Breaking away from the scout team
SOUTH BEND - Percolating at the bottom of the depth chart, most of the Notre Dame football freshmen spend their practice days pretending to be someone else.
In fact, they don't even wear their own uniform numbers, instead donning numbers of opposing players they're supposed to be simulating.
This week, defensive end Kona Schwenke got his old No. 96 back.
"He's practicing with the varsity right now," Irish head coach Brian Kelly said.
Whether the 6-foot-4, 245-pound Hauula, Hawaii, product actually works his way into Saturday's matchup between ND (2-3) and Pittsburgh (2-2) at Notre Dame Stadium is still to be determined, but he's finally ready.
Schwenke grew up just three miles down the Kamehameha Highway from Irish sophomore Manti Te'o and Robby Toma on Oahu's North Shore, but they went to high school on the opposite ends of the island.
Schwenke of Kahuku High followed Punahou's Te'o as the state's player of the year in 2009, then showed up for a January recruiting trip to South Bend in shorts. He put on 20 pounds between his frigid first impression and his arrival for good on campus in mid-June and helped ready himself for college football by playing rugby in the spring.
Juniors Sean Cwynar and Hafis Williams have been solid defensive line backups, but Kelly still wanted to develop a deeper rotation.
"Kona and (nose guard) Louis Nix have done a real good job in one-on-one drills with our offensive linemen," ND defensive line coach Mike Elston said.
Kelly so far has played seven members of his freshman class - quarterback Tommy Rees, cornerback Lo Wood, linebackers Danny Spond and Prince Shembo, and wide receivers Austin Collinsworth, Bennett Jackson and TJ Jones.
Two freshmen have transferred - cornerback Spencer Boyd (South Florida) and safety Derek Roback (now a quarterback at Ohio University) - and one, safety Chris Badger, decided to take a two-year Mormon mission.
That leaves 12, including Schwenke, who still could potentially redshirt, though Kelly said he's not averse to using any of them if needed.
"I don't think we're at that point where we're saying, 'You're probably not playing, because we're five games into it.' " Kelly said. "As we approach the bye week (Nov. 6), that's probably close to where we'd draw the line in the sand."
Kelly cited wide receiver Daniel Smith, of South Bend Clay High, offensive lineman Christian Lombard and tight end Alex Welch as the non-playing freshman besides Schwenke who have stood out at practices recently.
Kelly expects to have an announcement regarding the football future of fifth-year senior center Dan Wenger in the next 24 hours.
Wenger hasn't played this season after suffering two concussions since Aug. 13.
"He went today to see a specialist at the University of Michigan," Kelly said. "I have not sat down with him. I've got some preliminary reports, and I want to talk to him first before we make any announcements."
* Starting cornerback Gary Gray is wearing a protective steel plate in his shoe because of a foot injury.
"We've got him on a bone stimulator," Kelly said. "We're doing a lot of stuff with him. He'll be fine on Saturdays. We just have to be careful with him during the week."
* Offensive tackle Taylor Dever (hamstring) hasn't had contact in practice this week but is expected to do so on Thursday.
* Center Braxston Cave (ankle) took every snap in practice Wednesday and declared himself to be 100 percent.
* Offensive guard Chris Stewart (bruised knee) continues to be limited and may share time with sophomore Chris Watt on Saturday.
* Backup running back Jonas Gray continues to nurse a knee strain.
* Who: Notre Dame (2-3) vs. Pittsburgh (2-2)
* When: Saturday at 3:30 p.m. EDT
* Where: Notre Dame Stadium; South Bend
* TV: NBC
* Radio: WNSN (101.5 FM), WSBT (960 AM)
* Line: Notre Dame by 6.5
* Online: Discuss ND football at IrishFanNetwork.com
* Quoting: "I circled the game on my calendar the last two years, and I circled the game again for this year, and I plan on having a great game." -- Pitt receiver Jonathan Baldwin on the ND matchup.