Jarron Jones

Junior Day helps Irish make impression

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For those following the ins-and-outs of recruiting, the big picture, one-sentence recap of this past weekend’s Junior Day at Notre Dame is this: Nobody committed to the Irish.

That said, if we’ve learned anything during this era of recruiting, an early verbal commitment means just about nothing, and the Brian Kelly led Irish coaching staff doesn’t hold an unrealistic value on the word of a high school junior. (Plus, early commitments are boring!)

With the Midwest battling another winter storm, Kelly and company welcomed around 30 recruits to campus for their first official Junior Day. Just about every one of them that was interviewed by one of the recruiting websites had something nice to say about a) the academics b) the tradition and c) the upgraded facilities at Notre Dame. All things you’d expect from high school juniors taking their first visit to South Bend.

Here are a few interesting tidbits gathered from some of the not-so-stock quotes:

* If you’re wondering whether Notre Dame is in good shape with offensive lineman Dan Voltz after the visit, the answer is yes.

“I already want to go back,” Voltz told IrishSportsDaily.com. “I am going to go back two or three times this spring and summer… It’s going to be really hard to do better than that.”

Voltz has got to be a high-priority for the Irish and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin, who is responsible for the Chicagoland area for the Irish.

* We mentioned Michael Moore as a potential defensive end and at 6-4, 255-pounds, you’d certainly think he’s got the potential to grow into a prototype 3-4 defensive end. But that’s not what the coaching staff sees when they look at the junior from Maryland’s tape.

According to IrishIllustrated.com, the coaching staff sees Moore at Darius Fleming’s ‘Cat’ linebacker position.

“They said I was real athletic to play it,” Moore told Irish Illustrated. “They said I was strong enough to play it because at that position they want a real strong guy that’s athletic enough. That really sticks out. It was just a real good thing to see where they’d like to see me play and a real good opportunity to see how I can choose schools and see a position.”

Moore’s an intriguing player and after bringing in Ishaq Williams in the current recruiting class, you begin to understand that a guy like Darius Fleming, who checks in at 6-2, 247-pounds, is undersized for the job he’s doing.

* A few more offers went out to junior prospects, but none larger (both in offer and prospect stature) than defensive lineman Jarron Jones of Rochester, New York.

BlueandGold.com reports that defensive coordinator Bob Diaco offered Jones, who already has Florida State, Penn State and Michigan among his 16 offers.

“Yes, he offered me today,” Jones told BlueandGold.com. “I’m really interested in Notre Dame. They like me at defensive end.”

At 6-6 or 6-7, and around 290-pounds, Jones has an absolutely massive frame, and he has pretty elite athleticism for a guy his size. Diaco’s a great guy to have recruiting Jones, and he’ll likely end up a national recruit as well.

* By way of Bob Wieneke at the South Bend Tribune, the original recruiting guru, Tom Lemming of CBS College Sports, says that the Irish have already made 100 verbal offers to juniors.

“I think it’s great,” Lemming said. “They should have 100, and they do.”

If you’re wondering if that number is higher than it has been in the past, it is. Using unofficial data from Rivals.com, here are the number of scholarships the Irish have offered since they started tracking stats like this:

2002 – 73
2003 – 55
2004 – 67
2005 – 65
2006 – 59
2007 – 64
2008 – 57
2009 – 77
2010 – 102
2011 – 124

It’s highly likely that Rivals has gotten better at tracking offers as the recruiting industry continues to evolve, but this is pretty convincing evidence that Kelly and company simply identify and offer more recruits, something that’s clearly a strategic decision, and likely comes from spending a career’s worth of time in the collegiate ranks.

Obviously, Charlie Weis was a great recruiter, but combining his penchant for minimal offers and his hard-line on the term commitment, it’s no wonder that when the Irish lost a top-caliber commitment late in the recruiting cycle, the Irish were stuck trying to make up ground with kids they only offered late in the game.

As we saw first-hand this recruiting season, Kelly isn’t afraid of pushing right up to the 85-man roster limit, chasing top prospects all the way until Signing Day, one philosophy change that’s already benefited the Irish during their recruitment of Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.

(Tip of the cap to the band formerly known as Blue-Gray Sky for the Rivals data.)

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

Notre Dame v Florida State
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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck another sophomore from obscurity to the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller—and he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be a better way to answer more questions and hopefully interact with a few of you as we try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.