Recruiting Snapshot: Thirteen and counting

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Jaylon Smith‘s commitment over the weekend gave the 2013 recruiting class it’s proverbial crown jewel. More importantly, it puts the Irish on a pretty impressive trajectory as it heads into a time of year where recruits start to buckle down and narrow their lists.

For the Irish, sitting at 13 commitments after a season where just about everyone thought Notre Dame took a step backwards is a pretty impressive feat. To land a guy like Smith — one of the elite athletes in the country and also a must-have recruit in the Irish’s backyard — was essential, and will only go towards helping get other top flight players into South Bend.

In the momentum game of recruiting, the best want to play with the best. Malik Zaire‘s inclusion in Elite 11, along with the Irish’s signing of Gunner Kiel last cycle, should keep skill position recruits’ eyes open. Smith’s work on other defenders, whether it’s linebacker Alex Anzalone or cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, won’t hurt either.

With a staggering eight months until Signing Day, let’s take a look at where this recruiting class is and where it’s likely headed:

COMMITMENTS

THE OFFENSIVE LINE: The Irish have already locked down their offensive line class, one of the biggest needs in the class of ’13. While guard John Montelus has moved to the top of the Rivals totem pole, Steve Elmer, Mike McGlinchey, Hunter Bivin and Colin McGovern can all stake a legitimate claim for being a national prospect, and one of the top 100 to 250 players in the country.

CORNERBACK: Even the biggest naysayers couldn’t have anticipated what happened with last year’s cornerback class.  After the defection of Ronald Darby, the disappearance of Tee Shepard, the academic pitfalls of Anthony Standifer, and the unfortunate tweeting of Yuri Wright, the Irish were left for dead at a position of need, filled admirably by Cam McDaniel this spring.

The Irish have moved quickly in this recruiting cycle, landing Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw, two players that profile perfectly in the Irish scheme. They’ve got Smith working on Hargreaves, while blue-chip Arizona cornerback Cole Luke is on campus today with his high school coach, former Irish QB Steve Belles. The Irish are likely going to bring in one more player at this position, and have quite a few big names still on the board.

RECEIVERS & TIGHT ENDS: Notre Dame snagged an important prospect when Florida tight end Mike Heuerman gave the Irish his commitment. It was a huge victory, the first of two blue-chippers that had brothers playing for Urban Meyer that chose the Irish over the Buckeyes. Heuerman won’t likely put up big numbers in his high school offense, but he’ll walk in and immediately compete to help replace Tyler Eifert.

It’s hard to look at Corey Robinson without assuming he’s going to grow even more. At 6-foot-4, he’d already be one of the biggest wideouts in the Irish stable. But with a seven-foot Hall of Fame basketball player as a father, who just so happened to be a late bloomer himself, Robinson might turn into an instant mismatch, especially if he can hold onto his athleticism. James Onwualu keeps a pretty prolific pipeline open at Cretin-Derham Hall. He won’t be expected to replace fellow CDH’er Michael Floyd, but Onwualu will impress you with his power in the open field, where he gets the football as both a running back and wide receiver.

The Irish have a ton of offers out to elite receivers coast-to-coast, and have fought their way into the battle for Illinois’ Laquon Treadwell. With neither Robinson or Onwualu a true burner, expect Notre Dame to focus on getting a guy with elite speed onto campus.

FRONT SEVEN: For the purpose of bundling, we’ll look at these two commitments together. Jacob Matuska is a guy that doesn’t garner the star-power of some of the other Irish recruits, but he’s got offers from Michigan, Nebraska, and Oklahoma. At 6-foot-5, 240-pounds, that’s an intriguing prospect to add along the defensive line, and it’s hard to argue with the current staff’s success at that position.

We’ll mention Smith again just because it’s fun, but he’ll walk onto campus and probably be the most dangerous defensive player on the roster. Other than Manti Te’o, he probably would be that this season as well.

QUARTERBACK: There’s nothing not to like about Malik Zaire. After landing one of the country’s top quarterback prospects last cycle in Gunner Kiel, and with a mess atop the depth chart with Andrew Hendrix, Tommy Rees, and Everett Golson still ironing things out, hoping for a quarterback and landing one this class were two very different things. But head coach Brian Kelly got the commitment of Zaire, who might just be the best fit for the system of the group.

FIVE TARGETS TO WATCH

Listed in absolutely no order of importance, here are five recruits worth keeping an eye on.

Isaac Rochell, DE: McDonough, Georgia — Rochell is an elite prospect who sounds 99 percent committed to the Irish.The 6-foot-5, 260-pound blue-chipper has offers from the best of the best, and just left South Bend after another visit. Better to have him go slow than flip-flop.

Ebenezer Ogundeko, DE/OLB: Brooklyn, New York — One of the Big Apple’s best prospects just visited campus as well, mingling with Ishaq Williams and Prince Shembo, two players that’ll join him in his position group. Getting Ogundeko to campus this summer was a big deal, and he’ll likely return for an official visit this fall.

Ryan Green, RB: St. Petersburg, Florida — Even when the Irish were chasing Ty Isaac, Green was their top running back on the board. The Irish coaching staff thinks Green compares favorably to Keith Marshall, one of the best in the class of 2012. It’ll be a dog fight getting Green out of Florida, but one Tony Alford is ready for.

Alex Anzalone, LB: Wyomissing, Pennsylvania — After committing to the Buckeyes at their spring game, Anzalone’s step away has been widely discussed. What gets overlooked is the linebacker’s talent, where the 6-foot-3, 225-pound two-way star lights up game film. He and Jaylon Smith have grown close during this recruitment. He’d be a huge addition and anchor the middle linebacking corps.

Danny Mattingly, LB: Spokane, Washington — Mattingly might be the perfect Brian Kelly recruit. Prototype size (6-foot-5, 225-pounds), moderate star-rating, but incredible recruiting cohorts. With Alabama, Nebraska, Oklahoma, and every team in the Pacific Northwest chasing him, Mattingly is as close to under the radar as this Irish staff is going to get.

 

 

What we learned: Hayes, Book star in Notre Dame’s spring finale

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Time spent on a traditional game wrap of a spring intrasquad exhibition seems misspent. Gold won Notre Dame’s annual Blue-Gold Game 27-14 led by rising sophomore quarterback Ian Book. The first-string defense (Gold) held the first-string offense to an average of 5.4 yards per play. For context’s sake: Last season Notre Dame gained an average of 6.1 yards per play and held opponents to 5.4.

With that abbreviated recap out of the way, what did Saturday’s pseudo-game environment show about the Irish? If the 20,147 in attendance paid attention, they had the chance to learn a few things:

Daelin Hayes will be ready to hit a quarterback in September
Notre Dame’s quarterbacks were off limits all spring. Bulls might charge when they see red, but the Irish defensive line has had to remember to ease up when they come across a quarterback’s red jersey. If sophomore defensive end Daelin Hayes had forgotten that Saturday, Notre Dame might not have any quarterbacks left to play in the fall.

“At the end of the day, we’re on the same team,” Hayes said, dismissing any bitterness about the quarterbacks’ protections. “We have to keep our guys healthy. I wasn’t frustrated, but come September 2, you know.”

Officially, Hayes was credited with three sacks and another tackle for loss among his seven tackles. Admittedly, gauging sacks is tricky when the quarterback does not actually go to the ground. How many of Hayes’ three sacks and the defense’s 11 total would have been evaded if the defender needed to do more than touch the passer? That answer is highly subjective, but discounting Hayes’ numbers would miss the bigger picture.

“We showed [pressure] in as far as the quarterback wasn’t getting really comfortable, not having all day to throw back there,” Hayes said. “I think it’s been huge, buying into that process. Seeing it come to fruition today was huge.”

Senior end Jay Hayes (no relation) notched two sacks and sophomore end Ade Ogundeji came the closest to tackling a red jersey when he stripped junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush from behind. The defensive line has been expected to be a weak point for the Irish moving forward, but the spring performance indicates it has a chance at holding its own. These accomplishments bear further merit considering Notre Dame’s offensive line is widely-considered one of its few spots of expected quality.

RELATED READING: Now is the time for Daelin Hayes to turn athleticism into pass rush threat

“I think it’s pretty clear Daelin Hayes is going to be around the football and be a disruptive player for us,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said. “I’d have to watch the film, but it seemed like [sophomore end] Julian Okwara was a hard guy to block coming off the edge, as well.”

Ian Book provides some peace of mind
Book was not spectacular, but he was also far from incompetent or intimidated. In his first action on the field at Notre Dame Stadium, Book completed 18-of-25 passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by a 58-yard connection with sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson. Meanwhile, junior Brandon Wimbush completed 22-of-32 passes for 303 yards.

Bluntly, one has not needed to follow Notre Dame for very long to fit that “long enough” qualification. Last season’s backup, Malik Zaire, saw competitive action against both Texas and Stanford. In 2015, DeShone Kizer came off the bench to start 11 games after Zaire suffered a season-ending ankle injury. (more…)

What Notre Dame players should you actually watch? Plus, catch up on reading

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If technology does its part, this will post as its typist meanders toward finding his credential for the Blue-Gold Game to conclude Notre Dame’s spring practice. If technology doesn’t do its part, well, then this will be lost to the cobwebs of the internet. Such as it goes.

This space has spent much of the past week discussing what to look for in the 12:30 p.m. ET exhibition. Worry about the big picture, not the individuals. Fret about the macro, not the micro.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the indivdual players
Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators
Four defensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game
Four offensive positions to watch on Notre Dame’s spring game

But, if insistent on focusing on singular players, look to the inexperienced, the names you are unfamiliar with. The 15th and final practice of spring may be no more than a practice in reality, but it is in front of nearly 30,000 fans in Notre Dame Stadium. Some players do not have so much as that minimal experience.

“The Blue-Gold Game, specifically, is a time for us to emulate a game-like situation,” senior safety/linebacker/rover Drue Tranquill said. “Especially for guys like freshmen, second-semester guys coming in, it’s a great opportunity for them to get that game feeling, but also continue to take steps in the process to get better.”

The question on the tip of your tongue is a fair one. If you are unfamiliar with the names, how are you supposed to focus on those players? How are you to know who fits the appropriate tunnel vision version of perspective?

Let’s turn to Irish coach Brian Kelly’s mentions from Wednesday–primarily, sophomore defensive end Julian Okwara, sophomore long snapper John Shannon, senior kicker Sam Kohler, sophomore defensive end Khalid Kareem and sophomore safety Jalen Elliott.

Obviously, that is just a sampling. Less obviously, this post’s purpose may or may not be to link to previous reading material and remind you of the vague but pertinent purposes to today’s endeavor. It is neither be-all nor end-all. It is simply another opportunity to gauge what may come down the line.

But hey, how about a prediction? Per Kelly, the first-team offense and second-team defense will be in blue, against the first-team defense and second-team offense in white.

PREDICTION: Blue 37, White 21

HOW TO WATCH
As a recurring reminder, the Blue-Gold Game kicks off at 12:30 p.m. ET on Saturday and will be broadcast on NBC Sports Network, as well as streamed online at ndstream.nbcsports.com and on the NBC Sports app.

Friday at 4: Four offensive positions to watch in Notre Dame’s spring game

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There are two common ways of looking at the annual spring game.
It is the last action involving Notre Dame football readily available for public consumption until Sept. 2, 133 days away.
Or it is an exercise rife with contradiction exacerbated by hype, yielding little-to-no reliable intelligence.
Like much of life, the most accurate assessment falls somewhere between those two views.

If junior running back Dexter Williams breaks off two 50-yard-plus touchdown runs, does that mean he will have multiple big plays in 2017? Not at all. It does mean he will likely have more opportunities for them, though. Just like in spring’s previous 14 practices, the Irish coaches will take what they see and apply it moving forward.

The past—and as of Saturday evening, the Blue-Gold Game will qualify as the past—does not dictate the future, but it can influence one’s approach to it.

Aside from Williams (see the second item below for more on him and the running backs), what other players/positions could influence their future roles the most with their performance to close spring?

BIG PASSING TARGETS: Alizé Jones and Co.
In this instance, big is meant literally. Notre Dame has an embarrassment of riches of tall, long, physical tight ends and receivers. Junior Alizé Jones earns specific mention here due to his inaction last season. Irish fans and coaches alike have a better idea of sophomore receiver Chase Claypool and junior receiver Miles Boykin. They have 2016 film to look at.

Jones, however, sat out the season due to academic issues. His on-field performance largely remains a question mark, but if he combines this spring’s praise with his 6-foot-4 ½ frame holding 245 listed pounds, that could turn into an exclamation point.

“He’s a perfect fit,” new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Friday. “That’s why I recruited him like crazy when I was at Arizona State. He’s a prototypical [tight end], a guy who can run, who can catch.

“The biggest thing about Alizé is he’s taking great pride in his blocking ability right now, his presence of being an end-line guy, his protection and his overall physicality. When you think like that, you’re going to become a better receiver.” (more…)

Blue-Gold Game primer with help from Notre Dame’s coordinators

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You didn’t hear? Notre Dame plays Notre Dame tomorrow. Here, let’s make this easy.

WHO? Notre Dame’s first-string offense against its first-string defense, and the Irish second-string defense against the second-string offense.
WHAT? It’s called the Blue-Gold Game, but there are two flaws to that title. One team will be wearing white, not gold, and while it is structured as a game, it is really nothing more than the 15th and final spring practice.
WHEN? 12:30 p.m. ET, Saturday, April 22, 2017 A.D. Yes, I am worried you might mistake this as occurring more than 2,000 years before the time of Christ.
WHERE? Notre Dame Stadium, but if you can’t make it there, tune in to NBC Sports Network.
HOW? Oh, not going to be at a TV? NBC still has you covered at this link: ndstream.nbcsports.com or on the NBC Sports app.

With those essentials out of the way, let’s pull a few quotes from this morning when new Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long and new defensive coordinator Mike Elko addressed the media. Hopefully, these might provide some general context for what to learn from tomorrow.

RELATED READING: Focus on Notre Dame’s dueling new schemes, not the individual players

Elko on how much of his defense he has successfully installed this spring:
“We’ve gotten close to 50 percent of all of it up and running. We’ve spent a lot of time defending this offense this spring, so we’re going to have to spend some time defending the offenses we play moving forward. That’s probably where a lot of the learning curve has to come.”

Elko on the most notable defensive improvements:
“We’re disrupting the football better. We’re leveraging the football better. We’re playing harder.”

Elko on what fans should look for from the Notre Dame defense Saturday:
“I hope they see a defense that is flying around. I hope they see a defense that is disrupting the football. I hope they see a defense that has their eyes in the right spot and is executing at a high level. All those things that we’re preaching aren’t going to change tomorrow. It’s not going to be different. It’s not going to be different when we line up against Temple.” (more…)