Steve Elmer

Spring evaluation period puts the focus on recruiting


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.



Mailbag: The head coach, Malik and the running game

Notre Dame offensive line

bearcatboy:  The “fire coach Kelly” thing is getting a bit over-blown, particularly in the twitter-verse (ad nauseum). I hate asking this question (I think its reached the point where it’s warranted), but as a rational person, what has Kelly done to make you truly believe he can win a title, or even big games for that matter, at ND?

Consider this an answer to the roughly 40 different posts asking the same question. So apologies if this gets a little meandering.

The big thing for me—and something that most people calling for change are doing their best to ignore—is that Brian Kelly already got his team to one title game. If you’re trying to run him out of town based on this season, you can’t ignore that season. This isn’t figure skating, where you throw out the high score but not the low.

Ultimately, my biggest reason for sticking with the status quo, is that it’s hard to win. Period. And it’s really hard to win at Notre Dame. Besides that, all coaches, at least when they’re under your microscope, are going to have flaws that drive you nuts.

Let’s go through the wish list of Notre Dame coaches: Urban Meyer just lost to a 20-point underdog this weekend, and he’s still one of the game’s two best coaches. Dream candidate Tom Herman lost to Navy and just got blown out by SMU, another huge underdog.

You want someone who has some tenure? Well, former Irish assistant Dan Mullen lost a few terrible games this year that are head-scratchers and Dak Prescott is getting smaller in the rearview mirror. David Shaw’s team is losing. Mark Dantonio’s team is losing. Dave Doeren’s team is losing. Jim Mora’s team is losing.

This isn’t the old college football. This isn’t even Lou Holtz’s college football. It’s a hyper-competitive industry, and while there are a few institutional advantages that Notre Dame still certainly has, there are quite a few negatives that are truly barriers to winning.

We’ve watched Kelly and Jack Swarbrick attack some of the major ones—and Kelly has it better than Bob Davie, Ty Willingham and Charlie Weis when it comes to others. But certain things—academics, the way the university handles  student life, fifth-years and redshirts—they might not ever change.

Ultimately, I don’t know if Notre Dame can compete with Alabama—if that’s the standard you want to set. But then again the Crimson Tide had a star defender arrested for drugs and guns on a Thursday and he played on Saturday. Max Redfield is looking for a place to finish up his degree.

I think Brian Kelly’s a good football coach having a really tough season. Can he bring Notre Dame to the promise land? Not sure.

But he had them within 60 minutes once and last year had a roster that was ravaged by injury and had his team within a field goal of probably getting an invite to the playoff. So I’m not rolling the dice yet, and wouldn’t unless the change is a clear upgrade. And I’m not sure who that’d be.


blackirish23: Malik Zaire has been less than impressive when given the opportunity. Do you think Malik’s heart just isn’t in being a back-up QB and thus has lost a bit of his passion for the game which affects his play when given the opportunity?

If somehow Kizer decides to return to ND next season, should the coaching staff discuss a position switch with Malik similar to what happened with Carlyle Holiday and Arnaz Battle (and even Braxton Miller at Ohio State)? If so, what position would Malik be best suited to switch to?

Thanks for the question, it’s certainly not the first time someone has wondered how to utilize Malik if it isn’t at quarterback. To address that point first, Malik isn’t Arnaz or Carlyle, and he certainly isn’t Braxton Miller. Those guys have the speed to be NFL receivers, something Malik doesn’t possess. Does that make him a tight end? H-Back? Running back? Probably not one who is good enough to get onto the field for the Irish.

As for his heart, I don’t think that’s something I can speak to with any certainty, though I do think he’s pressing. Give a guy known for “making plays when things break down” a limited amount of reps and it’s human nature to press. That explains to me why he’s breaking out of the pocket and scrambling when the initial look isn’t there. Or trying to juke a defender and make a play instead of throwing the ball away on a reverse.

Lastly, if Kizer stays-or-goes, I think Zaire would owe it to himself to look around and check out his options after he earns his degree. A graduate transfer might be the best thing for his football career if he wants to be a starter. Because Brandon Wimbush is a very talented quarterback with an elite set of skills and there’s no telling if Zaire will beat him out for the job next year, let alone Kizer.


ndgoz: ND has consistently been producing high-level NFL draft picks on the O-line. The running game is predominantly zone read plays, which rely on isolating and attempting to deceive a defender. If ND has the quality offensive line that the NFL draft suggests, why doesn’t ND put more emphasis on a power running game?

If you have more size and skill than your opponent, you don’t need to trick them – just overpower them. You can still take advantage of the QB running ability with bootlegs and rollouts to keep the defense honest.

I’m not the guy to go to if you’re looking for astute offensive line breakdowns. For a while, I think there was some validity to the criticism that Notre Dame’s ground game was a bit too vanilla. Inside zone, outside zone, repeat.

But I don’t think the zone read game is as simple as you make it out to be. Deception is a piece of it, but there’s plenty of physicality and winning at the point of attack, something we just haven’t seen that much of this year.

Kelly’s running game looked great last year, a big-play machine with a talented offensive line.  No, they weren’t a lock to convert every short-yardage attempt, but then again—Alabama isn’t either. And with CJ Prosise and Josh Adams and a very nice offensive front, these guys were hitting home runs.

The zone read can drive certain fans nuts. But asking why Kelly doesn’t put more of an emphasis on the power running game kind of ignores the fact that he’s not running that system. So when you say that the offense could get production from DeShone Kizer on bootlegs and rollouts, I think you’re discounting just how impactful Kizer has been as a runner these past two season. He’s run for 17 touchdowns in the 19 games he’s played since Virginia last year and he’s on pace for double-digit touchdowns again this season.

We’ve seen Kelly and Harry Hiestand do things to help get the ground game going—pistol, pulls, traps, and a few other wrinkles. But a lot of the issue is breaking in four starters at new positions with only Quenton Nelson in the same position as last year. This group will gel. But it might be a while before they can just go out and dictate terms.



How we got here: Roster Attrition

Rees Golson Kiel

There is the team you recruit and then the team that you coach. And for Brian Kelly, the team he could be coaching certainly isn’t the one that’s taking the field.

Turnover on the Notre Dame roster is by no means exclusive to the Kelly era. For as long as you’ve likely been following Irish football, players have been coming and going–often times sooner than four or five years.

But as we look at the sources of this disappointing season, how this became Notre Dame’s youngest roster since 1972 is worth a look. Because as Brian Kelly struggles to win with a team that’s playing a stack of underclassmen while his fourth and fifth-year classes are all but gone, it’s amazing to see the attrition that’s struck this roster, especially considering this should be when the Irish are feeling the benefits of their national title game appearance.

From fifth-year candidates to sophomores, 20 signees have left the Irish program. That includes transfers, dismissals, withdrawals, injuries or walking away. (It doesn’t include leaving early for the NFL.)

The talent drain has taken big names and small, included five-star prospects like Gunner Kiel, Eddie Vanderdoes, Greg Bryant and most recently Max Redfield. It’s featured shortened career of projected 2016 starters Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson, and shown the bad luck the Irish staff has had bringing in pass rushers.

Let’s look at how this team got so young.


Gunner Kiel, QB — 5 star
Tee Shepard, CB — 4 star
Davonte Neal, WR — 4 star
Will Mahone, RB — 3 star
Justin Ferguson, WR — 3 star

Recap: The second phase of Brian Kelly’s star-crossed quarterback run came after Gunner Kiel transferred after a redshirt season, leaving before Everett Golson was declared academically ineligible. Had Kiel stuck around, who knows what would’ve happened. The departure of Tee Shepard was also costly, the highly-touted cornerback never dressing for the Irish after his early enrollment didn’t help clear up academic issues that seemed to plague him for the rest of his football playing career.

Neal reemerged at Arizona, moving to the defensive side of the ball. Mahone’s high-profile dismissal came after an ugly incident in his hometown of Youngstown, but resulted in a life-changing turnaround. Add in the early departures (though successful careers) of Ronnie Stanley and CJ Prosise and you begin to see how this group certainly accomplished plenty, but left a ton on the table.


Greg Bryant, RB — 5 star
Max Redfield, S — 5 star
Eddie Vanderdoes, DT — 5 star
Steve Elmer, OL — 4 star
Corey Robinson, WR — 4 star
Mike Heuerman, TE — 4 star
Doug Randolph, DL — 4 star
Rashad Kinlaw, DB — 3 star
Michael Deeb, LB — 3 star

Recap: This group could’ve redefined the roster. While Bryant and Redfield never played up to their potential before being cut loose from the university, a front-line defensive lineman like Vanderdoes would’ve changed the complexion of the Irish defense.

Below the radar, the losses of Steve Elmer and Corey Robinson certainly hurt more than we expected. Neither were breakaway talents, but both more than good enough to been veteran starters on a team that clearly needed a few more of them.

The bottom half of this list almost stands out just because they were big swings and misses. With the Heuerman, Kinlaw, and Deeb, the Irish took shots on a few less-than-elite names and came up empty, with Heuerman and Deeb never able to shake off injuries before eventually going on medical hardships. A big recruiting class coming off a historic season, this group had plenty of success, but could’ve been more.


Nile Sykes, LB — 3 stars
Grant Blankenship, DE — 3 stars
Kolin Hill, DE — 3 stars
Jhonathon Williams, DE — 3 stars

Recap: Four defenders, four front seven players, three pass rushers. When Irish fans wonder where the pass rush is, it’s misses like this that end up really hurting. Sykes, Hill and Williams were hardly national prospects. Blankenship was an early target with modest offers, though a strong senior season brought interest from Texas.

Hill’s pass rush skills were evident from his situational use as a freshman. His departure left a hole, and he’s now the second-leading tackler behind the line of scrimmage for Texas Tech. Sykes never made it onto the Irish roster, and is now the sack leader for Indiana. Williams is now in the mix at Toledo, a reach by the Irish staff who saw him as a developmental prospect.


Mykelti Williams, DB — 4 star
Jalen Guyton, WR — 3 star
Bo Wallace, DE — 3 star

Recap: Three wash outs that seemed like promising prospects when they committed. Williams was especially important, a key piece at a position of need who is now reviving his career at Iowa Western CC. Guyton is also taking the Juco route, the leading receiver at Trinity Valley CC in Texas. Wallace is an edge rusher now at Arizona State, never making it to campus after Brian Kelly spoke highly of the New Orleans prospect on Signing Day.


Swarbrick: Kelly will be back in 2017

SOUTH BEND, IN - AUGUST 30:  Head coach Brian Kelly of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish watches as his team takes on the Rice Owls at Notre Dame Stadium on August 30, 2014 in South Bend, Indiana.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Brian Kelly will be coaching Notre Dame in 2017. That’s according to his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick.

So even with a 2-5 record and a difficult slate still to come, there will be no change atop the Irish football program.

“Brian will lead this team out of the tunnel opening day next year,” Swarbrick told

Swarbrick’s vote of confidence is nothing new—he’s taken a similar stance in his weekly appearances the past few weeks. But it likely became necessary as the season continues to frustrate, and Notre Dame’s head coaching position becomes part of the hot seat discussion.

But even with plenty to accomplish during this week off, both on the field and in the classroom, Kelly was out front and on the ESPN airwaves, openly shouldering the blame of this season’s failures, while also mentioning this is the youngest team at Notre Dame since 1972.

See the entire segment here:


Bye Week Mailbag: Now Open

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 15: DeShone Kizer #14 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs the ball during the game against the Stanford Cardinal at Notre Dame Stadium on October 15, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. Stanford defeated Notre Dame 17-10. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

It’s been too long. Or maybe it hasn’t.

Against my better judgment, I’m opening up the mailbag. Drop your questions below or at Twitter @KeithArnold.