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Spring evaluation period puts the focus on recruiting

May 1, 2012, 5:04 PM EDT

Steve Elmer

With the annual Blue-Gold game in the rear-view mirror, Notre Dame’s assistant coaches are spread across the country making in-school visits to some of the best 2013 prospects in the country. With new assistant Scott Booker making his way to Georgia, Bob Elliott working California with Mike Denbrock, and Tony Alford on some of Florida’s best prospects, it’s another year of Brian Kelly’s coaching staff aggressively pursuing some of the nation’s best prep talent.

New names will emerge in the coming months, as Irish fans pin the team’s fate on landing five-star X or blue-chip Y. But with an early start to the class and some great momentum heading into the long offseason, it makes sense to take a look at the recruits already in the fold, and what role they’ll likely play in building the Irish program.

OFFENSIVE LINE

Anchored by the early commitment of blue-chipper Steve Elmer, the offensive line was a position of need for the 2013 class. Those needs were filled quickly with two junior days that netted major commitments from three highly-touted tackle prospects. With four linemen in the fold, it appeared the Irish were finished, but they accepted the commitment of Everett, Massachusetts’ John Montelus, who looks like he could play either tackle or guard.

Current Commitments:
Hunter Bivin — Owensboro, Kentucky
Steve Elmer — Midland, Michigan
Mike McGlinchey — Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Colin McGovern — New Lenox, Illinois
John Montelus — Everett, Massachusetts

What’s Left: The Irish will likely have a closed offensive line class, filling their coffers with five massive players who all look remarkably athletic. Elmer, who closed up shop on his recruiting back in the 2011 season’s opening month, may be the most highly touted, but all five have excellent offers. Montelus, at a legit 6-foot-4 or 6-foot-5 and just shy of 300 pounds, is the smallest of the group. Kelly has changed the profile of offensive linemen that the Irish are looking for, bringing in bigger, stronger and faster players than the previous regime.

DEFENSIVE BACK

After adding four safeties via the 2012 recruiting class and welcoming back Chris Badger from his Mormon Mission, the Irish need to make cornerback a priority in the 2013 class, especially after Tee Shepard leaving Notre Dame before ever stepping foot on the field. The Irish already have two potential corners locked in, adding versatile athletes with great size to the recruiting class before the 2012 season begins. They’ll likely bring in a safety if he’s a prospect the Irish like enough, and try to add another edge player as well.

Current Commitments:
Devin Butler — Washington, D.C.
Rashad Kinlaw — Galloway, New Jersey

What’s Left: The Irish certainly aren’t done chasing cornerbacks, and Tony Alford is working on Vernon Hargreaves III, one of the best prospects in the state of Florida, not to mention the country. They’ll also chase Mackensie Alexander, an Immokalee, FL native. The Irish haven’t had the best of luck in that area, but they’ll have a willing recruiting in Mike Heuerman working on Alexander. Notre Dame got a visit from Antwuan Davis, but he’s a Texas native with a Longhorns offer. They’ll also entertain Cole Luke, who will visit from Arizona with his prep coach, former Irish QB Steve Belles.

TIGHT END

Consider this a home run. We only touched on it briefly, but Heuerman’s pledge is a mammoth victory for the Irish staff, and it’ll likely help ND with other Florida recruits as well. After choosing Brian Kelly’s offense over Urban Meyer’s that’s a mighty nice data-point for recruits to reference, and it’ll be something that I’m guessing might come up in passing conversations between players.

Current Commitments:
Mike Heuerman — Naples, Florida

What’s left: Nothing but work on the 2014 class. With Tyler Eifert playing his final season, the position should still be in good hands with Ben Koyack, Alex Welch, Troy Niklas and Heuerman.

WIDE RECEIVER

The Irish were unable to trot out a two-deep during the spring game, and the loss of Michael Floyd will certainly leave quite a void. But with Chris Brown, Justin Ferguson and Davonte Neal coming this summer, the Irish will look to build positional depth in this class as well, and have already got a head start. Neither of the two commitments will blow you away with their star-rating, but each bring something different to the table. Expect the Irish to push hard to land at least one more player at the position.

Current Commitments:
James Onwualu — St. Paul, Minnesota
Corey Robinson — San Antonio, Texas

What’s left: Scott Booker will be in Georgia working on Demarcus Robinson, one of the top Irish targets and a national player with legit offers. The Irish will also try and get back in with Laquan Treadwell, an Illinois prospect with a national wishlist. With Onwualu, the Irish get back into Cretin-Derham Hall, and have a defacto recruiting captain. With Robinson, they have a guy that’s likely to grow even taller, and comes with an impressive pedigree. Neither of the guys committed are speed merchants, so the Irish might look to get some outside speed as they seek out a few more top targets.

QUARTERBACK

A year after landing a top pro-style quarterback, the Irish ended their ride on the annual quarterback carousel early when Malik Zaire jumped at the Irish offer. With most Irish fans focused on Matt Alviti as the name to watch, Zaire — a lefty, with true dual-threat capabilities with both his arm and legs — is a guy Irish fans should be thrilled about. With offers from Ohio State, Alabama, Nebraska and others, Zaire adds another diverse piece to the future depth chart.

Current Commitments:
Malik Zaire — Kettering, Ohio

What’s left: Nothing. The Irish will likely get an early look at the 2014 quarterbacks while Zaire helps recruit the ’13 class.

DEFENSIVE END

The loss of Aaron Lynch likely accelerates the recruiting process for the defensive coaching staff, as they’ll look to build on an impressive depth chart by bringing in talented pass rushers and physical players that can stack up in Bob Diaco’s multiple defense. With an emphasis already stated on “big skill” players, expect this spring to be spend identifying, offering and recruiting players that can shift between outside linebacker and defensive end, as well as finding a defensive tackle prospect as well.

Current Commitments:
Jacob Matuska — Columbus, Ohio

What’s left: Plenty. First up is the Irish getting the commitment of Isaac Rochelle, a Georgia product that’s 95% of the way there. Then they’ll continue canvassing the country looking for talent, from everywhere to Hawaii, where Scott Pagano plays, to in-state talents like Darius Latham, and everywhere in between. After struggling for years to land elite front-seven defensive talent, Brian Kelly and his staff have been on a roll lately. They’d like it to continue with this class, an important unit for continuity.

 

 

  1. irisheyesinsd - May 1, 2012 at 6:58 PM

    Nice job on filling the void, Keith. There is very little news out there right now.

    Just a couple of comments. I thought the all-world TE we wanted was Adam Breneman? Don’t take this as a knock on Heuerman, just saying that’s the guy who was #1 on our prospect list for the position at the beginning, right?

    Also, no mention of Su’a Cravens or local guy Jaylon Smith? And we’re still pursuing a 5* RB like Ryan Green or Ty Isaac, right? I guess you can’t mention them all or it starts to sound like a wish list rather than targeted recruiting.

    I’d also be interested in knowing who ND continues to pursue even after he has verballed elsewhere.

    • nudeman - May 1, 2012 at 7:12 PM

      Funny thing is ND almost NEVER seems to be lacking at TE. From Ken McAfee to Derek Brown to Mark Bavaro to Rudolph to Eifert and whoever I missed in between. TEs and slot receivers seem to love ND.

      Tim Priester who has a coaching background and is dishes out compliments conservatively says he thinks Heurmann can play right away. Good enough for me.

      • bernhtp - May 1, 2012 at 8:28 PM

        Fasano and Carlson are still playing in the NFL.

      • irishsportstalk - May 4, 2012 at 3:02 PM

        Most years after the main TE leaves for the pros I’m left expecting a drop off the following season but almost always proven wrong. I’ve fallen in love with the TE position over the past 7 years.

  2. bernhtp - May 1, 2012 at 7:00 PM

    There are some top-rated recruits taking a good look at Notre Dame such as Vernon Hargreaves. This recruiting class has started well and still has a lot of upside. Of course, it would help if we had some big wins this year.

  3. nudeman - May 1, 2012 at 7:05 PM

    1. I am amazed by the constant drumbeat about “the previous regime” not concentrating on the line talent and strength conditioning. It is hard to believe that ANY football coach would be negligent in those areas. So, is that fact or fiction? I wonder if this is a legend that’s grown over the last 3 years.

    2. To anyone who knows for sure: How does this group of commits compare in quantity and quality to last year’s group at this time of the year? Sure seems like ND is off to a fast start, but last year at this time guys like Decker, Tee, Greenberry and Darby were in the stable, so things looked good then too. Then the circus began.

    • irishsportstalk - May 4, 2012 at 3:08 PM

      Either the recruits were mediocre or development was lacking, because the production in the trenches of “the previous regime” was very poor or inconsistent at best.

  4. dmac4real - May 1, 2012 at 7:14 PM

    Not to complain (as this was a great article)…but where are the LB and RB? I mean Jaylon and Ryan Green are most likely 2 of our top targets.

    • irish4006 - May 2, 2012 at 1:33 PM

      Good question. Any intriguing LB prospect?

      Ideally, we should have found Manti 2.0 by now, working out with the 2nd team, learning the system. With Lynch gone and Ishaq not performing up to his potential, LB position is becoming more and more important. Buiilding SEC Caliber depth in D and continue to build on the moderate success in the last season and a half will not be easy.

  5. gtizzo - May 1, 2012 at 8:02 PM

    Thanks Keith,

    Keep those recruiting updates coming, even during the season.

  6. ndgoldandblue - May 2, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    As fans of Notre Dame football, we have a somewhat skewed opinion of our team and our talent. Some of us are overly positive, believing that we have the talent to beat anyone. And some of us are overly negative, believing that we don’t have enough talent to beat several teams on our schedule. I guess I fall somewhere in the middle.

    I think that there is some serious talent on this team, but we don’t have the best of the best. Do I think we have the talent to win the national championship? Nope. I think that if Notre Dame is ever going to win another national championship, it’s going to be because they over-achieved. However, I do think the Irish have the talent to get to a BCS bowl game. I like the recruits that BK and staff have brought in. I think the foundation they are laying on both sides of the line of scrimmage should result in BCS-level seasons in the future.

    How will this next season go, however? I tend to go both ways on this. The beginning of the schedule could allow this Irish team to build up some serious momentum going into week three against MSU. If the Irish defeat Navy and Purdue, and look good doing it (few turnovers), that momentum could (emphasis on could) carry them to victories against Sparty and then Michigan at home. That would then set up a nice prime-time clash with Miami in Chicago, and I would put my money on a 4-0 Irish squad taking on Miami in a venue that should be considered home-field advantage for Notre Dame (proximity to South Bend, alumni in the Chicago area, etc.).

    After that, if the Irish manage to get to 5-0, all bets are off for the rest of the season. The type of momentum and confidence that a 5-0 Irish team would have against the rest of their schedule would be substantial, and frankly, I think the Irish would use that confidence to put out good showings (possibly wins) against Stanford, Oklahoma, and even USC.

    This all changes, however, if Notre Dame craps the bed against either Navy or Purdue. If they lose either or both of those games, it will be 2007 all over again. However, if they win both of those games, which I imagine they should, I am predicting that the Irish will go at least 3-1 heading into the bye week.

    What does this have to do with recruiting you might ask? Everything. Last year’s recruitapalooza for the USC game didn’t work out too well for the Irish. If the Irish want to compete at the national level, they need to bring in big-time recruits and keep them here. No more last-minute defections; no more transfers. In order to do that, however, they need to start winning on the big stage. Beat some teams that you, maybe, aren’t supposed to beat, and definitely beat the teams that you are supposed to beat. Start the season strong at 2-0, which they should, and the 2012 year could be much better than most of us expect.

    • andy44teg - May 2, 2012 at 11:36 AM

      I thought you said you “fell somewhere in the middle”??? I agree with you that if we lose the first two games it’s going to be ’07 all over again..but in now way, if we beat navy and purdue, does that mean we’re going to build up enough momentum to beat OU and USC. Sure, it’s possible, but i’d put the odds at us beating either one of those two teams at 10-1 and beating both at 50-1. It’s going to be a tough season no matter how ya slice it. I’m guessing 10 and 2 or 9 and 3 if EVERYTHING goes right and 6-6 or 7-5 if we haven’t fixed what caused the mistakes of ’11.

      • ndgoldandblue - May 2, 2012 at 12:20 PM

        Look, I hear you. In fact, my expectations for this upcoming season are around the 7-5 mark. I’m just thinking back to last year. A lot of fans are pissed that the Irish finished the year 8-5. I think some people forget that this team dug themselves a huge 0-2 hole. Eight wins after starting the season 0-2 isn’t that bad. Additionally, it wouldn’t have been so bad if the losses came to excellent teams. They didn’t, however. They came to two teams that the Irish should have beaten (USF-more talent, UM-huge lead). Last season had the possibility of being a BCS year.

        This year, however, I expect the Irish to be ready to play on day one. Plus, (and I know that this is a huge leap of faith here) I expect the Irish to avoid the mistakes they made last year against Navy and Purdue. They might make those turnover mistakes later in the year, but I think they’ll have clean games against their first two opponents.

        My point? Starting 2-0 does a lot more to help the psyche than 0-2. And confidence and momentum determine a team’s success quite a bit. I agree with you that everything has to go right in order for 2012 to be a BCS year. I’m just saying that it’s not outside the realm of possibility. A lot of posters believe that a BCS bowl next year is completely impossible. If we start off strong, who knows?

        I’m just thinking about recruiting. This team needs to positively surprise a few people next year if they want to compete, recruiting-wise, with the powerhouses of college football. To say that winning doesn’t yield results in recruiting is naive. That USC game proved it.

      • andy44teg - May 2, 2012 at 12:38 PM

        Agree with you on the recruiting. I’m saying that if we start the year 2-0 we will still more than likely have a year (record-wise) like last year. And, actually, that won’t be that bad IMO.

      • irish4006 - May 2, 2012 at 1:55 PM

        I will take those odds, Andy. :-P

        10-2 is very much possible, if (and that is a big IF) we can play to our potential on O and out of our skins on D.

        Right now, the big/glaring weaknesses are QB and CB positions. While there is a shortage of talent at CB, a good QB can take us a long way in 2012. By good, I don’t really mean Brady Quinn good; more like good enough to move the ball and making plays with minimum mistakes. I sure am hoping for someone who will emerge as a leader and has the necessary skills to be a solid D-I QB.

  7. bernhtp - May 2, 2012 at 12:01 PM

    Here’s what I expect:

    – win first two. Anything less looks really bad.
    – win one of the two Michigan’s. That puts us even or better than the previous two years. Win both makes things look very good. Lose both and it causes problems.
    – win against Miami. They are not a very good team, but they do have some significant talent. A loss against them is only acceptable if Miami has somehow put their team together.
    – 50/50+ against Stanford. It’s not the same team without Luck and some of the others they lost. They are very beatable, but still a good team.
    – BYU. About the same as Stanford, maybe a bit easier.
    – OK is a loss. They are a great team and it would be a major boost to the ND program to walk away with a win. Long shot.
    – Pitt is a win, but they are not without talent or coaching. Maybe the same as Miami in terms of difficulty.
    – BC. They’re probably worse than Navy and Purdue. We better not let those bastards ruin another season.
    – Wake Forest is another win, though they are not bad.
    – USC is probably a loss. They are a very good team with their skill players back. Let’s hope that Barkley is unable to play again.

    8-4 is my midpoint expectation. Anything better against this schedule I will consider significant progress, especially if it includes a signature win (OK, USC).

  8. helpu2day - May 2, 2012 at 2:13 PM

    Really enjoyed this post as I like to keep on top of Irish recruiting. I believe recruiting is on the upswing in South Bend although there have been some disappointments (Lynch, Sheppard, etc…). Keep the faith as I think BK an coaching staff are headed in the right direction. Shame we can’t move South Bend to warmer climate as I think this is a factor in the decision making of some of the more talented cry-baby stars. But it is what it is. I look forward to the upcoming season (as always) and expect the Irish to surprise and compete for a BCS berth (perhaps too much wishful thinking on my part). Too many things that could go wrong did go wrong last year but I agree that BK needs to choose his starting QB ASAP. I think we should move on and end the Rees era AND the Hendrix era and go with Golson…he kinda reminds me of the last QB we had that won the Title (Tony Rice) and if we have to bite the bullet his first year as a starter then so be it. I still think we have the talent to be competitive in every game this year with Oklahoma and USC …and to a lesser degree the 2 Michigans…being the games that we have to stay focused, bring our “A” game, and play mistake free football. We also have to win, and win convincingly, the games we are supposed to win. So, to me, if our team plays the way they should, I look to a minimum 9 win season. The other 3 potential wins are open for debate.

  9. bearcatirishfan - May 2, 2012 at 2:45 PM

    Unfortunately,I think 9 wins is the ceiling. I think there will be one unexpected upset, but also one unexpected loss, that’s the way it goes with good talent that has not played a lot of minutes yet. Remember there will be a lot of first time starters at key positions this year qb, wr, cb just to mention a few.

  10. 1historian - May 3, 2012 at 7:20 AM

    Bernhtp – Your one phrase ‘signature win’ is what I have been saying off and on for 2 years – a game we are NOT supposed to win but do win, preferably on the other teams’ turf. I call it a turnaround game. For that to happen a LEADER has to emerge at QB. I nominate Everett Golson. Yes he’ll make mistakes but he is the first QB recruited by BK and he has shown lots of potential and finally – if not now, when?

    • bogtrottin - May 3, 2012 at 2:31 PM

      i hate to say it, but i thought the SC game a couple yrs ago was a pretty signature win, in LA, and with rees newly at the helm. and then it did portend well for the bowl game. and then it went a bit sideways from there in 2011. but still, be great to have another one of those in ’12.

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