Our series looking at players to watch this spring continues with No. 4.
4. Redshirt sophomore DL Jarron Jones
It is no secret that Notre Dame's defensive line is taking major hits going into 2014, losing two potential first-round draft picks in Louis Nix III and Stephon Tuitt. But the line suffered a number of significant injuries last season, and it allowed some younger players to step into the spotlight a little bit sooner than probably expected.
One of those players was Jones, who emerged down the stretch last season after growing up pretty quickly. Slacking on the field and in the classroom, he was demoted to the scout team in the lead-up to the USC game Oct. 19. Injuries forced him into significant action on Senior Day against BYU, and he stepped up, blocking his second kick of the season and tallying seven tackles, a number that raised quite a few eyebrows considering he had just seven career tackles entering the contest.
"I just see [Dan] Fox, eight tackles, Jones -- I'm like, TJ Jones? I was like, 'Wow, seven,'" left guard Chris Watt memorably said after the game, talking about the stat sheet. "That's good for us, having younger guys stepping up in this program, especially going into next year."
Jones was moved from outside to inside, where the Fighting Irish also lose Kona Schwenke. He ended up starting the regular-season finale at Stanford, tallying four tackles. At 6-foot-5.5, 305 pounds, he is no Nix, though few are. Still, the starting spot will be there for the taking, and Notre Dame hopes Jones can ride some of that late-season momentum into spring practice, where opportunities await a defensive line that won't quite have the same expectations that last season's unit did. There is a new defensive coordinator in Brian VanGorder as well, so seeing how both sides adapt to a scheme that Brian Kelly says will remain a 3-4 base (but still adjust to a 4-3 at about a 50/50 rate) is worth keeping an eye on during the spring.