Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 3/27/12
It's that time of year... Spring practices are in full swing and there is optimism from campus to campus. What's the best way to get the pulse of Irish Nation? A mailbag! Many of you sent in questions and/or concerns via Twitter and e-mail, now let's start this Spring off right.

Can you give me an idea on how we plan on navigating this brutal schedule? - @Tyler_Nohe
Just to make sure, everyone has seen the schedule, right? Tyler chose the perfect word; brutal. The 2012 schedule includes: vs Purdue; @ Michigan State; vs Michigan; vs Miami; vs Stanford; @ Oklahoma; vs Pitt; @ USC. That's eight brutal games with the three most brutal being on the road! Now, that doesn't mean that the Irish can't navigate through it with success. If I were a betting man, I would say the OU & USC games would be the only ones in which the Irish are not favored. Notre Dame will have to have a crisp offense to get through this schedule. Snapping the ball with a few seconds left on the playclock, not knowing the play and miscommuncations can't happen next season, otherwise things are going to get ugly. 

Who challenges for playing time opposite Manti Te'o? Do Kendall Moore & Jarrett Grace have a shot or is it Dan Fox & Carlo Calabrese? - @ajirish2008
The early leader is Dan Fox. However, there is a lot of time remaining between now and opening day, and this spot is wide open. Don't be surprised to see Calabrese make a big push for significant playing time. The dark horse? Kendall Moore. Moore is very gifted athletically and would make for a nice compliment to the run stuffing ILB's that are on the roster. This will be an interesting battle to watch this Spring. 

What are we going to do at CB? This is a big problem!! - Ben C. Ames, IA
A big problem, indeed. Don't panic yet, there are some pretty good athletes competing for playing time. The starters are probably going to be Lo Wood & Bennett Jackson, both superb athletes that got some playing time last season. Wood had an interception return for a touchdown in the Maryland game, and played a steady corner when he was able to get on the field. Jackson, a converted WR, is a top-notch athlete that also played well in his limited time last season. Other than that, Jalen Brown could be a big surprise for Irish fans. Michael Floyd used to rave about how difficult it was to go up against Brown in practices, and he'll definitely see the field in 2012. Josh Atkinson (another fantastic athlete) and Cam McDaniel will round out the CB position, and will provide depth.

Outside Linebacker... Who ends up playing where? - @PatEllis07
Tons of athletes to choose from, so this will be a developing story through the spring and beyond. The only lock is that Prince Shembo will start, other than that, it's going to depend on who steps up and earns it. Personally, I would love to see Ishaq Williams earn a starting nod. I love athletes on the outside, and Williams definitely fits that mold. He's uber-athletic and can really get after the QB, and he also held up better than expected in run support in the little amount of time he received last year. Another name to keep an eye on is Danny Spond, he will compete for the starting nod opposite Shembo as well, and is a great tackler. Finally, Ben Councell is not to be forgotten. Councell is another good athlete that can offer run support as well as get after the QB. It's going to be an interesting battle this Spring.

Any feeling on who the starting QB will be? - Matt S. Fishers, IN
At this point, no. Personally, the only thing I'm comfortable saying is that it won't be Tommy Rees. I think Brian Kelly has seen enough of that movie before and is ready to move on, looking to get a more mobile QB in the mix. If I were to handicap the race at this point in time, I would make Everett Golson the favorite. Andrew Hendrix will also receive a long look, as he showed flashes of solid play in his limited opportunties last season. While most people expect Gunner Kiel to be redshirted, don't be surprised to see him get a serious look for the starting nod. Brian Kelly has made it very clear that he does not bring in Freshman to redshirt, and Kiel is possibly the most polished QB already. This will be a continuing national story and will probably stay that way until fall practice. 

Will anything change on punt returns? - @CBumbaca
Well, let's hope. Notre Dame had a historically bad season last year when it came to punt returns. After a few early fumbles, the coaching staff pretty much did away with even attempting to return punts.  That should change this season, as there are plenty of qualified candidates to take over the return duties. Theo Riddick, Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson will all be given a chance. However, I would love to see Davonte Neal given the chance to show what he can do. Neal is an explosive athlete in every sense of the word and is seemingly perfect to be a kick/punt returner. Expect the coaching staff to spend time on this aspect moving into next fall, as Special Teams is a big area in which they are looking to make improvements. 

OL Depth - If injuries happen, can backups compete with OU, USC & Stanford DL's? - @Baergames
To start off, with or without injuries, any OL would have trouble competing with those defensive fronts. With that being said, I feel pretty good about the Notre Dame OL this season. Obviously, an injury to Zack Martin would really hurt, being the best Tackle on the team. Yes, an injury to Cave would be a big blow too, but remember that Mike Golic Jr played very well in his absence last season and will be back to back him up again. While any team would have trouble after losing some of their big boys to injury, Notre Dame is in better shape than most as far as depth goes. 

What kind of impact can we expect Amir Carlisle to have? I'm excited to see him play. - Callahan R. Granger, IN
As am I. Much of this is going to depend on what Brian Kelly decideds to do with Theo Riddick. Riddick has been moving around and playing a little bit of everywhere thus far, but as long as Carlisle is healthy I expect to see him stick at WR for the most part. Cierre Wood is the obvious top dog in the backfield, and deservedly so, but Carlisle has speed that Wood doesn't possess and will be able to bust open big plays. Remember, George Atkinson III is also going to be in the mix, so it could be crowded backfield. Carlisle did get injured early on in the Spring, which is a little disappointing but hardly a setback. He'll be ready to go come this fall. 

WIll Jamoris Slaughter have the type of year that could vault him up draft boards? - @Andrew_Orcutt
In my opinion? Yes. I felt ten times better anytime Slaughter was on the field last year. The best thing about him is the versatality he brings; Strong Safety, Free Safety, Outside Linebacker... he can really do it all. If you were to glance at Slaughter, you wouldn't think he has the strength he does. He's a strong, gifted tackler and can play the ball in the air pretty well too. Don't be surprised to see NFL scouts give him a hard look as the season progresses. 

Twitter: @oconnorkyle

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