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What to watch for

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame closes spring practice at 1 p.m. today with its Blue-Gold game.

Here are a few things to look for as the Irish hold their annual spring game in Notre Dame Stadium:

Notre Dame needs playmakers in the passing game: The Irish lost a lot of offense when tight end Tyler Eifert, a former Bishop Dwenger standout, decide not to return for his final year of eligibility and running back Theo Riddick graduated.

Eifert led Notre Dame last season with 50 receptions for 685 yards with four touchdowns, and Riddick was third on the team with 36 catches for 370 yards and two touchdowns.

TJ Jones, who had 50 catches for 649 yards and four touchdowns last season, and DaVaris Daniels, who had 31 catches for 490 yards in 11 games, return to give Notre Dame a good starting point for outside playmakers.

But Notre Dame needs more. Look Daniel Smith to try and show he can be a good outside threat, and Troy Niklas to show he can be more than a blocking tight end during today's game. Chris Brown and James Onwualu could also show what they can do in the future for the Irish today.

George Atkinson III could solidify his starting role: Atkinson ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns as a sophomore, and he will need to do more with Riddick (917 rushing yards, five rushing touchdowns) and Cierre Wood (742 yards, four TDs) gone.

Atkinson isn't alone in the backfield with Cam McDaniel, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown last year, and Amir Carlisle, who didn't play last season because of injury, already on campus, and freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston coming in this fall.

With Carlisle sidelined while recovering from a separated shoulder, Atkinson will have plenty of carries to prove he can be the No. 1 back.

Filling the middle: Jarrett Grace has gotten rave reviews during the spring for stepping into the middle linebacker position that was empty after the graduation of Manti Te'o.

Grace, a 6-foot-2, 248-pound junior, will not be the player that Te'o was for Notre Dame, but a good performance today could help ease some nerves about how the Irish will perform without Te'o.

Safety in numbers: Notre Dame felt good about its safety position last spring with Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter filling starting roles. And that plan was fine, until Slaughter was lost for the season in the third week of last season.

With Motta graduated, the Irish find themselves in the same position they were when Slaughter was injured thanks to Matthias Farley being able to step into the starting role last year.

But like when Slaughter went down, Notre Dame has to figure out how to fill the other safety position.

Today's game could help figure out who will start next to Farley with the performances of Elijah Shumate, Eilar Hardy and Austin Collinsworth.

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