Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel

After filling front seven, Irish looking for DBs


Brian Kelly essentially called his shot back on his first Signing Day, identifying defensive end and the edge of the defense as areas his staff needed to target and fill in the upcoming recruiting class.

Last Saturday’s Blue-Gold game already showed us the early returns, with Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams immediately competing for playing time. Stephon Tuitt, Ben Councell, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell and Troy Niklas are right behind them, heading to town this summer. Sure, not everybody will end up along the defensive line (early-enrollee Brad Carrico has already made the shift to offensive line), but adding big bodies like these players, not to mention guys like Anthony Rabasa and Ben Councell, and you immediately see the implementation of a recruiting plan happen quickly.

When Brian Kelly announced the 23 signees in the 2011 recruiting class, he pointed the focus at the back-end of the defense, where he’ll need to replenish a secondary that’ll see Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton exit at season’s end.

To that point, the Irish have already gotten three big commitments in the secondary with cornerbacks Tee Shepard and Ronald Darby joined by safety Nicky Baratti. But according to Christian McCollum at, the Irish are still charging hard after Geno Smith, one of the top cornerbacks in the country.

Smith raised a few eyebrows when he took to Twitter after Ronald Darby gave his commitment to ND:

“Shoot… That’s two db’s for Notre Dame. I was liking them,” Smith tweeted.

Smith was informed by recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin that there was plenty of room left.


“I ended up talking to Coach Martin later that day and he was just explaining the situation and saying don’t worry about it at all,” Smith said. “He said they’re just trying to build a championship defense. He said last year they signed the defensive linemen and this year they’re trying to get the fab five defensive backs. I’m buying into what they’re saying. They’re just trying to build a national championship team.”

Smith has Alabama as his leader, but Martin and Co. have shown that there’s little fear going into the South and trying to pull top players, like they did last year with Tuitt and Lynch. Getting Smith on campus this summer and for an official visit will be critical, but knowing that the game plan is to bring five more bodies into the secondary should have Irish fans resting easier.

The Irish brought in defensive backs Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy, and likely Matthias Farley last season, so the influx of young players on the Irish roster won’t be limited to the 2012 class.

Still, with limited scholarships available for the 2012 class, and a number of fifth-year decisions that’ll likely be made after the season, knowing the Irish plan on taking five players in the secondary — in a class that could be limited to 20 players — shows that the coaching staff understands the importance of bringing in talented players on the back-end of the defense.

Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.