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After blue-chip recruitment, Fleming flying under NFL radar

Feb 27, 2012, 4:22 PM EDT

South Florida v Notre Dame Getty Images

It’ll be interesting to follow Darius Fleming‘s career after leaving South Bend. The graduating Irish linebacker, who came to Notre Dame with sky-high expectations, heads to Indianapolis with far less fanfare. After being one of the top recruits in the country, Fleming will need a solid evaluation season to even end up drafted.

Many assumed Fleming’s career would take a welcome boost from Brian Kelly’s tenure as the Irish head coach. After bouncing between linebacker and undersized defensive end, Fleming seemed the perfect fit at the Cat linebacker position, where his ability to rush the passer and athleticism to play in space would be perfectly utilized. Comparisons to Cincinnati’s Connor Barwin, a combo DE/OLB that excelled when Kelly came to the Bearcats had Irish fans thinking the light-switch would simply flip when Fleming was put into Bob Diaco’s system.

Taking a quick look at Barwin’s combine numbers, Fleming held his own with the former second-round draft pick. Barwin has a size advantage on Fleming, notching in at 6-foot-4, 256 pounds compared to Fleming’s 6-foot-2, 245, and held his own with speed, nudged by less than one-tenth of a second with an official 4.72 sprint in the 40. (Though Barwin did clock an incredible 4.47 forty at his pro day.) Fleming easily bested Barwin in the strength department, but wasn’t near as explosive in the jumping drills.

Of course, Barwin also put together staggering stats in his collegiate career, something Fleming wasn’t able to do. In many ways, Fleming is the personification of arrested player development, flip-flopping early in his career and then struggling to learn on the fly a third defense when Kelly and company came to town. There were dominant flashes were Fleming played like an All-American, but there were also games were No. 45 might as well have been anonymous.

Success at Notre Dame hasn’t necessarily been a good predictor for NFL stability. A professional career like the one David Givens forged after a good, but not great Irish career might be considered a long shot, but watching players like David Bruton and Sergio Brown succeed should have Fleming feeling confident that if he receives a shot, he’ll be able to make the most of it. Like Bruton and Brown, Fleming has the athleticism to play at the next level. He’ll need to show that in drill work and pro days, something both Fleming and his team understand.

‘‘It’s up to Darius to wow ’em in the interview, wow ’em in the film work and chalkboard, shoot for top 10s in all the categories for the combine, and then at the Pro Day kill his skill work,” Fleming’s trainer Elias Karras told the Chicago Sun Times. “That’s where we really see movement, the skill work.’’

Interestingly enough, the lack of continuity that likely plagued his collegiate development might actually become an asset moving forward. Fleming cutting his weight to 245 pounds should have him prepared to gain some positional flexibility at linebacker, potentially allowing him to work from the middle, while his athleticism and speed should make him a valuable special teams contributor.

Either way, after entering Notre Dame will sky-high expectations, perhaps flying under the radar might do Fleming some good.

  1. rambler09 - Feb 27, 2012 at 5:23 PM

    I really hope that Darius blows people away with the rest of his combine/pro-day. As his freshman RA, I have to say that Darius is an incredibly nice guy and a man of high character. He will do well wherever he ends up. Any NFL team that picks him up will be lucky to have him in their locker room. Go get ’em, Darius.

    • 808raiderinparadise - Feb 27, 2012 at 8:04 PM

      anyone else see that Nea withdrew from High School for personal reasons? eeeeeekkkk!!! this kid ohas issues.

  2. bernhtp - Feb 27, 2012 at 5:38 PM

    ND has its own lost generation where the coaching and system changes under Weis and then to Kelly left lots of very talented kids very confused and underdeveloped. Harrison Smith is another top recruit that shuffled between positions. I wish them all of the best.

  3. dickasman - Feb 27, 2012 at 5:58 PM

    With those 40 numbers, I certainly hope he doesn’t quit his day job singing for hootie and the blowfish! J/K.

    He measured in bigger than I thought. He seemed small didn’t seem like 6-2 to me watching him play but I thought Floyd didn’t seem that fast on the field either as he did at the combine. Good luck to fellow Chicagoan! I have no idea where he will end up…maybe with patriots or steelers playing the 3-4 edge?

  4. mmanor01 - Feb 27, 2012 at 6:02 PM

    Just read that Davonte has left his current high school and transferring to another to finish his academic requirements. I have no idea what this means, but something is going on. Kelly’s response doesn’t calm my nerves on this one. Why leave in the 2nd semester of your senior year to go to another school? Could this have something to do with all his friends going to UofA?

    • pacific123ocean - Feb 27, 2012 at 6:21 PM

      Do you have a link?

    • dickasman - Feb 27, 2012 at 7:00 PM,0,1764573.story

      Oh lordy, just what we needed…another drama mama!

      • dickasman - Feb 27, 2012 at 7:01 PM

        I dunno if the kids confused or not but I wouldn’t be shocked if he came outta the closet right now. Jesus, what is going on here? I thought once you fax the papers in, you’re done? I thought you were accepted? So I can’t imagine that this is education related?

      • nudeman - Feb 27, 2012 at 7:58 PM

        LOFL. on “out of the closet”.

        Might announce he’s switching to baseball.

      • andy44teg - Feb 27, 2012 at 10:05 PM

        LOL…pitcher or catcher?

      • idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 27, 2012 at 11:32 PM

        I’d bet that this is an academic issue. He enrolled in a private HS and immediately moved up in class ranking. I don’t know the requirements for an athlete to enroll at ND, but most colleges look at class rank now.

        Purely a move to ensure acceptance at ND, IMO.

      • jrct2450yahoo - Feb 28, 2012 at 11:38 AM

        This is yet another instance where the warning signs are out. This kid is going to be a problem from day one. Remember you heard it here first.

      • paiten34 - Mar 1, 2012 at 8:30 PM

        I don’t see any reason to be concerned about the transfer.

    • paiten34 - Mar 1, 2012 at 8:27 PM

      Like I said before Neal only went to Chaparral because he wanted to play for a school with a chance to win state titles and get the exposure that playing at Chaparral can give you. That is why I thought he would go to Notre Dame and that is why he has committed to ND.

      After his sophmore season he left his high school Ceaser Chavez as the top under- classman in the state. He transfered right after his sophmore football season was over so he wouldn’t lose a year of playing. He moved into quarterback Connor Brewer’s house so he had a new physical address so again he wouldn’t lose eligibility. He never wanted to be at Chaparral but that football team gave him the future he wanted. That is why he left now because he lives no where near the school and the school has out lived it’s usefulness to Neal. He is an awesome player with a great skill set. I’m glad he’s at notre dame. He will work hard and play hard for this school. He has a field speed that is faster than his 40 time with great agility. He lacks size but he is strong with powerful legs and tough to tackle.

  5. dickasman - Feb 27, 2012 at 6:18 PM

    oh sweet jesus…Landon Collins mother must have gotten to Davonte Neal’s mother.

  6. nudeman - Feb 27, 2012 at 7:57 PM

    Saw my “source” today. Kidded him about Neal to ND. I hadn’t yet seen anything about the switching of HS so that wasn’t a topic.

    He’s not an ND fan at all but concedes this is a better life move for Neal, because among other reasons, he said UA graduates ~30% of their African American athletes.

    You know what? I almost don’t care if he ends up going to UA (I doubt that will happen, btw). I read an article today on One Foot Down which Keith had referenced. ND is actually pretty strong at slot which I would think is where Neal will play if he plays offense. All this drama about Mr. Houston and Neal – we’re forgetting guys like GA III, Russell, Farley and Theo. Toma too. ALL can play.

    Would Neal help? Of course. But not if he doesn’t want to be there.

    • nudeman - Feb 27, 2012 at 8:12 PM

      Here’s the article from the AZ paper. Maybe the key to this HS switch lies in the last sentence?

      Scottsdale Chaparral football coach Dave Huffine confirmed that senior receiver/cornerback Davonte’ Neal withdrew from school Monday.

      “It’s a personal matter and I wish him the best of luck,” said Huffine, who was promoted from offensive coordinator to head coach after Charlie Ragle left in early January to be part of Rich Rodriguez’ staff at the University of Arizona in football operations.

      Chaparral Athletic Director Sam Messina also confirmed Neal’s withdrawal from school, saying all the school can say is that “It’s a personal thing.”

      Neal still needs to finish his spring course load and graduate from high school. Neal enrolled today at Phoenix Central, a Central official confirmed Monday.

      Luke Neal, Davonte’s father, did not return a phone message and a text message from The Arizona Republic.

      Neal was The Republic’s Big Schools Football Player of the Year his junior season when he helped lead Chaparral to a second straight state championship. He was instrumental in Chaparral’s third consecutive title last season, when he was the state’s only player to exceed 1,000 yards both receiving and rushing.

      Neal signed his letter of intent last Tuesday afternoon with Notre Dame at his former elementary school, Kyrene de la Esperanza, after not showing up to a scheduled morning news conference in front of the school’s student body because of personal reasons.

      Neal’s class academic ranking likely will rise at Central.

      Read more:

  7. bernhtp - Feb 27, 2012 at 10:05 PM

    This is yet another piece of drama for Davonte. I certainly hope he gets it together in the next three months before trudging up north. It will be very difficult for him and he can’t afford distractions.

  8. bostonjan - Feb 27, 2012 at 11:29 PM

    How about people cut the young man some slack/ give HIM the benefit of the doubt. Certainly until more details come out.

    Personally I’d love to see him finish his senior year at a HS in South Bend.

    • papadec - Feb 28, 2012 at 2:56 AM

      boston – would that be with David Perkins?

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