Alex Anzalone

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.

 

 

Quenton Nelson will return for his senior season

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
Getty
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Brian Kelly’s talked about the rare 6-star recruit: Harrison Smith, Manti Te’o, Michael Floyd, Zack Martin. Well, add Quenton Nelson to the list. Notre Dame’s starting left guard has made it official that he’ll return for his senior season.

The New Jersey native adds another key building block to the Irish offensive line, returning with Mike McGlinchey to anchor Harry Hiestand’s unit. Like McGlinchey, Nelson had an option to be selected high in next year’s NFL Draft, staying in school even after receiving a second-round grade from the NFL’s Advisory Board, per Irish Illustrated.

Nelson took to social media to make the news public, with the NFL’s declaration deadline set for January 16.

“Excited for this team to grow every day this offseason by putting in nothing but hard work and grinding together. When we reach our full potential, look out. I’m right behind you Coach.”

Nelson was named a team captain for 2017 at the year-end Echoes Awards Show. He earned second-team All-American honors from Sports Illustrated and was rated by ESPN’s Mel Kiper as the No. 1 offensive guard in the 2017 draft class, a grade he’ll likely carry into next season.

Clark Lea formally named Linebackers Coach

clark-lea
UND.com
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Notre Dame formally introduced new linebackers coach Clark Lea on Thursday. The press release for the 35-year-old  included the following quote from the new assistant who has worked at Bowling Green, UCLA and Wake Forest, and rejoins Mike Elko in South Bend.

“I’m humbled to be a part of the Notre Dame football program,” Lea said in a statement. “It’s an honor to represent such a prestigious academic institution, and to be a part of this program’s rich tradition of athletic excellence. I’d like to thank Jack Swarbrick and coach Kelly for this tremendous opportunity. I’m excited to get to work building relationships with our players, and do my part in helping coach Kelly execute his vision for the program.”

That work has already begun, with Lea on the prowl as the recruiting dead period ended and the rebuilt Irish staff hit the road. Yesterday, Lea was with defensive coordinator Mike Elko visiting commit David Adams, a key piece of the Irish puzzle on the defensive side of the ball. That starts a mad rush that’ll keep Lea’s belongs in boxes until after the first Wednesday in February, as Elko and his reshuffled defensive staff open their recruiting board, finding replacements for a handful of de-commitments and pieces that’ll fit Elko’s scheme.

If there’s any reason for optimism after a tough few weeks in recruiting, it’s the young staff that Kelly has assembled. The youth movement includes not just Lea, but the 39-year-old Elko. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is just 33, moving to Notre Dame after one season at Memphis. Running backs coach Autry Denson just turned 40 while special teams coordinator Brian Polian is practically long in the tooth at 42. (All that comes before the expected announcement of 25-year-old Tommy Rees.)

Lea’s pedigree is rock solid, earning kudos in 2012 for his work as Linebackers coach at Bowling Green, Football Scoop’s Linebackers Coach of the Year.

“Clark is a wonderful addition to our staff,” Kelly said in the release. “Obviously, he brings a substantial amount of knowledge about coach Elko’s defensive system — having worked with Mike at both Bowling Green and Wake Forest. Clark has demonstrated throughout his career an ability to not only identify unique talent in the recruiting process, but also develop that talent into high-production linebackers. As a former student-athlete, he will relate exceptionally well with our kids and provide tremendous mentorship throughout their careers at Notre Dame.”

 

 

 

Reports: Lea, Alexander added to Irish coaching staff

delvaughn
ASU Sports Information
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Brian Kelly is adding to his rebuilt coaching staff, reportedly finalizing deals with Wake Forest linebackers coach Clark Lea and Arizona State assistant DelVaughn Alexander. Lea will reunite with Mike Elko and coach linebackers and Alexander will coach wide receivers. While both hires are still going through formal university vetting, the Lea hire has long been rumored before being reported by SI’s Pete Thamel. FootballScoop.com broke the news on Alexander, before multiple outlets confirmed the report.

In Lea, Elko brings a piece of his coaching staff with him to South Bend. The 35-year-old spent last season working in Winston-Salem and spent three seasons at Syracuse before that. He worked with Elko and Demon Deacons head coach Dave Clawson at Bowling Green and has spent time as an assistant at UCLA as well. He earned three letters at Vanderbilt, a 2004 graduate.

Alexander is a veteran presence to help replace Mike Denbrock and fill his void coaching receivers. He’s also a coach with first-hand knowledge of new coordinator Chip Long, having worked alongside him in Tempe under Mike Norvell. The move also comes in time for the reopen of the recruiting season’s home stretch, bringing a capable West Coast recruiter to the staff at a time when Notre Dame’s 2017 class is leaking a bit of oil.

Alexander played wide receiver at USC, playing for Larry Smith and John Robinson, before breaking into the coaching ranks there as a graduate assistant. He’s also had stops at UNLV, coached for Jim Harbaugh at San Diego, and spent significant time at Wisconsin and Arizona State where he coached multiple positions, taking over tight ends after Long left for Memphis.

Chip Long in as Offensive Coordinator… and play-caller

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Notre Dame’s formal press release introducing Chip Long as the new offensive coordinator did more than confirm news that we’ve known for a few weeks. It let us in on Brian Kelly’s initial plans for his offense heading into a pivotal offseason.

After some struggles in 2016 with DeShone Kizer and an inexperienced wide receiving corps, most expected Kelly to rip back control of the offense after Mike Denbrock called the plays and Mike Sanford coordinated the offense. But Kelly is going to let Long call the plays next season, adding some intrigue to a press release that usually is vanilla.

“Chip will be given the full responsibility to call plays in 2017,” Kelly said in the release. “His offense at Memphis displayed a unique blend of physicality, athleticism, versatility and explosiveness. Chip’s play-calling created mismatches all over the field and did it in a number of different ways. He likes to use players who can fill numerous roles in an array of formations, whether that be two and three tight ends or multiple running backs.

“Chip has experience coaching at almost every position on the offensive side of the ball. He’s worked for and learned from some of the most respected offensive minds in college football — Bobby Petrino, Mike Norvell and Jeff Brohm — to name a few.”

That Kelly is handing over play-calling to Long, who called plays last year for Mike Norvell at Memphis, is a surprise on the surface. But if you listen to Kelly over the past few seasons, he’s always downplayed that responsibility. Most thought he was simply playing coy, though Kelly seems to value game plan and installation as something at least as important as calling the plays.

But after splitting the baby between Denbrock and Sanford these past two seasons (the three-man collaboration worked much better in 2015 than 2016–possibly explained by the personnel) perhaps Kelly sees a singular voice as a key to improving an Irish offense that’ll have to replace Kizer, but should welcome back the majority of offensive playmakers, as well as Alizé Jones. Giving that assignment to Long will also let Kelly dig in as a head coach, working with first-year starter Brandon Wimbush and staying connected to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his installation.

Long’s work on campus will likely take flight as soon as the recruiting dead period is over. Known for his tenacity on the trail, Notre Dame is in desperate need of getting back into living rooms, trying to get back some momentum as a few defections have spoiled the 2017 class, and a handful of spots are available in this upcoming signing class.

Long will also likely work with tight ends, a position he played as a D-II All-American and that he coached at Memphis last season. Scott Booker coached tight ends since 2012.

“It’s an honor and privilege to have the opportunity to serve as the offensive coordinator at the University of Notre Dame,” Long said in the statement. “The challenge to lead at a University with such high standards is incredibly motivating. I’m very grateful to Brian Kelly and Jack Swarbrick for extending this opportunity.

“It’s Notre Dame: the values, the culture, and the leadership. My wife, Kari, and I are excited to move to South Bend and to join the Notre Dame family.”