FILE - In this Sept. 12, 2015, file photo, Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe (80) runs the ball in for a touchdown during an NCAA college football game against Virginia, in Charlottesville, Va. Notre Dame is expecting to get a bowl boost from two familia
Andrew Shurtleff, File
December 14, 2015

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame is expecting to get a Fiesta Bowl boost from two familiar faces who missed most or all of the regular season because of injuries.

Nose guard Jarron Jones and tight end Durham Smythe, who were both expected to be starters before knee injuries, have begun practicing with the goal of playing when the eighth-ranked Fighting Irish (10-2) face No. 7 Ohio State (11-1) on Jan. 1. Both sustained medial collateral ligament tears in their right knees that originally were described as season-ending.

''Both those guys will help us against Ohio State,'' coach Brian Kelly said.

Jones, a 6-5, 315-pound senior, was injured a preseason practice on Aug. 14. He tied for seventh on the team last season in tackles with 40, but Kelly said what the Irish missed most with Jones sidelined was a disruptive force inside that would have helped everyone else on the defensive line.

''We didn't have that hard, inside push, which he gives you instantly,'' Kelly said.

Kelly said Jones was tentative in his first practice back on Friday but looked more confident in his second practice Saturday.

Smythe, injured against Virginia in the second game on Sept. 12 and also underwent surgery on his right shoulder, is further along than Jones, Kelly said.

''He has kind of jumped right in there,'' Kelly said.

Tight end has traditionally been a strength for the Irish, who have had five tight ends picked in the first two rounds of the NFL draft in the past decade and another taken in the seventh round. Freshman Alize Jones leads the Irish tight ends with 11 catches, Nic Weishar has three and Smythe has two, along with the only touchdown by a tight end, coming on a fake field goal against Virginia.

The only time in the past 10 years Notre Dame's leading tight end didn't have at least 30 catches was in 2010, when Kyle Rudolph had 28.

Smythe was clearly the best all-around tight end when he was injured and would have likely helped the Fighting Irish - and quarterback DeShone Kizer - in short yardage situations and red-zone passes.

The Irish also are expected to get back leading rusher C.J. Prosise, who sat out the regular-season finale against Stanford with a high ankle sprain, and linebacker James Onwualu, who missed the past two games with a sprained medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

Prosise, who didn't take part in the first two practices, believes he will be ready to play against Ohio State. Prosise said he's started running and his ankle is improving. He hopes to begin practicing Thursday.

''I'm pretty confident I'll be able to play in the game,'' he said.

Kelly said quarterback Malik Zaire, who broke his right ankle against Virginia, is taking some snaps at quarterback in seven-on-seven situations, but isn't able to play in a scrimmage and won't play against Ohio State.

You May Like