Chuck Martin 2

Martin gives inside look at recruiting process

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It’s easy to look at the sixteen recruits that signed with Notre Dame last week and place an evaluation on the job Brian Kelly and his coaching staff did. With the last minute defection of wide receiver Deontay Greenberry, the runner-up finish for blue-chippers Nelson Agholor and Brian Poole, and the loss of one-time commits Ronald Darby and Taylor Decker, there’s plenty of ammunition to poke holes in the Irish’s 2012 recruiting class.

Of course, it’s much too early to judge this recruiting class. BCS games aren’t won on the first Wednesday in February, because if they were — Notre Dame would’ve won plenty already. So while it’s easy to talk until we’re blue in the face about the upside potential of Recruit X or Y, taking a look at the process of building a recruiting class is a much more useful exercise for fans hoping to understand what takes place on the journey to Signing Day.

During UND.com’s six-plus hour Signing Day marathon, new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin came on the air with Jack Nolan and gave some incredible insight into Notre Dame’s process of finding and evaluating potential recruits. With Notre Dame casting one of the widest recruiting nets in college football, efficiency within the recruiting system is essential, and there’s no one more intricately involved than Martin, who also coordinates the Irish recruiting efforts.

Here’s more from Martin, who described the Irish’s four-step process to offering a perspective student-athlete.

“We all have six or seven states that are our primary states, but that’s just the starting point. You try to find as many good players — regardless of position, regardless of what position you coach — you try to find the very best players in the state to get the process started. Once you identify those kids, you evaluate him, and if you believe they’re scholarship worthy and all the boxes are checked when it comes to social, academic and all those areas, then you start to move the kid forward in the process. Then he immediately goes to the position coach. So if it’s a D-lineman he’d go to coach Elston, and he would get his evaluation. And once we move past coach Elston it goes to the coordinator and then to the head coach. There’s a lot of checks and balances just like any company, and when you’re going through a process you have checks and balances along the way. Then even if everybody likes the kid on tape, then you still have the other boxes you need to check — is it the right fit for Notre Dame?”

With new coaches Scott Booker, Harry Hiestand, and Bobby Elliott joining the staff, it’s likely the staff’s recruiting regions will shift. But with the logistical challenges Notre Dame faces, having a staff full of good talent evaluators (not just good recruiters) is essential, and a system of checks and balances is an important one for a staff that’s needed to fill some gaping holes left on the roster. This staff did an excellent job evaluating front seven defensive talent and signing them. We’ll see with these last two recruiting classes how well the Irish did evaluating talent at the skill positions, with wide receiver and defensive back roster turnover likely to determine how well the next few seasons go.

Always candid, Martin was remarkably refreshing when discussing the balancing act recruiting on a big stage has become. With more and more programs chasing the same players, websites having better access to recruits than schools, and institutional inequities on issues like over-signing and greyshirts, Martin talked about the fluidity that goes on year round.

“It’s a daunting task that you learn every day that there is no exact science anywhere in recruiting,” Martin said. “And there’s certainly no exact science when you’re trying to weigh, ‘Do we go after this guy or do we go after this guy?’ ‘Do we really think we’re going to get this one or are we uncertain so we should take this one?’ It’s a fluid situation and it’s fluid 365 days a year. You’re always putting your heads together and asking, ‘What do we think? This kid wants to jump in the boat, but we’re waiting on this kid.’ You just don’t know how the numbers are going to play out at the end of the day.”

After winning a few 50/50 battles in recruiting last year, Notre Dame pulled the short end of the stick this year, most notably on Greeberry’s last minute switch. But if you thought it’d deter the Irish staff, or it’s head coach Brian Kelly, don’t hold your breath.

“There’s no good news, there’s no bad news, there’s just news,” Martin said. “If you live and die with every single moment from recruiting, you’re never going to make it. Your life span in this profession is going to be short. You just keep on doing what you’re doing, keep working as hard as you’re working, and hopefully the chips fall your way often enough that you get the right kids in your program.”

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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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)

 

2015-16 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.