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.



Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”