Spring evaluation period puts the focus on recruiting

20 Comments

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.

 

 

Recruiting success continues with OL Dirksen, class’s 12th commit

Getty Images
15 Comments

Even in the doldrums of spring practice, Notre Dame’s recent recruiting success continues. Rivals.com three-star/scout.com four-star offensive lineman John Dirksen offered a verbal commitment to the Irish on Saturday, bringing the 2018 class to 12 commitments.

The 6-foot-5, 290-pounds Dirksen (Marion High School; Maria Stein, Ohio) joins consensus three-star prospect Cole Mabry (Brentwood H.S.; Brentwood, Tenn.) as the offensive linemen thus far among the 12. In three of the last four years, Notre Dame offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has pulled in four recruits, with 2015’s two (Trevor Ruhland, Tristen Hoge) as the exception. This recruiting cycle could again bring a limited offensive line haul, given the likely limits on the class’s size.

While any and all current class of 2018 team rankings should be taken with many grains of salt—there are 318 days between today and National Signing Day, after all—Dirksen’s commitment solidifies the Irish hold on the No. 3 class, per rivals.com. Other recruiting services place Notre Dame even higher.

Dirksen chose Hiestand and the Irish over offers from Michigan State, Iowa State and Boston College, among others.

 

Holmes out for spring; Jones & Jones shining

Getty Images
15 Comments

Notre Dame’s spring continued over the weekend, and is all too often the case with football, that led to an injury. Early enrollee running back C.J. Holmes will probably miss the rest of spring practice due to a separated shoulder, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced following Saturday’s practice.

“We’ll get an MRI and know a little bit further on Monday once that calms down a little bit,” Kelly said. “We’ll get a picture of that and see. He had an open repair on that same shoulder his sophomore year in high school.”

Behind three backs, including two with experience, Holmes was unlikely to see playing time in the backfield in 2017.

Of those three backs, sophomore Tony Jones, Jr., is the unknown after preserving a year of eligibility last season. In limited practice viewing, however, Jones has only impressed. He has caught Kelly’s eye, as well.

“He’s 225 pounds, can catch the ball coming out of the backfield, [is] assignment correct, and can run elusively and can get into the second level,” Kelly said. “What does that equal? He’s a pretty good back.

“Obviously he was noticeable today in his play and he got some work with the first group as well. He wasn’t just getting second-team reps.”

Jones may be getting some first-unit exposure, but expect him to remain behind junior Josh Adams in the depth chart. Considering Jones’ style is somewhat comparable to Adams’, whereas junior Dexter Williams presents something of a change of pace, Williams should see more action than the sophomore, as well.

MORE PRAISE FOR ALIZE JONES
Junior tight end Alizé Jones—rather, Alizé Mack, per his Twitter account—has taken the lead in spring’s race of who reaps the most sound bite accolades. In complimenting Jones, who missed last season due to an academic suspension, Kelly also managed to laud new offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“I think Chip is doing a terrific job with [Jones],” Kelly said. “He’s got a good relationship. He knows how to rise him up when he needs to and scold him when he needs to. Alizé needs a little bit of that.

“He’s virtually un-coverable in certain areas of the field. I don’t care at any level. You can’t cover him. He just has that kind of talent. The one that I think stands out to me in the few days is he’s committed himself to being a blocker and playing physical. If he continues to do that, we’re going to find ourselves with a lot of tight ends on the field.”

Presumably, Jones would join graduate student tight end Durham Smythe in two tight end sets. It should be remembered, Long has historically shown a preference for such formations, and with Notre Dame’s plethora of options at the position, Long’s tendencies have no need to change. For that matter, Long had some praise for Jones this weekend, as well.

“Alizé can be as good as he wants to be,” Long said Friday. “…He’s growing up each and every day. Great joy to coach, and that whole group is. He doesn’t want to let that group down. There’s no question he can be as good as he wants to be.”

Friday at 4: 40-yard dashes and absurdity

UND.com -- Lighthouse Imaging
21 Comments

Of all the absurd things the football world often obsesses over, the 40-yard dash may be the most useless of them. Yes, it even beats out assigning star rankings to 16- and 17-year-olds, though not by much.

For now, let’s look past the rest of the inane Draft intricacies, such as former Irish defensive lineman Jarron Jones feeling pressured to increase his vertical jump by four inches. (He did, jumping to 24.5 inches in Notre Dame’s Pro Day on Thursday.) This scribe does not have an excess of time to spend discussing Jones’s outlandish wingspan if this piece is to post by its intended, though unnecessary, 4 p.m. ET deadline.

The 40-yard dash … No football play begins from a sprinter’s stance, yet it may be the factor most crucial to a low 40 time. Former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer posted a time of 4.83 seconds in the NFL Combine earlier this month. For context’s sake, Kizer ran .07 seconds slower than Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger did as a draft prospect in the 2004 combine.

Roethlisberger has had himself an excellent career, and his ability to shrug off 300-pound defensive linemen is a testament to his athleticism. Put Kizer and Roethlisberger in the open field together, though, and Kizer would presumably have outrun Roethlisberger at any point of the two-time Super Bowl champion’s career. In Indianapolis, however, Roethlisberger did a better job of getting his hips through his first couple strides of the heralded 40-yard dash.

Here, watch Kizer train for the 40, the most-hyped measurement of his combine.

“The ultimate goal is to have yourself in the best position to have your body weight back in those legs so you can create enough torque to get out as quickly as possible,” Kizer said. “A guy who is as long as I am, with long limbs that I have, I’ve got to make sure that my weight distribution is in the best position for me to get out and catch up to some of those quicker guys who are a little lower to the ground.”

What part of that sounds applicable to football? The 40 turns Kizer’s size (6-foot-4, 237 pounds) into a negative. He worries about the angle of his knees. After his throwing session at the Thursday Pro Day, Kizer summed up the draft evaluation process even more succinctly.

“This process is very different in the sense that the way you look productive in the combine and in a pro day is very different from what productivity actually looks like out on the field.”

Well put.

More pertinent to the actual game of football, Kizer’s completion percentage in the staged workout could have been higher.

Then again, he was throwing to the likes of former Irish receivers Corey Robinson and Amir Carlisle and former running back Jonas Gray. Reportedly, the only contact Gray and Kizer had before the session was Kizer emailing the former New England Patriot the planned series of routes.

The NFL Draft, where Gmail becomes a necessity.

Let’s do away with the 40. If we insist on keeping it, let’s do it twice, once from a standing start and once from a running start. Those would simulate actual football movements: A receiver getting off the line, and a ballcarrier breaking away and trying to outrun the defense.

Asking DeShone Kizer to mimic Usain Bolt is an exercise in futility, idiocy, absurdity.

Cue end of rant.

Why cite the Roethlisberger time? Many, including Sports Illustrated’s Chris Burke, have readily compared Kizer to Roethlisberger this spring.

The most notable line of that scouting report (scroll down to No. 32) may be its final one, echoing Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s sentiments from earlier this week.

“The mystery is whether he can regain his assertiveness,” Burke writes. “If so, he could turn out to be the 2017 class’s best QB. The team that drafts him will be taking a leap of faith.”

A leap. Not a dash.

For more Notre Dame Pro Day results, click here.

And with that, this just may make the 4 p.m. posting. You know what to do.

 

Tranquill continues work with safeties … for now

Getty Images
19 Comments

Drue Tranquill will see time at the oft-spoken of rover position, just not yet. For now, Notre Dame needs the senior at safety to provide leadership and communication while the rest of his position group gets up to speed.

“We really have to figure out what the coordination is going to be at the safety position,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Wednesday’s practice. “How much does Drue play down at rover? How much does he play back [at safety]?”

Only sophomore Devin Studstill returns any starts to the safety position aside from Tranquill’s career total of 18. Studstill started nine games last season.

That void has kept Tranquill working mostly with the defensive backs in the spring’s first few practices, rather than joining the likes of junior Asmar Bilal in the rover grouping.

“We didn’t want to pull our most veteran player out of the back end of our defense with Drue,” Kelly said. “I think it was more about the hesitancy of losing a great communicator in the back end than about the teaching.”

The time will come, however, for Tranquill to move up. Juniors Nick Coleman and Ashton White have moved to safety from the corner position. With more reps, they will not need to rely on Tranquill’s guidance as much. The same goes for, at least in theory, sophomore Jalen Elliott.

“It’s not really a heavy load of teaching for those guys,” Kelly said. “They’re picking it up quite well. We really want to get a chance to see a lot of guys back there.”

Kelly seemed particularly bullish on Coleman’s prospects at the position, provided he embrace the needed physicality. At 6-foot, 187 pounds, Coleman’s build may have been more suited on the outside, but Notre Dame’s plethora of promising cornerbacks provided an impetus to test Coleman at safety.

“The big thing will be Nick’s continuous development in tackling,” Kelly said. “You have to tackle back there. His ball skills are really good. We’ve seen that he’s able to play the ball. He has athleticism.

“We just want to continue to build on his tackling skills. If we go through the spring and say, ‘Well, he’s tackling really well,’ we’ll feel pretty good about the move.”

At that point, Tranquill will likely join Bilal at the hybrid position, which is something of a trademark to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Tranquill will be able to do what he does best: Pursue the ball.

“We all know what his strengths are,” Kelly said. “He’s a solid tackler. I don’t think there’s any safety in college football that wants to get matched up one-on-one with a skilled slot receiver. This would minimize that, when you play him close to the ball as a rover.

“And I think he’s pretty quick off the edge. I think we put him in a really good position in maximizing his skill set.”

Until then, Bilal will continue to be the frontrunner at rover, especially with the first four Irish opponents of 2017 presenting run-heavy offenses.

KELLY ON NICK WATKINS
Kelly was also asked about senior cornerback Nick Watkins, his fit into Elko’s defense and his return from injury.

“He’s very coachable, wants to learn, he’s pretty long,” Kelly said. “What I think Mike [Elko] does really well—and this is what I liked about my interactions with him—is, we all have strengths and weaknesses. He has a great eye of saying let’s take Nick’s strengths and let’s put him in a position where we can really utilize his strengths and put him in a position where maybe we’re not a right and left corner team, maybe we’re a short field/wide field team. Let’s apply him in that fashion.

“Nick’s long. He’s a little bit of a physical player. Let’s go to those strengths. He’s shown some of those attributes early on.”

RELATED READING:
Bilal the first in at ‘versatile’ rover position, others likely to follow
2 Days Until Spring Practice: A look at the defensive backfield