Friday notes: Recruiting, recruiting, recruiting

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It seems like many of you are searching for recruiting news. There are plenty of places out there on the net to get your fix, but it might cost you ten bucks a month. It’s money well worth it at a few different sites if you want to know who’s visiting who, and when it’s happening, otherwise you’re stuck with me. I’ll do my best to keep up with the ins and outs of recruiting better over the summer months. 

That said, there’s some great free information out there, too. Brian Smith’s blog over at IrishSportsDaily.com has been some great reading the past few weeks, and earlier in the week he put together a  great run down of Notre Dame’s recruiting targets and who is likely to receive a scholarship offer this summer, and who might even be ready to pull the trigger and commit. 

Here’s a taste:

Two recruits that appear to be the best bets to commit to ND by early
July should not surprise anyone.  Both of the Dixie products do not
hide their affinity for Notre Dame.

Ben Councell, OLB, 6-5, 220, Asheville, N.C.,
(Reynolds) — It’s rare to find linebackers with a knack for defending
the pass.  Councell’s proficiency within that particular area makes him
more than just an ordinary linebacker target.  The height and wing span
will also help Councell adapt to the college game.  Councell plans to
roam through North Carolina to visit a few schools before sojourning to
Notre Dame this summer.

Aaron Lynch,
DE, 6-6, 245, Cape Coral, Fla., (Island Coast) — If Lynch inhabits the
Notre Dame campus during the month of June, as he plans to do, that
will likely be enough for him to conclude his recruitment.  Perhaps
Lynch will need further proof that Notre Dame should be his future alma
mater, but do not expect him to drag his recruitment out past this
summer.

There’s plenty more to dig through, so those of you that are getting on me about recruiting news, that’s one good place to look.

*****

While the info isn’t free, Tim Prister of IrishIllustrated takes a look at outside linebacker recruiting. It’s a key position for this year’s recruiting class, with the depth chart heavy on upperclassmen right now. 

From Prister:

Smith and Neal are in their final years of eligibility,
and Fleming and Filer begin the home stretch of their two remaining
seasons with the Irish. The only other scholarship outside linebacker in
the spring was sophomore Dan Fox, who did not play as a rookie in ’09.

Help is on the way with the freshman class that
arrives for summer school next month. But it’s uncertain as to exactly
which of the incoming freshmen will play outside linebacker. Danny Spond
appears to be the most likely candidate.

In other words, by the time any of the names on
Notre Dame’s outside linebacker recruiting list would arrive in South
Bend to begin their collegiate careers, Smith and Neal would be gone,
Fleming and Filer would be in their final years of eligibility, and Fox
and the freshmen would just be getting started.

Translation: the Irish need at least two outside
linebackers in the 2011 recruiting class, and a third probably wouldn’t
hurt.

Currently, there are six outside linebacker
prospects on Irish Illustrated’s defensive master list. They are Clay
Burton from Venice, Fla., Anthony Chickillo from Tampa, Fla., Ben
Councell from Asheville, N.C., Christian French from Cedar Rapids, Iowa,
Anthony Rabasa from Miami, Fla., and Ishaq Williams from Brooklyn, N.Y.

The Irish would be happy with any one of these guys (or two), and will likely have their shot with most of them. Burton has the Irish in his top two behind leader Clemson, but will be visiting the Irish this June and already has his official visit set for September 11th versus Michigan. He’s also got Tony Alford recruiting him, so the Irish have to feel good about their chances.

Chickillo has the most impressive offer list of any of the players and is the son of former Miami Hurricane Tony Chickillo. He lacks the size of some of the other guys, but he’s as close to a ready-made football player as the Irish will find. He plans to visit the Irish this summer with his dad and again Tony Alford is on the case.

Councell is a long and lanky player, at 6-foot-5, 220-pounds he has some growing into his body to do, but he’s got a high ceiling and is a raw athlete that has elite speed and is a great student. He lacks the offers that most of the other OLB targets have, but certainly fits the big-skill mold Kelly looks for in edge players.

Speaking of raw athletes, Christian French is one of the more intriguing ones out there. The Iowa native has been clocked in the 4.4s, ridiculous when you see his 6-foot-6, 220-pound frame. French logged a 11.18 100 meter time at the prestigious Drake Relays, so his wheels seem legit. His offers are mostly Midwestern, and his position is still in question, but if properly coached up, French could turn into a freakish player off the edge. 

Rabasa hails from Miami, playing in a premiere conference and putting up silly numbers. At 6-foot-3, he doesn’t have ideal height, but he’s a terror on the football field, the kind of guy that Brian Kelly and company are making a priority to get. Rabasa has guaranteed Notre Dame an official visit this fall, and he’s already comfortable playing the outside backer position in the 3-4, something he does in high school.

Williams is a truly national recruit, and his raw skill set has colleges coast to coast offering the Brooklyn product. He’s playing things close to the vest, hasn’t scheduled a visit to Notre Dame yet, but would be a major get for the Irish if they can manage to reel him in.

*****

While it isn’t Freekbass, our friends over at HerLoyalSons.com pulled up a cool video that unearthed a tradition that I didn’t know about either: The Irish Trumpets.


It’s not my favorite Irish video, but it’s a really well put together clip that highlights another great tradition. And it won’t get you laughed at by your work colleagues, so that’s a plus.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”

Hiestand key to Ronnie Stanley’s ascent

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
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With Ronnie Stanley ending Notre Dame’s top-ten draft drought (seriously, we are running out of things to complain about), the Irish left tackle became Baltimore’s answer for a cornerstone along their offensive line. And as Ozzie Newsome, John Harbaugh and the rest of the Ravens well-respected staff did their due diligence, credit was heaped onto offensive line coach Harry Hiestand.

“One of my very best friends in coaching is Harry Hiestand,” Harbaugh said. “I talked to Harry a long time…all about Ronnie and he couldn’t speak highly enough about his character, to his intelligence, to his toughness. So you have people you trust in the profession and that goes a long way.”

That opinion of Hiestand is hardly specific to Harbaugh. It’s actually one of the many reasons Brian Kelly hired Hiestand when the Irish and Ed Warinner parted ways. Here’s Notre Dame’s head coach from his initial press release introducing Hiestand as his new line coach.

“When I was searching to fill this position, I asked some of the most respected offensive line coaches in football whom they would recommend,” Kelly said. “And Harry’s name was routinely mentioned as one of the best. His history of developing NFL-caliber offensive linemen speaks for itself, and I know our linemen will learn a lot from him.”

In an era where developing offensive lineman—not just at the college level but for play in the professional ranks—what Hiestand is doing is pretty special. Zack Martin certainly stands above the rest already, a Pro Bowl and All-Pro performer just two years after being a first round draft pick. Chris Watt was selected in the third round by the San Diego Chargers, and expect Nick Martin off the board by the time the evening is over.

 

For as surprising as Hiestand’s effectiveness is on the recruiting trail, maybe it shouldn’t be after you hear the raves that come from those that appreciate his work. That’s especially important as NFL coaches like Pete Carroll bemoan the lack of fundamentals some offensive linemen possess as they prepare for life in the professional ranks.

Here, CoachingSearch.com’s Chris Vannini pulled an interesting snippet from the Super Bowl winning head coach, with the Seahawks taking the drastic approach of converting defensive lineman at the NFL level because they think they’re better suited for the physicality.

“The style of play is different,” Carroll said. “There will be guys that we’re looking at that have never been in a (three-point) stance before. They’ve always been in a two-point stance. There are transitions that have to take place. In the last couple years, we’ve seen pretty strong adjustments by college offensive coordinators to adjust how guys are coming off the ball. They’re not as aggressive and physical-oriented as we like them to be.

“It is different. There is a problem. I looked at a couple guys this week, and I couldn’t find a running play where a guy came off the ball and had to knock a guy off the football. There wasn’t even a play in the game. It’s hard to evaluate what a guy’s gonna be like. We learn to, but it’s not he same as it’s been.”

The good news for Irish fans, especially after having to replace back-to-back first-round left tackles, is that there’s more talent coming through the pipeline. Mike McGlinchey’s move to the left side is already taking root. Left guard Quenton Nelson has earned raves from Kelly. Projected starting right tackle Alex Bars sounds not that far off, either.

In Stanley, the Irish found a talented high school athlete and molded him into a first-round pick. They did so even as he battled injuries that made it hard to dedicate time in the weight room, and bounced him around the offensive line from the right side to the left to find him playing time. Yes, he was a four-star recruit. But as we saw last night, star-rating takes a very large backseat to development.

With Stanley joining rarified air—he and Will Fuller make 66 first-round selections in program history—the Las Vegas native goes up on the wall as an aspiration for present and future Notre Dame lineman.

Just as importantly, he’s another tip of the cap to Hiestand.

 

For more reaction to the NFL Draft, give a listen to the latest episode of Blown Coverage, my podcast with John Walters. 

Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller taken in first round of NFL Draft

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller were taken in the NFL Draft’s first round. Both came off the board on night one, with Stanley the first offensive tackle taken and Fuller the second receiver selected.

Stanley joins the Baltimore Ravens, a key addition to a franchise needed help along the offensive line. He’s Notre Dame’s first Top 10 pick since 1994, ending a draught that’s spanned since Bryant Young was taken by San Francisco.

Fuller will join a Houston Texans offense that just spent major money on quarterback Brock Osweiler and running back Lamar Miller. To back up that investment, the Texans added college football’s most dangerous deep threat, trading up to spot No. 21 to pair Fuller with DeAndre Hopkins on the outside.

Linebacker Jaylon Smith was not selected in the first round. Both he and Myles Jack, widely considered to be Top 10 talents, slid down the board because of knee injuries. (Both also have loss-of-value insurance policies, cushioning that blow.)

The draft continues tomorrow with rounds two and three. Smith should be selected then, along with Sheldon Day, Nick Martin, and potentially C.J. Prosise.

Demetris Robertson set for Sunday decision (finally!)

Demetris Robertson
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Five-star recruit Demetris Robertson is ready to make a college decision. Finally.

Months after National Signing Day, the last recruit on the board for Notre Dame is ready to pick the place he plans to go to college. And after setting an announcement date for Monday, Robertson is even pushing things forward, with a Sunday decision now in the books.

For Irish fans still paying attention to the twists and turns of this recruitment, Robertson will announce his decision from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. (An homage to Jimmy Clausen, anyone?)

Here’s Rivals.com with the news after talking with Robertson’s brother and guardian.

“We were going to have it on Monday, but things got mixed up so we moved it up a day,” Carlos Robertson said. “It will be at 1 p.m., right there in that 1-2 time frame, somewhere in there.”

But it’s happening.

“His mind’s made up,” Carlos Robertson said. “Everything’s locked, but he wanted to have it, have a little public deal, but I think he knows where he wants to be.”

Robertson also cleared up why the decision is being held in Atlanta.

“We’re not from Savannah, we’re actually from right below the Atlanta area, so it will give everybody, the aunts, the uncles, everybody a chance to come,” he said. “It only made sense.”

While this recruitment has felt like a soap opera, it’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no reason to fault Robertson for making this decision on a timeline that he decides. National Signing Day may feel like a holiday to college football fans, but it’s really just the earliest date a letter-of-intent can be signed.

With hopes of gaining admittance into Stanford, Robertson reportedly retook his ACT multiple times, trying to make a better score. Usually that’s cause for applause, not derision. He’s also spent time further evaluating his other options, some closer to home—Georgia, Alabama—others with a significant academic profile—Cal and Notre Dame among them.

The Irish’s pursuit of Robertson has been well documented, including a visit from the team semi-truck. It’s also a recruitment where most are still in the dark. While Notre Dame is certainly still in the running, there’s no gut feeling on this one way or the other, even among those inside the program.

After averaging 15 points a game as a guard for the Savannah Christian basketball team, Robertson is preparing to compete in the state track meet, running multiple sprint events and the long jump. That type of athleticism is what has the Irish coaching staff sold on Robertson as a wide receiver, a potential replacement for Will Fuller (and two other starters) as Notre Dame restocks a depth chart that’ll also feature spring star Kevin Stepherson and incoming freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.

With some feeling home state Georgia has moved ahead in the race, Robertson’s brother Carlos says his younger brother did what was best for him, taking his time and making a decision for himself.

“It was totally his decision, lock himself in the room, however he had to do it. This was something he had to decide on his own,” the elder Robertson told Rivals.com.