on in the season. And if 3 talented backs wasn’t enough, true Freshman Tony Jones Jr. is impressing everyone and already has people thinking he deserves playing time. With a strong offensive line that should excel at run blocking, it looks like another really good year of running the ball is in the cards.

Check out the rest of our Reload series here: O-Line/D-Line, Linebackers, Wide Receivers.