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Preseason Coverage

Matthew DeFranks | Sunday, August 25, 2013

Notre Dame’s depth on the defensive line will be tested after losing Irish junior defensive lineman Tony Springmann to a season-ending knee injury, coach Brian Kelly announced at media day Thursday afternoon.

Springmann dislocated his left knee and suffered ligament damage as well. Kelly said Springmann will have surgery and his injury will force freshman defensive lineman Isaac Rochell into action.

“We were hoping we could be a little more patient with Isaac, but we’re going to have to really accelerate that learning curve for Isaac this year,” Kelly said.

Notre Dame’s starting defensive line, anchored by preseason All-American seniors Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, is considered among the best in the nation.

Jones named punt returner

Senior receiver TJ Jones will return punts for the Irish this season, Kelly announced.

Jones and freshman running back Greg Bryant had been splitting time receiving punts during practice throughout camp.

“One of the cores for wanting to be successful is a burning desire to want to do the job,” Kelly said. “I didn’t have a guy that had a burning desire to want to do that job [in the past]. He wants to do this job badly. I mean, it’s important to him.”

Kelly said the Irish were in a safe punt formation 43 percent of the time last season and said Notre Dame will be more aggressive this season. The Irish averaged fewer than three yards per return in 2012.

“We’re going to try to set up some punt returns regardless of some of those field positions where we were in safe punt keeping our defense on the field,” Kelly said. “We’re going to try to set up with some returns.”

Replacing Danny Spond

Freshman linebacker Jaylon Smith and junior linebacker Ben Councell are battling to replace now-retired senior linebacker Danny Spond at the drop linebacker position.

Kelly said before that both players will see playing time, but he has not named a starter at that position.

“You have two guys, one who’s already 250 plus pounds, in Ben Councell, that can obviously play over a tight end,” Kelly said. “If you want to play real physical and have a fullback in the game, play that kind of game, Ben suits that very well, although he can play in space.

“If you want to go three wide, if you want to play an open set, Jaylon has incredible athleticism to be able to play in space. So we really think we’ve got two players there and the depth at that position that we’re very, very lucky, in losing a player like Danny Spond, to have those two guys.”

Backup quarterback options

With senior quarterback Tommy Rees entrenched as the starter under center, senior Andrew Hendrix and freshman Malik Zaire have been battling for the backup spot.

Kelly has said there is a clear pecking order at quarterback, with Hendrix as the No. 2 option and Zaire as the third. Kelly said Hendrix’s game has grown from being a niche quarterback to grasping the entire offense.

“We’re going to take advantage of some of the things he can do,” Kelly said. “He can run. He’s a physical runner. So we may have some more quarterback runs, but it’s not going to turn into an option game with him in there. He can run our offense. So we don’t have to turn the playbook inside out to put Andrew Hendrix into the game.”

Kelly said Zaire would need a special package to enter the game.

“I mean, we would have to alter significantly what we’re doing,” Kelly said. “He’s just not ready to do everything that we want. We’re really excited about him as a player and as a quarterback. He’s just not at that level yet. He’s getting there.”

Golson’s plan for fall

Suspended junior quarterback Everett Golson will be working out in San Diego with esteemed quarterbacks coach George Whitfield for about two months this fall.

Golson will return to the Midwest around Thanksgiving before settling back at Notre Dame around the holidays, Kelly said.

Last season as a sophomore and first-year starter, Golson led Notre Dame to an undefeated regular season and national championship berth. He threw for 2,405 yards and 12 touchdowns before being dismissed from school for the fall semester for “poor academic judgment.”

Contact Matthew DeFranks at [email protected]