Not quite two weeks old, Notre Dame's 2013 spring football slate has been eventful yet uneventful all at once. Brian Kelly opened the spring season with a press conference two weeks ago tomorrow and less than 24 hours later the media got to take a 30 minute peak at the transformation current members of the Fighting Irish have made since Jan. 7.
That March 20 peak has been the only peak at spring practice in the last two weeks. The schedule was stretched due to Easter break on campus. The team has not held practice since last Wednesday when head coach Brian Kelly went off the script to hold a press conference to announce a pair of transfers and update injuries to his players.
The curtain will again be pulled back this Wednesday morning for a second 30 minute practice viewing, which will be followed by a chance to talk with more Irish players and assistant coaches. With all that in mind, here's a quick look at what we have learned about the Irish so far this spring:
1. Stephon Tuitt had a sports hernia (if you're a regular listener of The Dan Patrick Show, you may also be cursed with the Darius Rucker chorus 'Dan Patrick's got a sports hernia' in your head every time you hear the term 'sports hernia'...or maybe not).
In any case, Tuitt played with the sports hernia for at least the last month of the 2012 season, and his production took a hit as a result. The defensive end was spotted wearing his jersey and shorts while riding a stationary bike at the beginning of that March 20 practice.
Tuitt has bulked-up from 303 to 322 pounds during this offseason. Part of the bulk is due to the intense weight regimen he has been on, while part is likely due to the decreased cardio he is currently able to perform. Kelly expects Tuitt at full speed when fall camp opens.
2. Gunner Kiel is gone. Kiel was the first and most high-profile player to make the decision to transfer from Notre Dame. ISD first broke the story, and Kelly dealt with it almost immediately at his first spring press conference.
"We had kind of created an opportunity for him to compete in the spring," Kelly said when asked if he was surprised Kiel was leaving. "So, maybe (I was) a little surprised from that standpoint, because he was actually told that he would be given an opportunity to compete."
Two other players - Justin Ferguson and Davonte' Neal - made their decisions to transfer last week. The sophomore receivers both played sparingly in 2012. Neal, a slot receiver, was the more highly touted of the two coming out of high school. He appeared to be the heir apparent to the graduated Robby Toma as Notre Dame's slot in 2013.
3. C.J. Prosise may not be cross-training for long. Prosise, another sophomore to be, spent his freshman season as a reserve defensive back, but did not play last season. Kelly announced his intentions to experiment by "cross-training" Prosise as a slot receiver this spring, but his performance and Neal's departure makes him even more valuable at his new position.
"CJ Prosise is doing a great job," Kelly said of his new slot receiver. "I'm really excited about CJ. You'll see a lot of him in the spring. You'll see what I mean."
Prosise's 6'0, 220 pound frame is a big upgrade from Toma's 5'9, 180 stature.
"(He has) nice hands and deceptive speed," Kelly continued of Prosise. "He can pull away, and as you know, in terms of the run game we've got a big guy that can do some nice things."
4. Amir Carlisle is injured...again. Carlisle entered the spring with a fresh chance to show what he could do, but his chance did not last long. After sitting all of the 2012 season with an ankle injury, Carlisle did not make it through Notre Dame's first contact practice of the spring unscathed.
The running back had surgery last Tuesday to repair a collarbone injury suffered during the March 23 contact practice. Carlisle was injured when a teammate came down on his shoulder on a tackle. Kelly had raved about Carlisle's "burst" and "gear" that had not been seen since his arrival on campus prior to the injury.
Kelly termed Carlisle's injury a "minor setback" and compared it to the one receiver DaVaris Daniels suffered last November against Boston College. Daniels was back in action for the BCS Championship Game. Kelly also said Carlisle will get looks as a slot receiver when fall camp opens in August.
5. Chase Hounshell is injured too...again. The defensive end played in just one game in 2012 and missed the rest of the season with a torn labrum. He has already torn it again this spring.
"He'll have to have surgery again," Kelly said last week of Hounshell. "I certainly feel terrible for Chase, because he's worked so hard. After a second injury you can imagine how disappointing it is for him."
Kelly also announced Hounshell will miss all of the upcoming 2013 season to try to let his shoulder heal. The recurring labrum is a potential career-ending injury considering the immense strain football essential exercises like the bench press put on the tendon that holds the shoulder joint together.
6. Kelly expects more NFL flirtations. Kelly downplayed his discussions with the Eagles and said he spoke to his team with "candor" about the situation after they returned to campus after the BCS Championship Game and Christmas break. Kelly said he expects the situation to arise again, because he expects the program to continue on the course that began last fall.
"I think other teams will pursue me in the future, because we're going to continue to win here," Kelly said. "That doesn't mean I have an interest, but I think that's going to continue to happen because we're going to continue to have success here."
7. Kelly likes Jarrett Grace. Manti Te'o's Mike linebacker spot is the most important position to fill on the defensive side of the ball this spring. Grace has already made a strong impression on Kelly, who says he is "pretty excited" about the position.
"Jarrett Grace has obviously done an incredible job or I wouldn't feel that about it," Kelly praised last week. "He's a really, really good football player. He's gonna be all over the field. Will he have seven interceptions? I'm not going in that direction, but in terms of run fit, sideline to sideline (and) communication he's shown himself to be a really good player for us."
Grace has added 13 pounds to bulk-up to 248. Kelly also announced at the start of the spring that Grace was able to bench press 225 pounds 22 times during his conditioning test. He played in all 13 games last season after sitting all of 2011 as a freshman.
8. Center is Kelly's top position priority this spring. Running back comes in second to this vital spot on the line left open by Braxton Cave's graduation. Cave anchored the line with his physicality and stout physique - not to mention 48 games of experience over the course of his career.
"The first thing we have to do is find that center position," said Kelly of his top priority for the spring. "(We have to) really lock that center position down. We've got three guys that we feel physically are capable of playing that position. I think that battle kind of takes itself as the primary battle."
Nick Martin, Mark Harrell and Matt Hegarty are the three top competitors for the job according to Kelly. Martin and Hegarty saw game action last year, but neither has a career start to his credit. Martin played in all 13 games, while Hegarty played in the team's first nine games before missing the last four with a heart issue. Harrell, a freshman in 2012, did not play. He is already up nearly 20 pounds to 305 this spring.
9. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will remain "Will" linebackers. Considering the considerable experience both Fox and Calabrese had playing beside Te'o at the Will position, the initial thought was the two might play side by side rather than splitting time next season. Grace's growth means the fifth-year duo is likely to share the load again in 2013.
"In an ideal world it's Grace and it's Kendall (Moore) at Mike and it's Fox and it's Calabrese (at Will)," Kelly said recently. "But we want to leave our options open if we have to slide, because if Grace has to come off the field because he's banged-up we want to be able to slide Calabrese maybe over there, so he has taken some Mike reps as well."
Fox was Notre Dame's fourth-leading tackler last season with 63, which was also the second-most for an Irish linebacker behind Teo's 113. Calabrese, who started just five games, was ninth on the team tackles list with 49.
10. Joey Brooks may be able to ball after all. The 6'5 (listed at 6'6 with basketball) guard redshirted during the past basketball season with the intent to transfer somewhere next year to play as a graduate student. Brooks remained a fixture on the Irish bench during the season and joined Jack Cooley as part of the winningest senior class in school history.
Brooks has worn No. 81 this spring and has been giving it a go as a tight end. He has already made a solid impression on Kelly.
"What I like about Joey is (he has) no hesitation," Kelly praised recently of Brooks. "He's going in there. He's getting knocked around a little bit, but he's game. I'll give the kid credit, he's game. I didn't know whether he would be tough enough, but he's shown some good toughness and he's a pretty athletic kid, so we're gonna let him keep progressing."
If Brooks shows enough aptitude this spring he will need to hit the weights hard this summer. He is listed at just 222 pounds, while fellow Irish tight ends Ben Koyack and Alex Welch are 261 and 245 pounds, respectively. Freshman early enrollee Mike Heuerman is 6'3 and weights 218.