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The Commits: Secondary

Jan 31, 2012, 2:48 PM EDT

Baratti2

Part six of our series recapping the recruits ready to sign letters-of-intent with Notre Dame next Wednesday. (Or already on campus.) Previous installments include the running backsoffensive linewide receiversquarterbacks, and the front seven.

Taking a look at Notre Dame’s 2011 depth chart, it’s pretty clear that the Irish secondary needs reinforcements. Gone are Harrison Smith, Gary Gray, and Robert Blanton, three long time contributors that felt like they had been in Notre Dame uniforms forever.

In Brian Kelly‘s first season, it was the defensive staff’s job to get production out of a talented Irish secondary that wasn’t playing near its potential. A unit that was giving up an abysmal 8.0 yards a passing attempt was playing far beneath their potential. From a strictly star-rating perspective, the recent secondary Kelly inherited was plenty talented, yet had struggled to get much from the rankings bestowed on them coming out of high school:

Darrin Walls — No. 3 CB in country, No. 51 overall (Four-star ranking)
Gary Gray — No. 9 CB in country, No. 78 overall (Four-star ranking)
Robert Blanton – No. 22 safety in the country (Four-star ranking)
Harriston Smith — No. 25 all-purpose athlete in the country. (Four-star ranking)

More to the problem, Kelly needed to solve a bigger issue: A shocking lack of depth. While it wasn’t discussed much then, Notre Dame just didn’t recruit enough defensive backs in the last three seasons of Charlie Weis‘ regime. In 2007, the Irish landed Smith and Gray. In 2008, they landed Blanton, McCarthy, and Jamoris Slaughter. In 2009, they only signed E.J. Banks, who would become an academic casualty before the 2010 season and enroll at Pitt after first semester.

In the 2010 class that Kelly inherited, the Irish already had commitments from Spencer Boyd and Lo Wood at cornerback and Chris Badger at safety. Boyd would enroll early, but head back home to Florida before ever playing a game. (He’s now at USF.) Kelly quickly added Austin Collinsworth as his first commitment. He flipped wide receiver and special teams dynamo Bennett Jackson to cornerback after he freshman season, joined by Collinsworth in the secondary after the two were special teams stalwarts their freshmen season.

Even adding Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, and Eilar Hardy to the depth chart, Notre Dame knew it needed to make the secondary a priority after what looked like years of neglecting to understand the sheer volume needed at the position grouping. With a few wildcard possibilities still out there, let’s take a look at the five players (including one already on campus) that plan on signing with the Irish tomorrow.

NICKY BARATTI
High School: Klein Oak — Spring, Texas
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 215-pounds
Other major offers: Arizona State, Kansas State, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Northwestern, Texas Tech
Fun Fact: Went from quarterback to wide receiver for his Klein Oak team, but will play safety at Notre Dame.
On choosing Notre Dame: “Notre Dame is an amazing place,” Baratti told Irish Illustrated. “It’s just Notre Dame. What I’ve found out is no other school compares to Notre Dame, facility-wise and even coaching-wise.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: In many ways, Baratti is a perfect developmental recruit. After a senior season derailed from a concussion in the season’s opening game, Baratti switched from quarterback to wide receiver for his Klein Oak team, while also playing safety on defensive. That versatility brings a diverse pallet to South Bend, where he’ll be developed by new safeties coach Bobby Elliott and co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks. Perhaps the one thing most intriguing about Baratti is his combination of size and speed. Already a prototype safety, Baratti will benefit from a collegiate strength and conditioning program, and will also bring top-flight speed to South Bend. In an era of fake 40 times, Baratti’s speed seems legit, but more impressively, his quickness is off the charts. Bryan Driskell of IrishSportsDaily.com points out that while Baratti’s 4.52 40 time was impressive, Baratti ran lightning quick 10-yard and 20-yard dashes, faster than elite burners like Brian Kimbrow, Marvin Bracy, and even Ronald Darby (1.36, 2.42 vs. 1.52, 2.57 head-to-head with Darby). His offers aren’t the flashiest, but Baratti will be a fun one to watch develop.

CJ PROSISE
High School: Woodberry Forest School — Woodberry Forest, Virginia
Measureables: Six-foot-three, 195-pounds
Other major offers: Boston College, Maryland, North Carolina, Penn State, Virginia, Virginia Tech, Wisconsin
Fun Fact: Finished second in the state of Virginia with a 100m dash of 10.9 seconds.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I can’t wait to be around the great tradition and being part of a winning program,” Prosise told BlueandGold.com. “I’m ready to help bring the National Championship back to South Bend.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Prosise is another under-the-radar recruit, but the more you dig in the more you like what you see. Looking for speed? He finished second in the state in the 100m dash. Looking for special teams ability? Prosise had five return touchdowns this season alone. Prosise had six interceptions during his senior season, where he was named Central Virginia’s defensive player of the year. He’s a tall and rangy athlete that at the very least could come in immediately and help in special teams. It’ll be interesting to see if Prosise is a good enough athlete to excel in coverage, which would make an athlete of his size even more valuable.

TEE SHEPARD
High School: Washington Union — Fresno, California
Measureables: Six-foot-one, 186-pounds
Other major offers: Alabama, Auburn, Cal, Oregon, Miami, UCLA, USC, Washington
Fun Fact: Forced to sit out senior season of high school football because of CIF transfer rules.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I’m really happy to part of the Notre Dame football family. This is a special place and I’m excited to finally be here. Getting a jump start on my training and in my classes can only help me for the future.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: A cornerback that should walk in and compete immediately for playing time. Has perfect size and athleticism for cornerback. After sitting out the entire season, Shepard had impressive showings on the All-Star circuit during the postseason. With the likely loss of Ronald Darby, Shepard became one of the most important recruits on the Irish board, as he’ll be looked upon to fill the vacancy at cornerback that’s now on the roster. Shepard might not have elite speed, but he’s shown excellence coverage skills at The Opening, the preseason Nike combine as well as during the Cal-State All-Star game, where he returned an interception for a touchdown.

ELIJAH SHUMATE
High School: Don Bosco Prep — West Orange, New Jersey
Measureables: Six-foot-one, 205-pounds
Other major offers: Georgia, Georgia Tech, Miami, Michigan, Oklahoma, Penn State, Rutgers, South Carolina
Fun Fact: Played at Don Bosco for coach Greg Toal, whose son Brian spurned an offer from Ty Willingham to play for the Irish and instead starred at Boston College.
On choosing Notre Dame: “I used to be a Michigan and Ohio State man,” Shumate told the Bergen Record. “My Dad always told me if I had a chance to go to college, Notre Dame would be my favorite school.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Shumate looks like a wrecking ball out there, and he’ll immediately join Jamoris Slaughter as one of the most physical players in the secondary. From one look at his offer list, you can see that Shumate’s an elite player and the type of recruit that usually gets Irish fans excited, though his commitment came when people seemed more worried about who was leaving than who was coming on board. Long expected to end up elsewhere, Shumate’s recruiting turned on a dime when he visited Notre Dame, immediately turning his focus to the Irish. He’s also an impressive running back, where the Irish coaching staff has discussed giving him a look as well.

JOHN TURNER
High School: Cathedral — Indianapolis, Indiana
Measureables: Six-foot-two, 205-pounds
Other major offers: Minnesota, Indiana, Temple, Miami (OH)
Fun Fact: Turner’s Cathedral team drubbed Gunner Kiel’s Columbus East team 62-7 on the way to back-to-back state championships.
On choosing Notre Dame: “It just feels great that I worked for my offer,” Turner told Irish Illustrated. “Hard work pays off. I don’t think enough people realize how far you can get with just hard work and determination.”
What he’ll bring to the defense: Turner proved plenty of skeptics wrong when he received an offer from the Irish coaching staff after going to their football camp over the summer. Likely, some of those skeptics were on the Irish staff, unsure of whether or not the jumbo-sized defensive back had enough speed to compete in the secondary. Turner ran a 4.5 forty for the coaches, and likely answered enough questions for them with that performance, earning him a scholarship offer. Turner plays cornerback for Cathedral, was named first-team All-State, and offers elite size for a guy that’s currently playing cornerback. Every article we’ve read so far points to Turner being a safety, but don’t be surprised if the coaching staff gives him every opportunity to play on the outside of the defense.

  1. dickasman - Jan 31, 2012 at 3:16 PM

    Another major area of concern. Who’s gonna step up this year? There are major void/s to be filled here…If you a true playa, raise ya hands in the aiaaa!

    • idratherbeinsouthbend - Jan 31, 2012 at 3:46 PM

      You wrote that like you were a gangsta and then i read it out loud like i was a gangsta. Pretty sure that make both of us “slately retodded”

  2. nudeman - Jan 31, 2012 at 3:44 PM

    OK, a few comments:
    1) Greenberry apparently has told ND he’s in. Deep exhale everyone.

    2) No one talks much about CJ Prosise, but this kid has some speed.
    Question though: Rivals lists him at 6’1″ and Keith you’ve got him at 6’3″.
    A 6’3″ inch CB who can fly would be quite a get. What is his actual height?

    3) Barratti is also someone to watch. Possibly had he not had a concussion his sr. yr. he’d also have been a 4 star DB.

    4) Paging Brian Poole. Come on down, young man.

    • Keith Arnold - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:48 PM

      I am sourcing an article written in early January by his hometown paper. They listed him as 6-foot-3, 193-pounds. If he is that tall, that’s a really unique athlete.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:25 PM

        What are you sourcing? Please say again?

      • papadec - Feb 1, 2012 at 12:14 AM

        espn lists CJ as 6’1″.

    • Keith Arnold - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:49 PM

      I am sourcing an article written in early January by his hometown paper. They listed him as 6-foot-3, 193-pounds. If he is that tall, that’s a really unique athlete.

  3. turknd - Jan 31, 2012 at 3:58 PM

    Message to coaching staff – please teach them to turn and look for the ball.

    • mcchef - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:04 PM

      Wish I could hit “thumbs up” about 100 more times

    • mtndguy - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:50 PM

      That would be even funnier if it didn’t need to be said.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:26 PM

      And hold on to the ball.

    • 9irish - Feb 1, 2012 at 1:39 AM

      oh man…several games, especially Michigan, when they were just throwing up bad passes and the receivers kept coming back for it….sooooo many interceptions that should have happened.

  4. trbowman - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    Screw the haters, I’m gonna miss Gary Gray!

    • turknd - Jan 31, 2012 at 8:51 PM

      I don’t hate him, just fundamentals.

  5. ct111 - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:45 PM

    Move Tommy Rees to cornerback!

  6. gtizzo - Jan 31, 2012 at 5:48 PM

    Great article Keith,

    I guess it wasn’t my request that changed the picture but at least it isn’t what it was. I think Jalen Brown is going to be very key next season, if Irish coach’s worked out his hip turn that kid can cover with the best of them. The secondary maybe untested but that doesn’t mean untalented.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 31, 2012 at 11:28 PM

      I hated that picture also, looked like Kelly just realized he should never have trusted that fart.

  7. dmac4real - Jan 31, 2012 at 7:25 PM

    If only Ronald Darby were on this list…..sigh…

  8. tony34343434 - Jan 31, 2012 at 8:57 PM

    turknd, great post, you are so right, i do not see losing some of our secondary as great loses, cost us the michigan game and florida state, they looked totally lost, not only do we need recruits but coach them!!

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