Alex Anzalone

Irish make their move on Anzalone

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Just days after he stepped away from his commitment to Ohio State, Alex Anzalone welcomed Notre Dame into Wyomissing Area High School as he reopened his recruitment. The top prep player in the state of Pennsylvania, Anzalone has seen his fair share of suitors come through the hallways since he’s distanced himself for the Buckeyes in the wake of a bizarre situation.

Anzalone is no stranger to the Irish, and he attended the Irish Junior Day that saw Notre Dame begin building their 2013 recruiting class. While defensive coordinator Bob Diaco is on the way to visit in the coming days, who the Irish sent to visit raised an eyebrow or two.

Steve Hare of Irish Illustrated.com has the scoop.

With the recruiting door reopened, Notre Dame assistants Chuck Martin and Harry Hiestand visited Wyomissing Area High School on Tuesday, a sign the Irish have a considerable interest in getting Anzalone to South Bend for good.

Martin, Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator, and Hiestand, the Irish’s offensive line coach, weren’t the most logical choices to visit a defensive prospect. But, it’s a telling sign that Notre Dame is willing to line Anzalone up on either side of the ball if he signs with the school in February.

“It went really well, “Anzalone said. “They said I’m top on their recruiting board right now and that it must mean something that an offensive coordinator is coming to your school if you’re a defensive guy.”

Notre Dame wasn’t the first school to introduce to Anzalone the option of playing on offense.

Stanford, Alabama and Florida all expressed an interest in Anzalone lining up as a running back/H-back type of player until he put an end to that discussion.

“They all talked offense until I told them defense,” Anzalone said. “Notre Dame said I could do anything I want.”

A quick look at Anzalone’s junior highlights let you know that the idea of Anzalone playing on the offensive side of the ball is far from a pipe dream. Yet with the Irish looking to replace Manti Te’o after this season, and Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese entering their senior seasons as well, the Irish need to restock an interior of their linebacking corps and have made Anzalone one of their top targets. (Rest easy, both Fox and Calabrese have a fifth year of eligibility remaining.)

Straight from Anzalone’s mouth, the Irish are in the thick of things. Speaking with 247Sports, it’s clear that Anzalone’s visit this spring was one that helped set the tone for the future.

“They just think that I would be a great fit at Notre Dame, that they have players just like me,” Anzalone told 247Sports. “I guess from talking to the other commits, they seem like good guys. There’s obviously a lot of opportunity there academically, that’s a powerful degree. It was voted as the No. 1 undergrad business school and that’s what I want to major in. It’s a great opportunity and the football speaks for itself.”

Irish fans have to feel good that Anzalone’s first visit — and interaction with the players and recruits — were good ones. After trying to assemble a recruiting class that patched together some impressive players from all corners of the country then struggled to hold on to them, building a core group of players from traditional pipelines will likely serve the Irish well in the long run.

After jumping the gun on his commitment to Ohio State, Anzalone will likely be more patient this time around. That should play just fine with the Irish, who will have a welcoming depth chart and (hopefully) a team on the rise working in their favor.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.

 

 

Jaylon Smith goes to Dallas with 34th pick

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07:  Jaylon Smith #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates by wearing the hat of team mascot, Lucky The Leprechaun, following their 42-30 win against the Pittsburgh Panthers at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith’s nightmare is over.

After watching his football life thrown into chaos with a career-altering knee injury, Smith came off the board after just two picks in the second round, selected by the Dallas Cowboys with the 34th pick. His selection ended the most challenging months of Smith’s young life, and come after cashing in a significant tax-free, loss-of-value insurance policy that’ll end up being just shy of a million dollars.

No, it’s not top-five money like Smith could’ve expected if he didn’t get hurt. But Smith isn’t expected to play in 2016.

And while there was a pre-draft fascination that focused on the doom and gloom more than the time-consuming recovery, it’s worth pointing out that Dallas’ medical evaluation comes from the source—literally. After all, it was the Cowboys team doctor, Dr. Dan Cooper, who performed the surgery to repair Smith’s knee.

Smith joins Ezekiel Elliott with the Cowboys, arguably the two best position players in the draft. While he might not be available in 2016, Smith will be under the supervision of the Cowboys’ medical staff, paid a seven-figure salary to get healthy with the hopes that he’ll be back to his All-American self sooner than later, especially as the nerve in his knee returns to full functionality.

Will Fuller brings his game-changing skills to the Texans offense

PITTSBURGH, PA - NOVEMBER 07: Will Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish catches a pass before running into the endzone for a touchdown in the second quarter in front of Avonte Maddox #14 of the Pittsburgh Panthers during the game at Heinz Field on November 7, 2015 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)
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In all the weeks and months leading up to the NFL Draft, one key tidbit linking Will Fuller to the Houston Texans never seemed to come up. The relationship between Brian Kelly and Bill O’Brien.

The two coaches share a high school alma mater, a friendship that made the due diligence on Notre Dame’s prolific playmaker easy. And it was clear that after all their research, Houston was aggressive in their pursuit of Fuller, trading up to make Notre Dame’s All-American the second receiver off the board, triggered a run at the position.

“He was a guy that we felt strongly about,” Texans general manager Rick Smith told the team’s official website. “We didn’t want to take a chance on not getting him. We were aggressive. We went and made the move.”

That move made Fuller’s decision to leave Notre Dame after three seasons a good one. While it’ll require the Irish to rebuild at a position where Fuller served as one of college football’s best home run hitters, it gives Houston a vertical threat that can extend the top of a defense for a Texans offense that was serious about finding some solutions for a team already in the playoff mix.

Yes, Fuller has work to do. Completing the easy catch is one big area. But for all the pre-draft talk about his limitations, Brian Kelly took on some of the criticism head-on when talking with the Texans’ media reporter.

“Some people have compared him to Teddy Ginn, that’s not fair. He can catch the ball vertically like nobody I’ve coached in 25 years,” Kelly said (a sentiment some hack also laid out). Teddy Ginn is a very good player, but this is a different kind of player. If you throw the ball deep, he’s going to catch the football.”

Fuller is never going to be the biggest receiver on the field. But while most of the banter on his game focused on the negative or his deep ball skills, expect Fuller to find a role not just running deep but unleashed in the screen game as well. After the Texans spent huge on quarterback Brock Osweiler and have invested in fellow Philadelphia native and 2015 third-round pick Jaelen Strong, Fuller wasn’t selected for the future but rather expected to be a day-one piece of the puzzle.

“This will change the speed on offense immediately,” Kelly said. “It was not ‘Hey, let’s wait a couple of years’. It was ‘Let’s go get this right now’ and I think Will will do that for them.”