As Junior Day approaches, Irish target new group of recruits

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The ink is dry on the Class of 2011. And while fans are just getting to know the recruits that’ll torment them until next February’s signing day, the Irish coaching staff has already cast a wide net on a group of national targets.

On Signing Day 2010, Brian Kelly all but called his shot, talking about the need to infuse front seven players into a defense that needed size and speed, specifically at defensive end. If you’re looking for a hint at what the coach himself thinks the 2012 recruiting class needs to contain, here’s what Kelly said during his signing day comments:

“I think each year you evaluate what your needs are. I think we have to get some depth at the back end of our defense,” Kelly said. “We have to continue to build depth there. That’s absolutely crucial. I think if you look at the running back position, that’s one that stands out for us. We’re always going to take a quarterback. That’s always in the mix. And probably playmakers, you’re looking at playmakers on the offensive side of the ball as the criteria. Who is the guy that can potentially change the game on offense, and then from a depth position, we have to gain more depth in the back end of our defense.”

Taking aim at the back-end of the defense should definitely be priority No. 1 for the coaching staff, as last year’s lack of depth at safety and cornerback really limited what the Irish were able to do defensively, especially at the beginning of the year when Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta were the only two scholarship safeties available to play.

Even though the Irish brought in four quarterbacks over the last two seasons, they’ll likely be in the running for a few national targets as well, with Maty Mauk and Gunner Kiel two names that the Irish (and their fans) have already taken dead aim at.

With a Junior Day scheduled for next weekend, the Irish will be welcoming a new group of recruiting targets to campus, many for the first time, and it’ll likely be the kick-start to a recruiting class looking to get commitment No. 1 in the class of 2012.

Here are a dozen names you’ll likely be hearing a lot from during this recruiting cycle.

Maty Mauk, QB — Kenton, Ohio: If you’re looking for a highlight tape, this one might be tough to beat.
Gunner Kiel, QB — Columbus, Indiana: He’s an in-state kid with Irish bloodlines and elite national offers.
Keith Marshall, RB — Raleigh, North Carolina: The Irish have had good luck pulling players out of the Carolinas and they’ll need it to reel in a guy like Marshall. (He’s fast.)
Barry Sanders, RB — Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Yep, he’s that Barry Sanders’ son.
Dorial Green-Beckham
, WR — Springfield, Missouri: If there’s an elite wide receiver already at the top of national boards, it’s Green-Beckham, who fits the AJ Green mold.
Amara Darboh, WR — Des Moines, Iowa: Participating in ND’s Junior Day this weekend, he’ll likely be the top player in Iowa this year.
Dwayne Stanford, WR — Cincinnati, Ohio: Another big-bodied leaper, Stanford comes from an area Kelly and his staff have had success in.
Dan Voltz, OL — Barrington, Illinois: Just adding offers from Auburn and Alabama, Voltz will be on campus this weekend.
Andrus Peat, OL — Tempe, Arizona: Another national recruit, Peat is hoping to attend this weekend’s junior day as well, trading in Tempe for South Bend.
Arik Armstead, DL — Elk Grove, CA: Even though he’s a USC commit, Irish fans should enjoy watching ND’s coaching staff take dead aim at the Trojans prized recruit.
Ronald Darby, DB — Oxon Hill, Maryland: Darby ran the fastest 40 at the Under Armor Junior Combine, clocking a 4.31. He’s got the Irish in his top three.
Elijah Shumate, DB — Ramsey, New Jersey: The Jersey native received his scholarship offer from Bob Diaco on Signing Day.

There are much better places to follow the ins-and-outs of Notre Dame recruiting (here, here, here and here) but this is my attempt to at least get some of the bigger names in the recruiting pond out there now, before we get swept into spring ball.

 

Rochell drafted in 7th round; three other former Notre Dame players sign

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All the unnecessary draft conversation may have centered on DeShone Kizer, but the quarterback was not the only former Notre Dame player watching this weekend’s NFL Draft with rapt attention. Aside from Kizer, only Isaac Rochell heard his name called. The San Diego Chargers picked the defensive lineman in the seventh round Saturday with the 225th overall pick.

Rochell finished his Irish career with appearance in 49 of 51 possible games and 167 tackles, including 22 for loss and 4.5 sacks. In 2016, he recorded 55 tackles, good for sixth on the team, with seven for loss.

By the end of the evening, three more former Notre Dame starters had signed on with NFL teams as undrafted free agents. It should be noted, many argue the route available for undrafted free agents is preferable to that of late-round picks. An undrafted free agent can choose which of a handful of situations is preferable to him for whatever reason. A late-round pick does not have that luxury, but still makes a comparable salary.

Linebacker James Onwualu opted to join Rochell with the Chargers. Defensive lineman Jarron Jones signed with the New York Giants. Cornerback Cole Luke latched on with the Carolina Panthers.

Onwualu began his Irish career as a receiver before moving to linebacker before his sophomore season. He finished his career with 143 tackles, including 75 in 2016 with 11.5 for loss and three sacks. His 75 tackles finished behind only now-rising senior linebackers Nyles Morgan’s 94 and Drue Tranquill’s 79.

Battling injuries throughout his Notre Dame career, Jones made 105 tackles with 45 in 2016. His 11 tackles for loss were outdone only by the aforementioned Onwualu total.

Luke made 152 tackles in his Irish career, including 48 last season, and eight interceptions.

Three more players from past years’ Irish rosters could yet find an NFL home—long snapper Scott Daly, defensive lineman-turned-tight end Chase Hounshell and running back Tarean Folston. If any or all do not sign, they can still join teams for rookie mini-camps in hopes of making a positive impression.

RELATED READING: Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

Browns pick former Notre Dame QB DeShone Kizer 20th in second round

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After months of pointless chatter and a night spent waiting, DeShone Kizer’s NFL Draft experience ended Friday night when the Cleveland Browns drafted the former Notre Dame quarterback with the 20th pick in the second round, the No. 52 overall selection.

Originally from Toledo, Ohio, Kizer will have the opportunity to earn the starting job for the franchise less than two hours from his hometown. The Browns trotted out five different quarterbacks in 2016, only two of which remain with the team. Rookie Cody Kessler played in nine games, throwing for 1,380 yards and six touchdowns with only one interception while fellow rookie Kevin Hogan threw for 104 yards and two interceptions in four games.

The Browns have since added Brock Osweiler in a trade with the Houston Texans, though that trade was largely-viewed as a cash-for-picks swap, with the Browns “paying” for picks by taking on Osweiler’s contract in which he is owed $47 million over the next three seasons, including $16 million this season.

A year ago, the No. 52 pick (linebacker Deion Jones to the Atlanta Falcons) received a four-year, $4.546 million contract with a $1.506 million signing bonus.

Hall of fame running back and Browns legend Jim Brown announced the selection of Kizer at the draft festivities.

Speculation a year ago pegged Kizer as an early first-round pick. As the draft approached, projections of his slot varied widely, many including a second-round status. Despite first-round theatrics leading to three quarterbacks going in the first 12 picks Thursday night, Kizer had to wait another day before learning where he will start his NFL career. (more…)

Friday at 4: ‘Attention to detail’ includes Notre Dame Stadium

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Brian Kelly proselytized multiple abstract concepts this spring. By the end of the 15 practices and subsequent media sessions, even the Irish coach knew some of his references to “grit” would be met by muted eye rolls from the press. If a questioner included the word in their query, Kelly reacted with tongue-in-cheek approval, “You’ve been listening.”

In his press conference the day before spring practices commenced, Kelly used the phrase “attention to detail” six separate times. While he was referring to his players on the football field, Kelly could have also been discussing the ongoing—but supposedly close to finished—construction at Notre Dame Stadium known as Campus Crossroads.

The three buildings around the exterior of the Stadium, the added suites and the video board above the south end zone have garnered the headlines. On a macro level, those are the changes of note. On a micro level, however, other details have trickled into the public stream of knowledge as the work nears its conclusion.

Over the weekend—and now reignited by a column from the South Bend Tribune’s Mike Vorel—the image of the newly-added visitors’ tunnel delighted Irish fans. Vorel likens the narrow entry to “the spot they’d stash the gladiators before feeding them to starving tigers in The Coliseum.” Assuredly, Vorel is going for dramatic effect, and it must work considering its citation here, but even a realistic view of the tunnel’s effects bodes well.

If nothing else, Notre Dame players should enjoy something of a psychological boost when racing out of their adult-sized tunnel and seeing their opponent trickle out of a tunnel seemingly-sized for ants. (Yes, the north end zone tunnel is at least three times bigger than the visitors’ tunnel.)

That pale, slanted staircase holds none of the luxuries of the home team’s entrance, something Kelly went out of his way to praise after using it in Saturday’s Blue-Gold Game. (more…)

Where Notre Dame was & is: Linebackers

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You want complete honesty? The linebacker version of this series includes no revelations, no unexpected developments, no surprising spring performances. There is an allusion to a position switch, sure, but this piece became much simpler with the rover being discussed separately Thursday.

The idea was to capitalize on the NFL Draft for the morning and let the linebackers slip by in the afternoon, noticed only by those twiddling their thumbs through the last hours of the work week. Alas, former Notre Dame quarterback DeShone Kizer was not drafted in the first round and a brief recap of his draft destination will need to await at least another day. Programming note: The NFL Draft reconvenes tonight (Friday) at 7 p.m. ET. The Green Bay Packers are on the clock. They will not draft a quarterback.

But back to the linebackers. This piece may have been intended to slip by with little fanfare, but that is not indicative of the Irish linebackers. Where Notre Dame was is so similar to where Notre Dame is simply because two experienced senior captains lead the way at linebacker.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS:
Aside from questions about defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s rover position, only one question stood out about this linebacker group: Who would start alongside senior Nyles Morgan: senior Greer Martini or junior Te’von Coney?

A year ago Coney recorded the fourth-most tackles on the team with 62. Martini finished fifth with 55, and his seven tackles for loss, including three sacks, dwarfed Coney’s 1.5. Yet Coney technically started nine games compared to Martini’s four.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the linebackers

With the rover often lining up essentially as a linebacker, there would only be space for one of Martini or Coney in most formations.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS:
In his first season with the Irish, Elko will have quite a luxury in referring to Coney as a backup linebacker. In some respects, that designation was inevitable as soon as Martini was named a captain. Nonetheless, Coney will see plenty of playing time.

The two captains—along with fellow captain, senior Drue Tranquill at rover—will be counted on throughout the summer and fall camp to continue the defense’s growth in Elko’s system. Elko said he installed “close to 50 percent” of his entire defense throughout spring practice. The linebackers must deal with the most difficult aspects of that learning.

“There’s been a noticeable improvement in terms of this starting to look like the defense we want this to look like as spring has gone on,” Elko said a week ago. “… Linebacker probably more than any other position, linebacker and safety, where the scheme takes some time to get used to, how you see it, how you fit it, how you feel it. Those guys have gotten better with that which has then allowed them to play faster as the spring has moved on.”

Sophomore Jonathan Jones will likely provide any further depth that may be needed in 2017, unless either of the incoming freshmen, David Adams and Drew White, excel from the outset. Irish coach Brian Kelly indicated sophomore Jamir Jones (no relation to Jonathan, but is former Notre Dame defensive lineman Jarron Jones’ brother) may be destined for time on the defensive line, in large part to Jones’s continued growth. Junior Josh Barajas let the spring come and go without mandating he be involved in these conversations, which may as well count as removing himself from the conversation in most regards.

Where Notre Dame Was & Is: Defensive Line
Where Notre Dame Was, Is & Could Be: Rover