Irish fans addicted to offseason news and the sneak peek quality of the Notre Dame practice videos had to know something was brewing when nearly all outlets were shut out for four full days this week. Credentialed media members had their practice viewing time changed from Tuesday to Saturday August 17th where they were informed that releasing news from the facility was not permitted until practice had ended. This rule isn't uncommon but what was revealed by reporters via Twitter and by Brian Kelly at the ensuing press conference changed the face of the Notre Dame depth charts on both sides of the ball and possibly the realistic outlook on the season. Here are the biggest revelations to drop:
1. Danny Spond, who started 12 games at linebacker in 2012, has announced to the team his career is over. Spond was seen at practice walking with a cane. Brian Kelly indicated it was a medical decision and that Spond's family will release a statement soon. Spond missed part of the 2012 Fall Camp and Week 1's game with what was labeled as migraine problems while rumors floated he'd suffered a stroke. Kelly told reporters that Spond would stay with the team as a student coach. Spond's Irish career comes to an end with 52 career tackles and a legacy of respect by all who encountered the former high school QB from Littleton, Colorado.
2. Ishaq Williams is NOT the answer to Spond's injury. A lot can be read into this but former 5-Star OLB recruit Ishaq Williams is not even considered an option to fill Spond's void – a player I've been highly critical of in this space. Brian Kelly took the timing of Spond's loss to tell us that Ishaq was now a full-time defensive end and the primary back-up to starters Stephon Tuitt & Sheldon Day. Count me among the least surprised by this development. Ishaq is an ideal NFL 4-3 end and I expect Defensive Coordinator Bob Diaco to find a lot of ways to use Ishaq all over the field in this role.
3. More injuries: Notre Dame's 6 deep running back stable was cut in half since we last saw any practice footage. Will Mahone, an early favorite for Fall Camp Star, is out for 1-2 weeks with a high ankle sprain putting his availability for Temple in doubt. Cam McDaniel did not practice Saturday and in the hoopla of other big news his status was not updated or commented on by Brian Kelly. Working for answers at the moment. Freshman Tarean Folston was not at practice but the final bit of news we received indicated he'd been excused due to the death in his family. If Mahone & McDaniel's injuries are significant it would open up a role for Folston as the hybrid back vital to Kelly's ideal offense. From ESPN.com's Matt Fortuna when I asked him about what he saw with Cam:
@ManCaveQB Nothing noticeable. Walked around in jersey and no pads. BK won't exactly address minor injuries. Doubt it's anything serious.
— Matt Fortuna (@Matt_Fortuna) August 17, 2013
4. Even more injuries: 3 year starter Chris Watt didn't suit up Saturday and I personally log this as the most important injury update because 5-Star guard recruits aren't stacked behind him. Kelly noted in the press conference that Watt's injury wasn't significant and expects him to be ready for the Owls in 13 days. Stay tuned.
5. Another injury – Tony Springmann, a reserve defensive lineman and role player in 2012, is out for at least 2 weeks and will miss the season opener. Springmann is an important part of the 2013 defensive line rotation and losing him for a significant time with the frontloaded Irish schedule could spell serious trouble.
6. Another 2013 season lost – Freshman linebacker Doug Randolph will not play this fall after scheduling season-ending shoulder surgery. Randolph was a redshirt candidate for Bob Diaco but with outside linebacker corps thinning out recently that wouldn't have been a guarantee. Randoph is the 3rd Irish player lost for the season due to shoulder issues following Chase Hounshell & Nicky Baratti. For Hounshell & Baratti it was their second run-in with shoulder problems while in South Bend
7. Surprise 1st-Teamers: With Chris Watt down it was freshman Steve Elmer taking snaps with the starters at Left Guard. While we praise the depth Brian Kelly has accumulated at multiple positions, it's the offensive line that is still in the middle of an overhaul. Elmer fits the prototype size at tackle and I don't care if he had 10 stars in high school – he'd be a major downgrade at left guard if Watt misses time. What does this mean for Matt Hegarty and Mark Harrell?
8. Jaylon Smith might be as advertised – The jump from high school to college for Indiana's own Jaylon Smith doesn't appear to be phasing him or hiding his elite abilities. Reports from Saturday's practice included him lining up with the first team defense and being asked to cover wide receivers in space. Smith appears primed to grab snaps available due to Spond's injury. It may be a co-starter role for now alongside junior Ben Councell. Councell started against Navy in 2012 but can't match the physical prowess of Smith if the freshman can absorb the assignments of the position.
Extras – Connor Hanratty was the favorite at Right Guard but has missed extended time in camp after also being out for parts of the spring. This has led to 2012 starting Right Tackle Christian Lombard sliding inside to guard and a 1st Team offensive line with Ronnie Stanley at Right Tackle. During Saturday's practice the first unit from left to right was: Zack Martin, Steve Elmer, Nick Martin, Christian Lombard, Ronnie Stanley. If this is the Week 1 unit that is a change of 4 of 5 starters from a year ago. With the Irish moving to a less mobile QB in Tommy Rees and breaking in nearly all new running backs, the offensive line developments from here on now are more vital than I think others are admitting.
The first reaction is one of frustration for a player like Danny Spond who we know put in so much extra work to reach the level of play he attained last season. He's not blessed with many of the physical attributes of Ishaq Williams or even Ben Councell but ever indication from the staff concluded that his toughness, leadership, and football intangibles made it impossible to keep him off the field. Plenty to discuss and there's time for that later.
We'll leave this post with a tweet from former Notre Dame Director of Media Relations Brian Hardin about the news:
Sorry to hear @Dspond13 having to end football career. Amazing guy who will be great success in life whether football is part of it or not.
— Brian Hardin (@BSUHardin) August 17, 2013