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.

 

 

Irish A-to-Z: Quenton Nelson

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)
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It didn’t take long for Quenton Nelson to establish himself as one of the nation’s premier guards. From day one in the starting lineup, Nelson helped the Irish become one of the country’s dominant offensive lines, a bruising run blocker who showed incredible toughness as he battled through an ankle injury and returned quickly to the lineup after Alex Bars went down.

This spring, Nelson got enough more monstrous. Brian Kelly quipped that Nelson had grown to 346 pounds, though Harry Hiestand tried his best to downplay that size, pegging the number closer to 330.

But you’ll see a slimmer, quicker Nelson this season, his spring and summer spent putting in the work. That should lead to an even better season as the junior is joined by Mike McGlinchey on the left side of Sam Mustipher, perhaps the best guard-tackle combo in America.

 

QUENTON NELSON
6’5″, 325 lbs.
Junior, No. 56, LG

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An elite, national recruit, Nelson was a five-star prospect and Top 30 player. Earned an invite to the U.S. Army All-American game. Chose Notre Dame early in the process, picking the Irish over Alabama, Ohio State, Michigan, Stanford and just about everybody else.

Made waves on the web as he pulled off 26 reps of 225-pounds on the bench press as a high school senior, more than most offensive line prospects at the NFL Scouting Combine.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action, preserving a year of eligibility.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 12 games, starting 11 after suffering an ankle injury against Clemson. Finished as Notre Dame’s third-ranked offensive lineman per PFF College’s grading system, behind only Mike McGlinchey and Nick Martin with a +17.7 ranking.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He might have outperformed my expectations.

For as good as Nelson can be, he’s still just a redshirt freshman. To that point, I expect a good season, within reason. That means that he’ll likely struggle against elite defenders, with veteran players capable of using Nelson’s aggression against him, and potentially getting the young guard and his body out of position.

Of course, there’s also a good chance that Nelson is as good as advertised. Because he did spend the spring beating out a talented depth chart, and his natural strength and power are absolutely keys to being a great guard in Hiestand’s blocking scheme.

Some guys are born to be offensive linemen. Nelson looks like one of those guys. The chance to be a four-year starter is a rare one. But Nelson seems to be on that trajectory.

No pressure, kid.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

From five-star prospect to first-round draft pick. That’s the trajectory Nelson is on, even if he will be doing it as a guard not as a tackle, as most expected when he was recruited.

For as good as Nelson is expected to be, he’s still just a second-year player. And he’ll be lining up next to another future first-rounder who has just one season under his belt and is already expected to be among the best in the country.

Nelson is big, nasty, and in exceptional shape entering the season. He’s another sky-is-the-limit prospect, an elite talent who matches that with exceptional mental makeup.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

Notre Dame could have two All-Americans lined up next to each other. That’s my bold prediction heading into the season, with both Nelson and McGlinchey earning those honors. In season’s past, we saw the Irish become left-handed in the running game, with Chris Watt and Zack Martin the trusted preference of Brian Kelly in critical running situations. It’s hard to think that won’t be the case in 2016.

Nelson’s strength has turned him into an elite run blocker. Expect to see his game round out this season, with his improved fitness helping bring the physical traits of a tackle into play as well. A special season is possible.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher

Kelly expects to play two quarterbacks in 2016

Duke Ejiofor, DeShone Kizer
AP
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With Notre Dame opening up camp next week, Brian Kelly seems to be opening up to the idea of playing two quarterbacks.

As DeShone Kizer and Malik Zaire get set to begin their battle, Notre Dame’s head coach talked about that high-profile job with Jim Rome, giving us an interesting look at his mindset on the eve of the season, while also adding a new tweak to the old adage of having two quarterbacks.

Namely, you need two.

“I think you need two,” Kelly told Rome. “You’re going to need two quarterbacks in college football. You need two and we’ve got two very good ones. My expectation is that we need both of them to play.”

That attitude makes sense when you look back at Kelly’s time in South Bend. From the moment Dayne Crist’s bell was rung against Michigan in Kelly’s first season, Notre Dame’s offense has seemingly been pushed into Plan B each and every season—giving way to Nate Montana, Tommy Rees, Andrew Hendrix and eventually Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer.

The Irish certainly wouldn’t have won 10 games in 2015 if Kizer wasn’t capable of thriving when he replaced Zaire against Virginia. And Kelly knows that experience has turned the tables on the depth chart as they enter 2016.

“Both of them are capable of winning, we know that. Malik showed that in the way he played against Texas and he’s been in the program for four years,” Kelly said. “But Kizer obviously has got more experience because of the number of games that he played and big games last year.”

While the plan to continue the competition into fall camp hasn’t changed, Kelly seems to have softened on his stance that only one quarterback will be happy. And while you certainly can’t take this as a declaration that a platoon is coming, Kelly acknowledged the need to have both guys ready and involved. And the best way to do that is by getting them on the field.

“It would be great that whoever took the job over played so well that he’s going to be a Heisman contender,” Kelly said. “If that doesn’t happen, I can see both of them eventually playing.”

The balancing act is nothing new for Kelly. He’s managed it in South Bend, as well as in Cincinnati and his two previous stops. While he’s noted the challenges Ohio State had last season trying to make their offense work while utilizing both Cardale Jones and J.T. Barrett, t’s worth pointing out that the Irish coaching staff also spent significant time this offseason huddled with the Buckeyes coaching staff, likely a helpful introduction to the quarterback challenges that even Urban Meyer struggled with.

Kelly knows it won’t be easy finding snaps for both quarterbacks. But he also knows it’s likely better to find your balance when you’re the one dictating terms—not a season-ending injury.

“I think it’s so important to have two quarterbacks, be engaged, keep them involved and as much as they can try to get them in the game if you can,” Kelly said. “It’s a lot more difficult if you can do that. But thats the way it is in college football, with the quarterback being so actively involved in the running game.”

Zaire made it only 19 carries last year when his season ended with a broken ankle. Quarterback runs have ended seasons for Dayne Crist and forced Everett Golson to miss multiple games. But Notre Dame’s offense requires a quarterback who can run the football. And Kelly would rather take his chances playing to that identity than recalibrating how they attack opponents.

“You can’t change your identity week to week, you’ve got to be who you are,” Kelly said. “These two quarterbacks are proven winners. The team knows that.

“I’m not going to have a quarterback controversy. I think we can move forward knowing that both of them are going to play in some fashion.”

***

Listen to Kelly’s full interview with Jim Rome from July 29 below. 

Irish A-to-Z: Sam Mustipher

Sam Mustipher 247
Irish247
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Sam Mustipher established himself as the team’s starting center entering spring practice, the lack of competition probably more striking than the junior winning the job. But Mustipher’s work as Nick Martin’s understudy in 2015 likely allowed him to earn Harry Hiestand’s trust, erasing a position battle many expected to be an open audition.

Another top-line recruit and development project, Mustipher’s a third-year player who’ll help form a nucleus for an offensive line that’s expected to be one of the finest in the nation. But that won’t be possible without a big season from the Maryland native.

 

SAM MUSTIPHER
6’2.5″, 305 lbs.
Junior, No. 53, C

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

Mustipher was an Under Armour All-American who picked Notre Dame over a field of elite offers. Alabama, Florida, Florida State, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Stanford all wanted him. Hiestand had him locked up by April.

Notre Dame projected him as an interior player from the start, though his transition to center didn’t begin immediately.

 

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Did not see action.

Sophomore Season (2015): Made appearances in nine games, earning mop-up snaps against Texas and UMass at center.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

He never had to play any high-leverage snaps, but he certainly proved himself Monday through Friday.

Mustipher might be the most unproven part of Notre Dame’s two-deep, a good sign for the work the Irish have done stocking the depth chart. But if something happens to Martin, we’ll see how ready he is to play, a first-year contributor in the middle of an offensive line that’ll already be starting a first-year player at left guard.

Martin has already battled health issues, a major difference between him and his ironman brother. But Mustipher is likely ready to contribute if he’s the guy tapped to serve as a backup. If not? Expect to see some other bodies shuffle through this fall camp, with candidates including Colin McGovern, Hunter Bivin and John Montelus.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

Mustipher’s physical attributes won’t bowl you over, but he very quickly earned respect from Brian Kelly last spring, being treated like an established veteran, not a first-year player being asked to replace a high NFL draft pick. Again, that confidence must come from what the staff sees, not what we’ve seen on the playing field.

What they likely see is a student-athlete making it work at Notre Dame as an engineering major, a testament to his smarts. They also see a center cut from the traditional mold, capable of utilizing leverage, moving his feet and aggressively attacking opponents across from him.

Former Bears Pro Bowler Olin Kreutz has spent some time around the Irish, thanks to his relationship with Hiestand. It’s hard not to note the physical similarities, something that I’m sure has helped ease the transition into the starting lineup.

 

CRYSTAL BALL

I don’t think Mustipher will be as solid as Martin was last season (a deep-dig into game tape had Martin surging up draft boards before the Texans took him), but expect a strong season. Perhaps the best version of Mustipher is the one you don’t notice. First-year centers who spend a lot of time in the shotgun need to make sure that every play gets started correctly, and from there he can make sure the Irish win the battle at the point of attack. (It sounds remedial, but let’s not take the snap for granted.)

Mustipher’s strength let him win more than his fair share of battles last spring with Daniel Cage, a physical force on the interior. If Mustipher can anchor, play with solid technique and get to the second level, Notre Dame’s running game should continue to surge.

When Tristen Hoge signed with Notre Dame, most thought the high school center had the inside track to multiple seasons starting. That still could happen, but Mustipher might end up the one with three seasons at center, while Hoge battles to be one of the two linemen playing next to him.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuqh
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan

 

Mailbag Open: Questions before camp

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Football is almost here. Before the Irish arrive at Culver Academies next week, drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.