Jordan Westerkamp

Recruiting stays focused on skill upgrades

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With the Irish a dozen days away from taking on Florida State, recruiting is still the primary focus of the Irish coaching staff, with this another critical weekend. Focused on improving the skill positions — both wide receiver and defensive back — is the main priority, and the Irish have people on campus that can immediately upgrade those positions.

Headlining the official visitors are a pair of teammates from Don Bosco Prep in New Jersey, Yuri Wright and Elijah Shumate. Both are among the state’s top five recruits and slated to play in the Army All-American bowl, and both would fit quite nicely into the Irish secondary. Wright is a long and lean cornerback, an impressive looking athlete with an even more impressive list of offers. He’s taken an official visit to Colorado, and has plans to visit USC, Georgia and Michigan as well. That said, getting to campus is a key step in landing Wright, who is giving heavy consideration to Notre Dame.

“They’re definitely near the top of my list because I’m taking an official visit there,” Wright told Pete Sampson of IrishIllustrated.com. “Because I’m a tall physical corner, I fit their scheme. I really have a good opportunity to play there. I really fit their program and they have real good academics.”

If Wright fits the profile of a picture-perfect cover corner, Shumate is the prototype strong safety that seeks out contact. He’s a guy that’s played a lot of football close to the line of scrimmage, something the Irish have done more of this season with Jamoris Slaughter dropping down into the box to add some versatility to the defense. In many ways, Shumate is a bigger Slaughter, and plays more like Zeke Motta did in high school (or at least in the limited tape that I’ve seen). Interestingly, the Irish have multiple options with Shumate, impressed by his work at running back as well. Like they are with Wright, the Irish are truly in the mix for Shumate’s services.

“Notre Dame is Notre Dame, Shumate told Rivals. “They want me as either a running back or a safety, which is interesting. I prefer defense, but I’ll play whatever.”

Also on campus is a recruit relatively new to the fray, wide receiver Jordan Westerkamp. Committed to Nebraska, Westerkamp recently received an offer from the Irish and even with a full-court press visit from four Huskers coaches earlier in the week, came to South Bend to see what Notre Dame had to offer.

Westerkamp is a two-year All-State first team player in Illinois and was named the Chicago Tribune’s player of the year for 2011, no small accomplishment for a receiver that’s shattered the state’s record for receptions in a career. His offer list is impressive and covers much of the Big Ten, although Michigan and Ohio State haven’t offered. Even more interestingly, Westerkamp seems to think offensive coordinator Charley Molnar’s departure has something to do with his offer.

“I knew I was on their board,” Westerkamp told IrishSportsDaily.com. “Their offensive coordinator left and took a job somewhere else. I’m pretty sure he was a guy that was picking guys based off of 40-times and height and all of that stuff. Whoever the new offensive coordinator is, right after that they offered me.”

Chuck Martin, a Chicagoland native and the Irish’s recruiting coordinator, is handling Westerkamp’s recruitment. It wouldn’t surprise me to see Westerkamp in an Irish uniform next year.

Lastly, Brian Kelly hopped on the university jet yesterday and headed down to Columbus, Indiana, where he had his in-home visit with all-everything recruit Gunner Kiel. All reports have Kiel down to the Irish and Vanderbilt with a decision to come shortly. Obviously, landing one of the top three quarterbacks in the country would be another huge recruiting get for the Irish, especially with Dayne Crist officially moving on from the Irish program. Regardless of what you think about the potential of Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson, Kelly’s made it clear he’s going to try and bring a quarterback in every season. This year, it could be the most highly touted player in the country.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”