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Friday notes: Tuitt, Diaco’s D, Recruiting and more

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There’s plenty we can talk about, so let’s get it all out there as we enter the final days of the 2011 recruiting season. (Meanwhile in Ann Arbor, new head coach Brady Hoke has  a semi-vacant coaching staff and only 11 commitments, with some hanging by a thread…)

Bravo to Pete Sampson at IrishIllustrated.com for getting the definitive Stephon Tuitt interview. Tuitt recaps what the hectic process was like and why he flipped back to Notre Dame just a day after committing to Georgia Tech. (Here’s a hint — his initials are BK):

“What really shocked me was when he told me multiple times that if I was just some great player out there that everybody loved and everybody recruited, if I was just a good football player, that he never would have came,” Tuitt said. “He said the reason he came was that I’m a great football player, a great character person and to have both of those, to be able to handle myself in public and keep positive eyes on me, that was important.

“That’s like all the work I’ve been doing, not putting myself in the spotlight. I really appreciated that.”

While many Georgia Tech fans have Tuitt’s mom all but forcing him to Notre Dame, Tuitt squashed that rumor pretty quickly, while also explaining to Sampson why he sat down with the Irish coaches after his high school coach announced that he wouldn’t be meeting with anybody other than Georgia Tech coaches.

“Out of respect I wanted to at least give him a chance to talk,” Tuitt said. “When a head coach says he’s going somewhere and he stops the flight and turns it completely back around, then gets all the defensive coaches and they’re sitting in your living room, that was an honor for me.”

Sounds like the man in charge also has some recruiting chops…

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When he’s not being compared favorably to Chuck Norris (by men) and Don Draper (by the ladies), Bob Diaco has turned into a closer on the recruiting trail, something I’ve been talking about since the opening days of Diaco’s tenure.

While it was a bit harder to trumpet Diaco’s virtues after the dispiriting loss to Navy, I take great pride in staying firmly entrenched on the Diaco bandwagon, even if I was the only guy on there for a while. But after a stretch of games that had to be included in some of the most dominating team defensive of the modern ND era, the unit’s improvement has been startling.

Even with a secondary down to two healthy scholarship safeties and three cornerbacks that had seen any playing time, the improvement there (with a huge assist by defensive backs coach Chuck Martin) was amazing.

Here’s your fun fact of the week:

2009 — Yards Per Attempt (Passing): 8.0 — T-99th in the country.
2010 — Yards Per Attempt (Passing): 6.4 — T-28th in the country.

2009 — Touchdown passes allowed: 17 — T-50th in country
2010 — Touchdown passes allowed: 11 — 8th in the country.

We’re going to do way more statistical stuff this offseason that I’m really excited about, but those two stats are pretty amazing when you consider how hamstrung the secondary was this year.

***

While Brian Kelly was back on campus talking to the media today, he’s been visiting recruits homes and keeping his foot on the gas pedal until the ink is dry on Signing Day. We will spend plenty of time talking about the class ND brings in, but every recruit that joins the class likely means one less fifth-year player is coming back to play.

I tweeted it earlier, but it’s official: David Ruffer is coming back to school. But as Notre Dame awaits word on two-way lineman Troy Niklas, running back Savon Huggins, and long-snapper Bryce Haynes, there’s going to be a very interesting game of roster management going on in the football offices at the Gug.

Kelly mentioned that every fifth year candidate has applied for another year, which says a lot about how much the veterans bought into the new regime. Unless there’s a rash of transfers, Notre Dame won’t be able to accept all of them back. While it sounds cut throat, this is a great problem for Notre Dame to have, and finally gets the school a little pub on the fantastic website OverSigning.com, which has been documenting this dirty little secret for quite some time.

***

Here’s some required reading, done by some other websites this week:

* The boys at Rakes of Mallow break down the Zone Read. Great Xs and Os stuff.

* Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune goes deep on this all-things ND football chat.

* ESPN Chicago talks with Aaron Lynch about the chaos of recruiting.

* Bob Davie talks to the Free Press about former Notre Dame assistant coach Greg Mattison and his return to Michigan. Mattison left the Baltimore Ravens to take the same job at Michigan.

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

Notre Dame v Florida State
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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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Restocking the roster: Offensive Line

Notre Dame offensive line
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When Notre Dame takes the field this spring, there’ll be two very large holes in the offensive line that need filling. All-American left tackle Ronnie Stanley is gone. As is captain Nick Martin at center. Both three-year starters leave Harry Hiestand with some big decisions to make in the coming months as the Irish look to fill those key positions and still field a unit with the ability to dominate in the trenches.

The Irish have had incredible stability at left tackle, with Stanley sliding in seamlessly after four seasons of Zack Martin. Perhaps the best six-year run in the program’s storied history at the position, Stanley will likely join Martin as a first-rounder, back-to-back starters at a key spot that often dictates the play of one of the most important units on the field.

Replacing Nick Martin could prove equally tricky. Rising junior Sam Mustipher served as Martin’s backup in 2015, filing in capably for Martin after an ankle sprain took him off the field briefly against UMass. But Mustipher will face a challenge this spring from rising sophomore Tristen Hoge, the first true center recruited by Hiestand and Brian Kelly since they arrived in South Bend.

Kelly talked about 2017 being a big cycle on the recruiting trail for restocking the offensive line. You can see why when you look at the depth, particularly at tackle. Let’s look at the work that’s been done the previous two classes as Notre Dame continues to be one of the premier programs recruiting in the trenches.

 

DEPARTURES
Ronnie Stanley
, Sr. (39 starts)
Nick Martin, Grad Student (37 starts)

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Tristen Hoge
, C
Trevor Ruhland
, G
Jerry Tillery
, T
Parker Boudreaux
, G
Tommy Kraemer
, T
Liam Eichenberg
, T

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Hunter Bivin, T
Quenton Nelson, LG
Sam Mustipher, C
Steve Elmer, RG
Mike McGlinchey, RT

Alex Bars*, T
Colin McGovern*, G/T
Mark Harrell*, C/G
Tristen Hoge*, C
John Montelus*, G
Jimmy Byrne*, G
Trevor Ruhland*, G

*Has an additional year of eligibility remaining. 

ANALYSIS:
It’ll be a fascinating spring up front for the offensive line. We’ll get our first look at potential replacements and see if the Irish staff values a veteran presence (as it has done in the past) or puts former blue-chip recruits in position to become multi-year starters.

For now, I’m putting last season’s backups in line to ascend to starting spots. That’s not to say I think that’s what’ll happen. Hunter Bivin may have been Stanley’s backup last season, but as long as Alex Bars is fully recovered from his broken ankle, I think he’s the best bet to step into that job. Sharing reps at guard—not a natural spot for Bars to begin with—was more about getting him some experience, with the aim to move him into the lineup in 2016. That allows Bivin to be a key swing reserve, capable of playing on either the right or left side.

At center, the decision is less clear cut—especially since we’ve yet to see Tristen Hoge play a snap of football. Size and strength is a genuine concern at the point of attack for Hoge, not necessarily the biggest guy hitting campus. But it sounds like he’s had a nice first season from a developmental standpoint, and if he’s a true technician at the position, he could be a rare four-year starter at center if he’s able to pull ahead of Mustipher this spring.

On paper, the other three starting jobs don’t seem to be in question. Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey are ready to step to the forefront. Concerns about Steve Elmer’s buy-in will certainly be answered by spring, there’s little chance he’ll be on the field in March if he’s not going to be around in August. I’m of the mind that Elmer’s too good of a character guy to leave the program, even if his life doesn’t revolve around football 24/7. Now it’s time for him to clean up some of the flaws in his game, the only starter from last season who held back the Irish from being a truly elite group.

Depth isn’t necessarily a concern, but there isn’t a ton of it at tackle. That happens when you move a guy like Jerry Tillery to defensive line and lose a player like Stanley with a year of eligibility remaining. That could force the Irish to cross-train someone like Colin McGovern, a veteran who can swing inside or out if needed. McGovern seems to be a guy who would start in a lot of other programs, but has struggled to crack a two-deep that’s now filled with former blue-chip recruits, all of them essentially handpicked by Hiestand and Kelly.