Players to watch in the spring: No. 1

Our top player to watch this spring should come as no surprise.

1) Redshirt junior QB Everett Golson

What, were you expecting someone different? By the sounds of most Notre Dame fans after each Tommy Rees throw last season, the Irish had lost a combination of Jameis Winston, Johnny Manziel and AJ McCarron when Golson got himself suspended for the fall because of an academic violation. The good news? The man Golson worked with during his exile, George Whitfield Jr., has worked with plenty of quarterbacks of that talent in his career.

Expecting a Heisman-caliber signal-caller this season might be asking a bit much, but Notre Dame should have a new and improved Golson this spring. He has reportedly put on plenty of weight, tightened his mechanics and even learned to throw the ball with the laces.

Considering he helped author a 12-0 regular season in his lone season of starting, and considering he was one of the few players who did not seem overwhelmed against Alabama in the 2012 title game, the potential is there for Golson to become a much better quarterback than the one we last saw.

His decision to not attend another school last season and to get re-admitted to Notre Dame likely won over anyone inside the locker room had initial doubts about his attitude. Now he will be throwing to a group of receivers who, for the most part, he has little experience with. And if he ever thought about waltzing right back into his old starting spot, well, Brian Kelly put that idea to rest by publicly declaring Malik Zaire as a factor in the quarterback race.

Golson was very close with Chuck Martin, so losing his position coach to Miami (Ohio) probably stung a bit at first. Now we get to see how he works with new quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur, and we get to see him pick up from where he left off last spring, when he had been all but handed the car keys to the offense and had taken charge in a way few could have expected just a short time earlier.

No one at Notre Dame will draw a bigger spotlight, or shoulder a bigger burden, than Golson, and that starts with his official return to Fighting Irish football this spring.