Will Salvi from Chicago writes: Matt, you're the man. Chris and I are big fans. Coach [Brian] Kelly has been known to use multiple quarterbacks in the past, how likely do you think that situation is given the potential of Malik Zaire and the return of Everett Golson? Their styles seem similar, but they also have a lot of different qualities. Thoughts? Also, the safety situation is delicate, but also exciting. We have multiple safeties with plenty of experience, who do you see coming out with the most playing time. Special teams standout for next year? (I say Connor Cavalaris).Thanks, Matt. --Will
Matt Fortuna: Is this our first mailbag submission from a former player? I believe so! Good to hear from you, Will, and thanks for the kind words. While I expect Everett Golson to be the starter come Week 1, I'd be surprised if the staff didn't find an in-game use for Zaire in some capacity; he's too talented to stand on the sideline for a second straight year. He actually has displayed a level of shiftiness that we haven't exactly seen out of Golson. And given the Irish's red zone issues in recent years, it would not surprise me at all if Zaire received some meaningful action down there in some specific packages inside the 20. As for safeties, I'd be surprised if we saw any two play significantly more than others, if only for the fact that there are so many bodies back there right now and it seems like all are going to get package-specific chances to see meaningful action. (Though I'd expect Austin Collinsworth to be the leader of that unit.) As for Connor Cavalaris, I'll be keeping a close eye on him this season and hold you to that prediction.
Kevin from Tallahassee, Fla., writes: Besides the QB battle, what is the biggest position battle to watch during spring and summer practice?
Matt Fortuna: Hey Kevin, I'd keep an eye defensively on linebacker and the secondary. Notre Dame has moved plenty of players around the field so far this spring, and we have seen much more of a 4-3 front so far. The Irish are very thin inside at linebacker but will get some re-enforcements from a healthy Jarrett Grace and the freshmen who arrive this summer. Speaking of re-enforcements, Cody Riggs will arrive from Florida this summer as well, adding further depth to a secondary that is not lacking for bodies. I don't think the eventual Week 1 depth chart will really tell the story with the Irish's defensive backs, as they have been mixing and matching their safeties (Austin Collinsworth, Elijah Shumate, Max Redfield, Nicky Baratti, to name a few) and corners (KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke, Matthias Farley), all of whom are expected to see significant time this fall.
Kenny Moore from Bluefield, W. Va., writes: As fans we have heard Coach Kelly talk about improving special team play especially on punt returns. Please tell me this is the year it gets fixed?
Matt Fortuna: OK: This is the year it gets fixed.
As for what Kelly has had to say about it recently, here are his comments from March 19, after he said they had practiced it every day this spring: "To me, where some of our shortcomings have been is the allocation of personnel in specific roles. We're spending time in breaking out specific players in specific roles right away. We're working on those fundamentals so they can carry those fundamentals into the summer and work on those fundamentals, so when we get here in August it's not the first time that they're working on specific fundamentals. We're allocating specific players to those fundamentals."
Matt Bortuna from Philadelphia writes: Hey Matt, first off, this is my real name. Difference is Bortuna is pronounced "BORT-eh-NA", a little different than Fortuna. I have a few questions regarding the depth chart. Should us Irish fans expect Cam McDaniel to eventually ride the pine by midseason or sooner if Bryant and Folston live up to the hype? Also, who are the favorites to return kickoffs and punts? Thanks for everything, Matt. Go Irish!
Matt Fortuna: This is incredible. Too bad I don't have any relatives in Philly. Anyway, to get to your question, I don't think we'll see McDaniel riding the pine this season. While I expect Greg Bryant to make a leap and Tarean Folston to continue to build off his strong finish to last season, it would be asking an awful lot of them to become so good that they completely cast aside the team's leading returning rusher last season, especially one who's a senior. As for kickoffs and punts, I'd imagine the two second-year running backs, C.J. Prosise and a couple of other receivers will get chances in the return game, but it's important to remember that the Irish didn't announce their punt returner for last season until late August.