Kendall Fuller

Recruiting carousel restarts with 2013 Rivals100 list

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Notre Dame hasn’t stopped chasing 2012 prospects. But that doesn’t stop the recruiting carousel for spinning, as the lifeblood of college football — not to mention a multi-million dollar internet industry — continues to churn as college programs turn the page to a new year’s worth of recruits.

Nothing signals that more than the new release of the Rivals100 list for the class of 2013. Sure, we’re 363 days from Signing Day, but that hasn’t stopped Rivals, still the gold standard for talent evaluation, from releasing their top 100 juniors in the country. And as you’d expect, Notre Dame has identified quite a few players on the list.

(Disclaimer: After spending about 16 hours a week ago following every twist and turn in a pretty interesting Signing Day, forgive me if I’m not 100 percent passionate about this group of players just yet.)

Let’s take a run through the top 100 players in the country and highlight some of the players we’ll likely be talking about for the next 12 months…

RIVALS100 FOR 2013

COMMITTED: No. 49 — Steve Elmer, OT: Midland, Michigan — Elmer is the Irish’s lone 2013 recruiting commitment and one of the nation’s top offensive tackles. He’s planning on enrolling early next year and will ideally anchor a recruiting class filled with multiple offensive linemen.

No. 4 — Kendall Fuller, CB: Olney, Maryland — After being unable to hold on to the commitment of Maryland’s best cornerback in the 2012 class, the Irish are right back after Fuller. Kendall has two brothers playing for Frank Beamer at Virginia Tech, but lists the Irish in his top schools.

No. 5 — Su’a Cravens, DB: Murrieta, California — Mike Denbrock has already built a relationship with one of the nation’s most sought after defensive backs, who has plenty of options already. After pulling Tee Shepard out of Fresno, let’s see if Denbrock can pull another blue-chipper out of Southern California.

No. 10 — Vernon Hargreaves III, CB: Tampa, Florida — Hargreaves picked up an offer from the Irish in the fall, after watching the team his father coaches, the USF Bulls, beat the Irish. Tony Alford is likely the recruiter on Hargreaves case, and even with offers from all the major Florida programs and Ohio State, Hargreaves has ND among his favorites.

No. 11 — Tyrone Swoopes, QB: Whitewright, Texas — At six-foot-five, 220-pounds, and with recruiting tape that shows dazzling running ability, it’d be fun to see what the Irish could do with an athlete like Swoopes.

No. 15 — E.J. Levenberry Jr., OLB: Woodbridge, Virginia — The Irish are one of many top programs chasing one of the nation’s top linebackers. He’s a big linebacker that looks comfortable in both space and rushing the passer.

No. 17 — Michael Hutchings, LB: Concord, California — Another blue-chip player out of California powerhouse De La Salle, most of the Pac-12 is after Hutchings. The Irish offered recently and are in Hutchings’ top five.

No. 18 — Ty Isaac, RB: Joliet, Illinois — If you’re looking for a skill player that’s in the Irish’s crosshairs, look no further than Isaac. One of the top prospects in the Chicagoland area, Isaac has already been on campus multiple times and has long held an Irish offer. Chuck Martin is on the case, and absolutely needs to reel Isaac in. A nationally offered player that’s as close to a must-get recruit as there is.

No. 22 — Adam Breneman, TE: Camp Hill, Pennsylvania — Breneman was identified as the Irish’s No. 1 tight end prospect in the class of 2013. They weren’t alone. The potential five-star player will likely have the Nittany Lions in this battle to the end. A good test case for Scott Booker, who Rivals lists as Breneman’s primary recruiter.

No. 23 — Greg Bryant, RB: Delray Beach, Florida — Bryant has offers from Alabama, Ohio State, and just about every other major program in the country. Add Notre Dame to that list. Another Tony Alford project.

No. 26 — Robert Foster, WR: Monaca, Pennsylvania — Raised plenty of eyebrows at the Army All-American combine with an impressive performance. Notre Dame listed among his top programs, but plenty of big fish are also chasing him.

No. 27 — Ethan Pocic, OT: Lemont, Illinois — Another big offensive line prospect from a state that the Irish consider their backyard. Pocic earned an offer from the Irish at camp last summer and plans on being on campus again soon.

No. 28 — Eli Woodard, CB: Voorhees, New Jersey — Woodard got his first scholarship offer from Notre Dame last summer at camp, and has since done nothing but impress. Bob Diaco is his primary recruiter, and he’ll need to be at his best if they’re going to out-duel Ohio State.

No. 30 — Max Redfield, DB: Mission Viejo, California — Playing out of one of Orange County’s premiere high schools, Redfield already has offers from both UCLA and USC, with the Irish also in play. He’s already said he plans on taking an official visit to South Bend, but the Irish would love to get him to campus even sooner.

No. 31 — Laquon Treadwell, WR: Crete, Illinois — Another Illinois product, Treadwell and Brian Kelly spoke last week, reconfirming the Irish’s interest in the lanky wide receiver. He’s a guy that could likely walk in and play quickly.

No. 32 — Leon McQuay, DB: Seffner, Florida — Another premiere athlete, McQuay also sports a better than 4.0 grade-point-average, making him an attractive target. Holding an Irish offer from the spring, McQuay has the Irish in his top five.

No. 34 — Jaylon Smith, LB: Fort Wayne, Indiana — Another guy that should be atop Notre Dame’s recruiting lists. Has a brother that’s a running back at Ohio State, so the Irish will likely be fighting another battle with Urban Meyer.

No. 36 — Trey Johnson, LB: Lawrenceville, Georgia — Already committed to Auburn, the Irish likely will continue to fight for a visit from this elite inside linebacking prospect.

No. 38 — Antonio Conner, DB: Batesville, Mississippi — Notre Dame doesn’t pull too many players out of Mississippi, but there’s mutual interest here. He’s got prototype size at safety and has the offers to prove his ability.

No. 39 — Marcell Harris, DB: Groveland, Florida — Another defensive back that has an Irish offer. Has the big three Florida schools chasing him as well.

No. 43 — Henry Poggi, DL: Baltimore, Maryland — A front-seven player that’s got elite offers, Poggi caught the Irish’s victory over Maryland at FedEx Field last year.

No. 50 — Garrett Sickels, LB: Little Silver, New Jersey — A great list of offers for this New Jersey native with a really good profile for an outside linebacker in the Irish system. Looks like an impressive athlete.

No. 59 — Ahmad Fulwood, WR: Jacksonville, Florida — Fulwood has had an Irish offer since before his junior season and has the elite of college football chasing the 6-4 speedster. He expressed interest in visiting South Bend, but hasn’t gotten to campus yet.

No. 60 — Kyle Bosch, OT: Wheaton, Illinois — The Irish were slow to offer Bosch, but that changed when Harry Hiestand connected with the Illinois native after coming aboard. Notre Dame should be in this until the end.

No. 85 — Jaynard Bostwick, DL: Port Saint Lucie, Florida — Bostwick is likely a defensive end in Notre Dame’s system with the chance to slide inside depending on the front. He’s talked about setting up a visit at Notre Dame after being offered by the Irish in December.

No. 90 — Ryan Green, RB: St. Petersburg, Florida — Green was in South Bend for the Irish’s dominating win over Air Force. He’ll likely have Notre Dame in the running for his services until the end, but will also weigh offers from the power Florida schools and other powers as well.

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For those keeping track, that’s 26 players from Rivals’ debut list — 14 of the top 30 players in the country  — that have scholarship offers from the Irish. Notre Dame has also offered a dozen more players that they’ve evaluated as better fits for their program.

It might be tough sledding for the Irish to close the deal on a majority of these recruits, but at the very least, you get to dispel the notion that the Irish don’t have access to the best talent in the country. With an early start on most of these players, Notre Dame will push to get as many to campus as soon as possible, building up a familiarity with the school that will be better than simply getting one-shot on an official visit weekend.

 

Demetris Robertson set for Sunday decision (finally!)

Demetris Robertson
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Five-star recruit Demetris Robertson is ready to make a college decision. Finally.

Months after National Signing Day, the last recruit on the board for Notre Dame is ready to pick the place he plans to go to college. And after setting an announcement date for Monday, Robertson is even pushing things forward, with a Sunday decision now in the books.

For Irish fans still paying attention to the twists and turns of this recruitment, Robertson will announce his decision from the College Football Hall of Fame in downtown Atlanta. (An homage to Jimmy Clausen, anyone?)

Here’s Rivals.com with the news after talking with Robertson’s brother and guardian.

“We were going to have it on Monday, but things got mixed up so we moved it up a day,” Carlos Robertson said. “It will be at 1 p.m., right there in that 1-2 time frame, somewhere in there.”

But it’s happening.

“His mind’s made up,” Carlos Robertson said. “Everything’s locked, but he wanted to have it, have a little public deal, but I think he knows where he wants to be.”

Robertson also cleared up why the decision is being held in Atlanta.

“We’re not from Savannah, we’re actually from right below the Atlanta area, so it will give everybody, the aunts, the uncles, everybody a chance to come,” he said. “It only made sense.”

While this recruitment has felt like a soap opera, it’s worth pointing out that there’s absolutely no reason to fault Robertson for making this decision on a timeline that he decides. National Signing Day may feel like a holiday to college football fans, but it’s really just the earliest date a letter-of-intent can be signed.

With hopes of gaining admittance into Stanford, Robertson reportedly retook his ACT multiple times, trying to make a better score. Usually that’s cause for applause, not derision. He’s also spent time further evaluating his other options, some closer to home—Georgia, Alabama—others with a significant academic profile—Cal and Notre Dame among them.

The Irish’s pursuit of Robertson has been well documented, including a visit from the team semi-truck. It’s also a recruitment where most are still in the dark. While Notre Dame is certainly still in the running, there’s no gut feeling on this one way or the other, even among those inside the program.

After averaging 15 points a game as a guard for the Savannah Christian basketball team, Robertson is preparing to compete in the state track meet, running multiple sprint events and the long jump. That type of athleticism is what has the Irish coaching staff sold on Robertson as a wide receiver, a potential replacement for Will Fuller (and two other starters) as Notre Dame restocks a depth chart that’ll also feature spring star Kevin Stepherson and incoming freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley.

With some feeling home state Georgia has moved ahead in the race, Robertson’s brother Carlos says his younger brother did what was best for him, taking his time and making a decision for himself.

“It was totally his decision, lock himself in the room, however he had to do it. This was something he had to decide on his own,” the elder Robertson told Rivals.com.

 

 

For Irish, best work will be behind closed doors

BUFFALO, NY - SEPTEMBER 12:  Head Coach Jeff Quinn of the Buffalo Bulls looks on during the game against the Baylor Bears at UB Stadium on September 12, 2014 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
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With spring practice finished and the end of the school year in sight, Brian Kelly’s team enters the all-important offseason—a time when the best work goes unseen by the coaching staff. On a squad where the lion’s share of leaders and starters need to be replaced, Kelly’s talked about the identity of this team forming when he and his assistants get out of the mix.

“We need to get the heck out of the way, in a sense, and allow those guys to step up and be leaders within their units,” Kelly said after the spring game. “And that naturally happens when the coaches get out of the way. Especially in May. They go home, they recharge, they kind of assess where they are and they hear it from us and they come back in June and they are focused on physical development and then the leadership element and they go to work on it.”

One of the storylines that’s gone mostly ignored are the changes to the group in charge of the team while the staff is getting out of the way. While Director of strength and conditioning Paul Longo has long held a premier role atop the ever-evolving org chart under Brian Kelly, the players beneath him have changed. That creates an interesting dynamic this offseason—and possibly one that could actually benefit the Irish in the months to come.

Entering his seventh season at Notre Dame along side Kelly, Longo has worked hand in hand with Kelly since his time at Central Michigan. That relationship is likely why Longo’s been more out front than any strength coach at Notre Dame in the modern era.

 

Treated as a coordinator—and actually listed above Mike Denbrock, Brian VanGorder and Mike Sanford on the team’s online roster—we’re heard plenty in seven years of Longo, riding the greatest hits through the “Coat of Armor” era all the way into today’s injury prevention mode.

But Longo’s work this offseason will be aided by an evolving group of assistants in the strength department. Aaron Wellman is gone, the former Michigan strength coach now running the New York Giants’ program. That led to an unorthodox hire by Kelly to fill his shoes, though a telling decision as a young team prepares to ascend into new jobs.

New assistant strength coach Jeff Quinn was an unlikely hire, especially considering his 30 years of coaching experience at the college level. After spending last season as an offensive analyst, Quinn transitions to the strength staff seems like a bizarre new role for a man many viewed as Kelly’s most important assistant in his pre-Notre Dame days.

Quinn last roamed the sidelines at Buffalo, a head coaching position he took over in 2010, a move he made instead of joining Kelly at Notre Dame after serving as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator. Even though he signed a five-year extension at the close of the 2012 season, Quinn was fired early in the 2014 season after a disappointing start to the year. (An open-records request revealed that Buffalo is still paying Quinn, likely supplementing his decreased earnings as an off-field staffer in South Bend.)

Kelly provided a soft landing for Quinn last year, even if he didn’t fill one of the on-staff openings that reshuffled after Tony Alford, Kerry Cooks and Bob Elliott left the ranks. And while many expected that keeping Quinn in a supporting role wasn’t as likely through another hiring cycle, the move of the trusted lieutenant to the strength staff keeps another asset under Kelly’s control, even if it begs questions about long-term sustainability.

But adding Quinn to a football-specific strength staff makes sense. It’s a role that already has David Grimes, a former Irish captain and wide receiver and continues to  feature assistant director of strength Jake Flint, who played under Kelly at Central Michigan, earning a scholarship after walking on. That’s a lot of practical football knowledge under one roof, certainly helpful as the offseason focus becomes less and less about leg press and bench press, but more and more about enhancing the knowledge base and athletic skill-set for a young team with plenty of ambition.

So as the Irish coaching staff finally finds time to step away from the 24/7 grind, they’ll be turning over their young team to Longo and his department. And as we’ve seen as Kelly and Jack Swarbrick continue to outfit the Irish program to compete in today’s landscape, these under-the-radar moves should likely pay dividends.

 

 

Draft Day is near: Final projections for talented Irish class

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - FEBRUARY 27: Wide receiver Will Fuller of Notre Dame participates in a drill during the 2016 NFL Scouting Combine at Lucas Oil Stadium on February 27, 2016 in Indianapolis, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Draft week is finally (almost) here. A football holiday that both college and NFL fans can love equally, it also marks the end of nearly four months of talking heads and manufactured debate, the end of the virtual rise and fall of player stocks with the evaluation and prognosticating industry turning everybody into an expert capable of evaluating their favorite team’s haul.

With Notre Dame poised to send their largest class to the NFL since the heyday of Lou Holtz, it’ll be a busy weekend for Irish fans. Let’s kick off draft week with a look at some of the potential homes for this group of talented former Irish athletes.

 

First Rounders:

Both Cris Collinsworth and Peter King expect Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller to go in the first round. Stanley is a consensus first-rounder, with King seeing the Cleveland Browns pulling the trigger on Stanley at No. 8 and Collinsworth having Stanley staying close to school with the Bears at No. 11. While some speculate that the Chargers could be willing to jump at Stanley at No. 3 (picking him before top-of-the-board tackle Laremy Tunsil), most see Stanley off the board somewhere between eight and 16. Not shabby—back-to-back first round left tackles with Mike McGlinchey trending in the right direction as well.

But the inclusion of Fuller on both these lists is interesting, though maybe not for Collinsworth, who has seen three seasons of Fuller (and heard from his sons quite a bit as well). Collinsworth has Fuller going to the Cincinnati Bengals, a team he knows plenty about. King has the Houston Texans taking a swing at Fuller, pairing him with standout DeAndre Hopkins. It’d certainly be a nice addition for Bill O’Brien and new zillion-dollar quarterback Brock Osweiler.

While quite a few thing Fuller will slide into round two or three, it’s interesting that NFL.com’s experts Daniel Jeremiah, Charley Casserly, Charles Davis and Lance Zierlein all have Fuller picked in the first round.

(Can’t teach 4.32 or 29 touchdowns.)

 

Top 100 prospects

Perhaps the most impressive thing out there involving Notre Dame’s talent is Mike Mayock’s Top 100. No stranger to Brian Kelly’s program, Mayock has six players in his top 100:

4. Ronnie Stanley
34. Will Fuller
38. Nick Martin
61. Sheldon Day
81. KeiVarae Russell
97. Jaylon Smith

If Smith is around that close to No. 100 he’ll be $5 million richer (thanks to his insurance policy) and he’ll also have many a teams ready to gamble on a talent who was among the five best players in college football but is currently just 3.5 months into a grueling recovery process.

Sheldon Day has found his way into first rounds in some mock drafts, mostly thanks to his incredibly productive senior season. That Russell is at 81 speaks to the talent some think he has, though last year’s game tape doesn’t necessarily match. Mostly I just can’t get over Smith at 97. What devastatingly terrible timing for the Irish All-American—who I’m convinced will have a Pro Bowl career at the next level.

 

Can Notre Dame get to 10 players drafted? 

A look back at Notre Dame’s history in the NFL Draft tells you one thing for certain: Lou Holtz developed a ton of NFL talent. But Brian Kelly has a chance to put a really impressive class on the board with the 2016 draft, and if the Irish are lucky they could match the double-digits Holtz hit in 1994.

How does that happen? It likely comes down to not just the six listed above, but rather the depth that seems to be the strength of this group.

While Mayock didn’t have C.J. Prosise in his Top 100, there are plenty of evaluators who see something special in Prosise’s game. While returns on him vary, I think it’s safe to say he’ll be drafted—likely by the middle rounds.

From there, getting Chris Brown drafted will be key. His physical traits are another positive, even if his production on the field only blossomed as a senior as the No. 2 option. Then it’s sack-leader Romeo Okwara. The combo defensive end-outside linebacker has a lot going for him in the eyes of talent evaluators—youth (he’s still not 21), not to mention a wide range of skills. He doesn’t flash as an edge rusher, but those years stuck playing as a Dog linebacker for Bob Diaco will do him well now.

Ultimately, to get to ten something good needs to happen near the bottom of the draft. Will a team find safety Elijah Shumate worthy of a draft pick? Perhaps Matthias Farley, fresh off a very impressive Pro Day. Perhaps there’s a team that fell in love with Ishaq Williams, hoping to get a jump on free agency by spending a late round pick on a physical freak who hasn’t played football in two seasons. Jarrett Grace and Amir Carlisle will certainly get their chance to sign with a team before training camp comes around, but it’s a long shot either hears their name called.

It looks like the Irish will probably fall just short of 10 draftees. Unless someone takes a run at quarterback Everett Golson, opening up an asterisk situation if there ever was one.

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John Walters and I discussed Notre Dame’s draft prospects—and a lot, lot more—in our Blown Coverage podcast. Feel free to enjoy. 

 

 

Smith’s surgeon speaks optimistically about nerve issue

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 19: Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish returns a fumble against the Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets in the third quarter at Notre Dame Stadium on September 19, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Georgia Tech 30-22. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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For the first time since suffering the injury against Ohio State, Jaylon Smith pulled back the curtain on one of the most talked about knees (and nerves) in all of football. USAToday’s Tom Pelissero spent a day with Smith—and spoke with his surgeon, Dallas Cowboys’ team doctor Dan Cooper, about the progress Smith has been making, less than four months removed from the life-altering injury.

Cooper, a veteran of 30-plus years and one of the world’s top specialists in the repair of complex knee injuries, sounded optimistic in his assessment of Smith’s injury. He also addressed the dreaded “foot-drop,” with Smith using an ankle-foot orthosis (AFO) to assist moving his left foot as the nerve slowly returns.

This from USA Today:

A checkup by NFL teams last weekend in Indianapolis showed Smith remains unable to raise his left foot or swing it out to the side because of an issue with his peroneal nerve. But the “foot-drop” isn’t a surprise at this stage, said his surgeon, Dr. Dan Cooper, who is “optimistic that his knee itself will be stable and a good knee and he’ll get all his strength back. And I also think he has a very good chance of getting his nerve recovery back.”

That’s because the lateral damage stretched Smith’s nerve “enough to make it go to sleep, but it wasn’t stretched enough to be structurally elongated or visually very damaged” like more severe injuries, Cooper told USA TODAY Sports. There’s normally a one-month lag time before the nerve regrows at all, and once it begins, the rate is only about 1 inch per month.

“He’s had time for his nerve to regrow 2 inches, and the area of where his nerve was injured is 6 inches above the muscle that it innervates,” said Cooper, who’s also the Dallas Cowboys’ head team physician. “I wouldn’t really expect him to get much innervation back into that muscle for two or three more months. Then once it does – I’ve seen kids who are completely paralyzed like him on the lateral side and not able to pick their foot up at all (that) wind up being totally normal.”

Smith expressed optimism to Pelissero—as he has to everyone he’s come in contact with. He’s also continued to work out diligently, back up to 240 pounds and squatting and leg pressing like an All-American linebacker, not a man roughly 3.5 months post surgery. Smith also performed 24 reps on the bench press during Notre Dame’s Pro Day.

Perhaps more promising, Smith also says he’s making progress with the nerve, feeling tingles down his leg and moving closer to the foot.

“I feel different sensations every day,” Smith told Pelissero. “But it’s a thing where it’s patience, so you don’t try to hype yourself up too much.”