nd_fans

Irish brace for biggest recruiting weekend ever

13 Comments

There are recruiting weekends, and then there are big recruiting weekends. But to get a feel for just how big this recruiting weekend will be for Notre Dame, take the biggest Irish recruiting weekend in recent memory and add about 30 more prospects.

As the weekend approaches, Notre Dame’s coaching staff gears up for some serious double-duty: A grudge match with its most vaunted rival and the logistical reality of organizing over 50 recruiting prospects heading to campus this weekend.

Not that defensive backs coach and recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin‘s tipping his hand.

“We got some guys coming in this weekend?” Martin said with a cheshire smile.

Guys is an understatement. The Irish are embarking on their largest recruiting weekend of all time, entertaining approximately 55 recruits in the class of 2012 and 2013 on official and unofficial visits.

When Notre Dame takes on USC in primetime Saturday night, they’ll be doing it in front of recruits from a staggering 18 different states. Seventeen official visitors. Right around 30 junior prospects. Nine recruits from the state of California alone. While it may not have been Brian Kelly and the coaching staff’s decision to turn this game into what amounts to an all-in bet, the reality is that an impressive Irish performance this Saturday night will be the type of double down performance the Irish need to super-charge their recruiting efforts for the next two years. If you’re looking for star power, this group has it. Fifteen visitors find themselves ranked among the top 100 recruits in the country.

With 16 commitments in the 2012 recruiting class already, let’s take a look at the visitors that’ll be in South Bend this weekend.

OFFICIAL VISITORS

Ishmael Adams, CB: The Oaks Christian CB is getting his first look at Notre Dame.
Arik Armstead, DL/OT: No longer a Trojan commit, Armstead will visit Notre Dame. A huge priority recruit.
Zach Banner, OT: Another national target, the jumbo-sized left tackle prospect has his pick of schools.
Justin Ferguson, WR: Already committed to the Irish, Ferguson will be taking his official visit to Notre Dame.
Deontay Greenberry, WR: The Irish commit is working as another recruiter for the prospects visiting.
Donaldven Manning, CB: The V-Tech commit is being recruited by Tony Alford. (Enough said.)
Keith Marshall, RB: Fresh off a visit from Brian Kelly, he’s one of the highest priority’s on the Irish wish-list.
Byron Marshall, RB: Another explosive back, Byron might be closer to picking ND than Keith.
Ifeadi Odenigbo, OLB: An Ohio product with a Buckeyes offer, Odenigbo is one of Ohio’s top players.
Jordan Payton, WR: The former Trojan commit would add athleticism to WR depth chart.
Brian Poole, CB: The Florida commit will bring mom and dad to South Bend. Elite offer list.
KeiVarae Russell, RB: A dual-threat RB, Russell has his pick of the Pac-12 to go along with an Irish offer.
Tee Shepard, CB: Committed to the Irish, Shepard announced he’ll enroll early at Notre Dame this January.
John Theus, OT: The Georgia commit is among the nation’s top players. Huge chance for the Irish.
Shaq Thompson, WR/DB: Wherever he lines up, Thompson will make an immediate impact.
Bryce Treggs, WR: Committed to Cal, Treggs has the Irish No. 2 on his impressive list of suitors.
Will Redmond, DB: A Mississippi State commitment, Tim Hinton is working hard to get this visit.

It’d be hard to find a better collection of talent on any campus in the country this weekend. The Irish will get closer looks from some of the top players in the nation, and even the visitors that are committed to other schools are seriously considering the Irish. This group could almost double as a wish list, as even reeling in three or four of the guys not currently committed to the Irish would be a serious haul for Notre Dame. Huge credit should go to West Coast recruiter Mike Denbrock, who has been responsible for getting such a large contingent of California players in to visit.

If you’re looking for positions the Irish need to strengthen, they’re still looking at adding another cornerback, running back, wide receiver and depth along both lines. The Irish would gladly accept a commitment from any of these recruits, as they try to firm up the final spots in their ever-evolving 2012 recruiting class.

UNOFFICIAL VISITORS (2012)

Chris Brown, WR: After making waves with a potential visit to South Carolina, Brown will be on campus.
Scott Daly, LS: With Jordan Cowart still battling a broken hand, Daly will be watching from the sidelines.
Sheldon Day, DT: Irish commit will make the drive from Indianapolis for the big game.
Mark Harrell, OT: Irish commit will be making an unofficial from North Carolina.
Jarron Jones, DT: The massive defensive end will be visiting from upstate New York.
Will Mahone, RB: The Irish’s most recent commit will be back in South Bend.
Romeo Okwara, OLB: Irish commitment can spend time with fellow Tar Heel Keith Marshall.
David Perkins, OLB: The South Bend native will bond with some recruits he met on the summer circuit.
John Turner, S: The third of the Irish’s Indiana commitments will be in town.
Jordan Diamond, OT: Chicago native giving the Irish a look for the big game.
Jon Moore, WR: Another North Carolina prospect coming to South Bend for a look at the Irish.

UNOFFICIAL VISITORS (2013)

Matt Alviti, QB — Maine Township South, IL
Nadir Barnwell, QB — Piscataway HS, NJ
Kyle Kempt, QB — Massillon Washington, OH
Brayden Scott, QB — Sequoyah High, OK
JJ Green, RB — Camden HS, GA
Ty Isaac, RB — Joliet Catholic, IL
Kentrell Taylor, RB — Massillon HS, OH
Ryan Switzer, RB — George Washington HS, WV
Jalin Marshall, WR — Middletown HS, OH
Laquon Treadwell, WR — Crete Monee HS, IL
James Quick, WR — Trinity, KY
Alvin Scott, WR — Oneonta HS, AL
Adam Brenneman, TE — Cedar Cliff HS, PA
Christian Morgan, TE — Prestwood Academy, TX
Demetrius Cooper, ATH — Morgan Park HS, IL
Darian Horn, ATH — Peachtree Ridge, GA
Hunter Bivin, OT — Apollo HS, KY
Steve Elmer, OT — Midland HS, MI (Notre Dame commitment)
John Lopez, OT — Lutheran HS, CA
Billy Price, OL/DE — Austintown Fitch, OH
Jacob Matuska, DE — Bishop Hartley, OH
Elijah Daniel, OLB — Avon HS, IN
Ethan Posic, OLB — Lemont HS, IL
Chans Cox, ILB — Blue Ridge HS, AZ
Jon Reschke, ILB — Brother Rice, MI
Courtney Love, ILB — Cardinal Mooney, OH
Eli Woodard, CB — Eastern HS, NJ
Shaquille Wiggins, CB — Sandy Creek HS, GA
Caleb Day, S — Darby HS, OH

Irish A-to-Z: Ian Book

Ian Book
via Twitter
4 Comments

Notre Dame’s incoming freshman steps into one of the most harrowing depth charts in college football. But he also comes to South Bend prepared, a freshman season where anything is possible.

Book may be No. 4 in a four-deep that includes three of the most intriguing quarterbacks in college football. But he’s also a play away from being the team’s backup. That’s the plan heading into freshman year, with Brandon Wimbush hoping to keep a redshirt on this season after being forced into action in 2015.

A highly productive high school quarterback, Book didn’t wow any of the recruiting evaluators. But Mike Sanford took dead aim at Book and landed a quarterback he thinks can step in and be ready if needed.

 

IAN BOOK
6’0″, 190 lbs.
Freshman, No. 4, QB

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Three-star prospect who had offers from Boise State and Washington State before Notre Dame jumped in and landed him. His previous relationship with Mike Sanford from his time in Boise made the difference.

Undersized but cerebral player who was highly prolific in high school. Named conference MVP in senior season at Oak Ridge high school and was the No. 14 overall pro-style QB according to Rivals.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

If Book is going to be a big-time college quarterback, it’ll be because he’s got a knack for the game that you don’t see from his physical skill-set. He’s undersized and a little bit slight. He’s got good wheels, but doesn’t play like a speed demon.

You don’t need an elite set of tools to be successful in Brian Kelly’s system. And while a comparison to Tommy Rees will come off as a slight, it’s a compliment—especially after hearing the staff speak confidently about Book’s ability to come in and know the system well enough to be ready to play as a freshman, if necessary.

(Book is also faster than Rees, so relax everybody.)

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Unless the sky is falling, Book is wearing a redshirt. And that’s the best thing for him—even if he’ll prepare as the emergency No. 3, a duty Wimbush was pushed into last year.

A look at Notre Dame’s depth chart and the war chest of talent accumulated at the position makes these next five years look like an uphill climb to get onto the field. But until Book steps foot on campus, all bets are off.

Remember, Tommy Rees entered Notre Dame with two other quarterbacks at his position, both rated better than him by recruiting analysts. But it was Rees that pushed past the five-star recruit already on campus for two seasons and his two classmates.

Of course, DeShone Kizer, Malik Zaire and Brandon Wimbush aren’t Dayne Crist, Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa. But until we see Book at the college level, it’s a wait and see proposition.

But the freshman has a key role on the 2016 team. Even if everybody hopes he won’t have to do it.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner

Irish A-to-Z: Jonathan Bonner

Jon Bonner Rivals
Rivals via Twitter
1 Comment

After two seasons of limited duty, there’s a road to the field for Jonathan Bonner. The rising junior, who spent last year mostly watching and learning as Brian VanGorder and Keith Gilmore played a skeleton rotation, has a chance to break into a position group that’s searching for answers that Bonner seems well-suited to provide.

But Bonner also plays behind the team’s best defensive lineman, with senior Isaac Rochell poised to anchor the front seven. So as the rising junior moves into his third season in South Bend, he’ll need to show a versatile set of skills to get onto the field.

 

JONATHAN BONNER
6’3″, 286 lbs.
Junior, No. 55, DL

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Bonner may not have been a highly-touted recruit, but he was just starting to rack up impressive offers when he pledged to Notre Dame. Bonner earned a scholarship offer at every summer camp he attended, and his commitment to the Irish came after he dominated some of the best offensive line prospects in the country at Notre Dame’s summer camp.

An All-State performer and the defensive player of the year in St. Louis. Also a more than impressive student-athlete, with a note he wrote to himself as a grade schooler a pretty incredible piece of maturity.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 10 games, making 10 tackles and notching one sack. Played a season-high 39 snaps along the defensive line in the Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State. Saw double-digit snaps against Texas, UMass, Wake Forest and Boston College.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This seems pretty solid.

I’m buying Bonner’s future, though I’m a little less sure that he’ll break loose in 2015. With Isaac Rochell capable of being a frontline player, Bonner getting on the field might mean Rochell’s off of it, which I just don’t see happening too often.

But if there’s a beauty to Brian VanGorder’s defense—at least when it’s playing like it did the first half of the season—it’s the ability to mix and match. And if there’s no way to find Bonner a role in this defense, especially as the Irish try to find someone to come off the edge, then it’s more on the young prospect’s knowledge base than anything a coaching staff can do.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

This might not be a make or break season for Bonner, especially since he’s got a fifth year available. But I think it could be. With the opportunity to provide a disruption from the interior of the defensive line, Bonner needs to find a home in a position group that could use a versatile defender who can both hold up at the point of attack and get to the quarterback.

Bonner started at outside linebacker, but quickly moved to the front four. Last year’s progress was slowed by a turf toe injury in April, short-circuiting a sold spring. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to contribute in 2015, but there was certainly a need for someone to provide a pass rush and Bonner wasn’t given that chance—something that speaks to where he was as a developmental prospect last year.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I think Bonner will find a niche on the inside or third downs, considering neither Jerry Tillery nor Jarron Jones look like pass rush threats. That could kick open a spot for Bonner on the inside, or it could allow him to play at the strong side if Rochell slides inside.

Of course, that’s mostly determined by Bonner, who has flashed talent and athleticism, but hasn’t translated that to the field yet. Some think Bonner is one of the most intriguing athletes on the roster, and he’s certainly one of the team’s better workout warriors. But that needs to transition to the football field with some productivity, a key development piece for Keith Gilmore and a uncertain front four.

Bonner spoke with confidence this spring that his knowledge base was now matching his skill-set. If he’s able to put everything together, he could be a very nice complementary piece to the front four.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship

Jarrett Grace signs FA contract with Chicago Bears

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 5: Jarrett Grace #59 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in action during a game against the Texas Longhorns at Notre Dame Stadium on September 5, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Texas 38-3. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
12 Comments

Former Notre Dame linebacker Jarrett Grace has signed with the Chicago Bears. The former Rockne Award winner will continue his improbable return from a devastating leg injury during OTAs and training camp, fighting for a roster spot on the NFC North squad.

Grace worked out for the Bears at a tryout camp and Chicago made the roster move official Wednesday, signing Grace and releasing linebacker Danny Mason.

After redshirting as a freshman and sitting behind Manti Te’o, Grace moved into the starting lineup as a junior and led the Irish in tackles before suffering a severe leg injury against Arizona State. It took nearly two years for Grace to return to duty, needing to re-learn how to run as he underwent multiple procedures to repair the rod that held Grace’s bone in place.

He played in 32 games for the Irish, finishing with 78 total tackles.

Irish A-to-Z: Grant Blankenship

Notre Dame v Syracuse
Getty
6 Comments

Notre Dame’s junior defensive end has an unclear status entering his third season in the program. Suspended by Brian Kelly this spring after playing minimal snaps as a sophomore, the Texas native already had an unclear path to the field even before you consider his status as a member of the team and student at the university.

After playing in 11 games as a true freshman, Blankenship struggled to make progress after adding the mass needed to play on the strong side. With the depth chart at defensive end already in question, Blankenship is a true unknown entering 2016.

 

GRANT BLANKENSHIP
6’5″, 278
Junior, No. 92, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A late-riser on the recruiting scene, Blankenship turned down an offer from Charlie Strong to stick with his commitment to Notre Dame, his favorite program as a child. An early target by former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, and he stuck with Notre Dame even after Diaco departed for UConn.

Not highly rated, Blankenship fell outside the 250 recruits on 247’s composite.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, making 12 tackles including one TFL. Didn’t play against Navy or LSU. Made three tackles against Syracuse.

Sophomore Season (2015): Appeared in three games, making one assisted tackle. Played a season-high 10 snaps against UMass.

 

WHAT WE PROJECTED LAST YEAR

Blankenship’s participation took a step backwards. He looked like a potential redshirt until he played in garbage time. Partial credit, at best. Nobody gave Rochell and Day a break.

It’s too hard to project Blankenship as a 30-snap-a-game contributor. But if he’s forced into action, the experience he got last season will come in handy. More likely, Blankenship will be part of an expanded front seven depth chart, and will make it easier to keep guys like Isaac Rochell and Sheldon Day fresh.

As a second-year player, he and Andrew Trumbetti have a chance to both make big steps forward this season. If either can help a pass rush that needs to win more from base packages, it’ll be huge for the defense. Expect new defensive line coach Keith Gilmore to get this through to Blankenship, who likely derives fuel from being overlooked, something he certainly was last season.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

We’ll know a lot more about Blankenship’s future when the Irish enroll in summer school. If he’s there, it’ll signal that there’s a road back onto the team. If not, it’ll be another washout at defensive end, a position that’s been very difficult to keep together.

At this point, barring some remarkable change to his production or the depth chart, there doesn’t look like much of a road to playing time for Blankenship, at least not with Isaac Rochell on the roster in front of him.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Very unclear.

I wouldn’t be surprised if Blankenship was a part of a different program come next fall or buried on the depth chart at Notre Dame. The one reason for optimism is the position he plays. There’s opportunity at defensive end, especially if you can rush the passer.

Blankenship hasn’t show that ability yet. Part of that came from gaining a ton of weight between his freshman and sophomore seasons. The other part of it was scheme—he was recruited by Bob Diaco to play a different type of end.

Let’s get Blankenship out of the doghouse and back onto the field before we look for optimism.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin

 

This week’s episode of Blown Coverage features me pitching John Walters on the perfect three-year solution for Notre Dame’s QB conundrum. And a bunch of other stuff. Enjoy.