Alex Anzalone

Linebacker recruiting turns focus to Anzalone

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Over the past few days, the linebacker target list for Notre Dame has gotten more refined. Unfortunately, it’s been because a few top names have fallen off the board. With Irish targets Chans Cox deciding to stay home and play for Arizona State, and Dallas linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni committing to Oklahoma today, Notre Dame will set their sights on Alex Anzalone, who is in South Bend this weekend for an unofficial recruiting summit, joined by a large contingency of Irish commits and targets.

The Irish need to replenish the cupboards after Manti Te’o departs for the NFL, and after focusing on the edges of the defense, Notre Dame’s coaching staff will look to add some play-makers on the interior of the linebacking corps this recruiting cycle, where the Irish will be turning over the depth chart in the next two seasons with Te’o, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox all entering their senior seasons (both Calabrese and Fox have fifth years of eligibility).

The South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James caught up with Anzalone before he headed to campus, and got an idea of where the one-time Ohio State commit stood. Here’s more from the SBTrib:

For the second time this spring, Alex Anzalone will be visiting Notre Dame. Since the last time Anzalone visited South Bend for junior day on March 24, the rising senior linebacker committed and decommitted to Ohio State and has begun the process of re-evaluating schools he has previously visited.

Anzalone arrives on campus Thursday and will be making an overnight stay, something he didn’t do on his previous visit to Notre Dame.

“I definitely wanted to get back up there and visit again because it’s been awhile since I visited last time,” Anzalone said. “I want to talk to some of the commits and continue building a relationship with the coaches.”

On his last visit, Anzalone got a chance to hang out with Irish inside linebacker Dan Fox and tight end Tyler Eifert. This time Anzalone will get a chance to meet more Notre Dame players and a number of commits in the 2013 class that will be visiting as well.

Anzalone already knows tight end commit Mike Heuerman, who will also be on campus, from being recruited by Ohio State at the same time.

“Him and I are really close,” Anzalone said of Heuerman. “It’ll be good. It will be a fun time.”

With other commits on campus Anzalone will have an opportunity to get to know the types of players he would be surrounded by at Notre Dame. Anzalone said he can get a better understanding of the program from commits and players than he can get from just the coaches recruiting him.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has been the lead Irish recruiter for Anzalone. He said the two have a strong relationship so far.

Anzalone has looked closely at Florida and Notre Dame since walking away from the Buckeye, and Ohio State hasn’t given up on the talented Wyomissing, Pennsylvania product, who doubles as a running back for his high school team.

Anzalone mentioned that he’s already friendly with Heuerman, but he’ll also have a chance to spend time with ’13 commits Hunter Bivin, Rashad Kinlaw, Jacob Matuska, James Onwualu, Malik Zaire, not to mention fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith, who will likely continue his full court press on Anzalone, as Smith looks to help the Irish put together the best recruiting group of linebackers in the country.

Who that group will consist of is the $64,000 question. With Cox staying home and Mastrogiovanni deciding to play for Oklahoma (a campus less than 200 miles from his home), the Irish still have plenty of offers out there. Notre Dame is chasing committed prospects Trey Johnson (Auburn) and C.J. Prosise’s teammate Doug Randolph, who has seen an awful lot of Notre Dame for a recruit that’s committed to Stanford. Smith has pushed on blue-chip California linebacker Michael Hutchings to take a legitimate look at the Irish while also taking aim at Florida’s Michael Deeb, a good fit at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, but without an offer from Florida, Florida State or Miami (the Seminoles came through with an offer this afternoon). Spokane’s Danny Mattingly will also be on campus for the Irish’s three-day camp on June 24.

It’s hard to get too worked up about missing out on recruits eight months from Signing Day, but missing out on Cox and Mastrogiovanni make Anzalone’s visit this weekend an important one. With he and cornerback Mackensie Alexander both on campus, and a slew of talent coming through South Bend for camps later in the month, the 2013 recruiting class could come into better focus by the 4th of July.

Restocking the roster: Running Backs

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half 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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Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was tested to its max less than 10 minutes into the season opener. The projected two-deep, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, were both lost for the year—Bryant out of school as an academic and disciplinary casualty by the start of fall camp and Folston because of a knee injury suffered on his third carry of the season.

Welcome back to Notre Dame, Autry Denson.

The school’s all-time leading rusher in his first season as a running back coach had to be feeling a little woozy. He had a converted wide receiver taking featured-back carries and a true freshman a little over a year removed from his own major knee injury serving as his primary backup.

That the Irish had their most prolific running season under Brian Kelly says quite a bit about the job that Denson did. It’s also a credit to the offensive line blocking, the adjusted scheme that also protected two new starting quarterbacks, and the talent that remained at the position.

Spring presents new challenges. Tarean Folston should be a little over seven months removed from ACL surgery, making him doubtful to do anything more than wear a red jersey. With C.J. Prosise‘s departure, Adams goes from record-setting rookie to spring starter, with Williams likely carrying a large load as well.

Tony Jones Jr. and Deon McIntosh arrive this summer, reinforcements on the way. But before we get there, let’s take a look at the pre-spring roster at running back.

 

DEPARTURES
C.J. Prosise (156 carries 1,032 yards, 11 TDs)
Greg Bryant (lost preseason 2015)

 

2015-16 ADDITIONS
Josh Adams (117 carries, 835 yards, 6 TDs)
Dexter Williams (21 carries, 81 yards, 3 TDs)
Tony Jones Jr.
Deon McIntosh 

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Tarean Folston,* Sr.
Josh Adams, Soph.
Dexter Williams, Soph.
Justin Brent,* Junior

*Additional year of eligibility remaining.

 

ANALYSIS: This might be a position battle deferred to fall camp, especially if Folston is still in recovery mode. At this point, it doesn’t make sense to rush back from an ACL tear for 15 practices, so while the rising senior may be chomping at the bit to return, it’s better to save it until August.

Folston will likely be the team’s most versatile back, but keeping Adams off the field will be a hard chore. His breakaway speed was on display multiple times in 2015, with his record-setting run against Wake Forest the team’s longest play from scrimmage. Adams also likely added some mass and physicality to his game in the offseason weigh-training program, giving the Irish someone capable of hitting the big play and also moving the sticks in short yardage situations.

The staff believes that Dexter Williams is a talented back, so with three solid contributors on the roster before Jones or McIntosh hit campus, it’ll be fun to see how snaps get sorted. (From that perspective, you can only wonder how they’d have dealt with the champagne problem of having Prosise around…) Justin Brent remains an option as well, though the attrition from the receiving corps makes you think he’ll be back at receiver.

The wildcard in all of this is Folston. He’s a unique talent with natural ability you just can’t teach. If he’s fully recovered and ready to engage in a position battle, there won’t likely be a drop off even with the early departure of Prosise.

 

Notre Dame gets 10 invites to NFL Scouting Combine

2013 NFL Combine
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Notre Dame will send ten former players to the NFL Scouting Combine. The annual event in Indianapolis serves as the unofficial apex of draft season, a meat-market where the best professional prospects are poked, prodded, questioned and tested in a variety of on- and off-field drills.

Heading to the festivities from Notre Dame are:

Chris Brown, WR
Sheldon Day, DT
Will Fuller, WR
Nick Martin, C
Romeo Okwara, DE
C.J. Prosise, RB
KeiVarae Russell, CB
Elijah Shumate, S
Jaylon Smith, OLB
Ronnie Stanley, OT

For a prospect like Smith, it’ll be teams first opportunity to talk to the elite prospect and check his progress medically as he returns from a Fiesta Bowl knee injury. Russell will also be a non-participant in physical drills, waiting until Notre Dame’s Pro Day to go through testing.

Invites to Chris Brown, Romeo Okwara and Elijah Shumate are crucial in finding their way into the draft, as the three former Irish starters participated in the Shrine Bowl, where scouts had an early look at them. Likewise, Nick Martin and Sheldon Day continue their ascent, both coming off strong Senior Bowl weeks.

For Irish fans, it’ll be fun to watch early-enrollees Fuller and Prosise test. Both are expected to be some of the fastest players at their position. Brown may also have the ability to surprise teams, with his track background and leaping ability capable of earning him an extended look. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley will look to impress as well, hoping to check out as one of the draft’s most impressive athletes at offensive tackle.

Ohio State led all schools with 14 invites. National Champion Alabama had nine former players invited.

 

WR Corey Robinson named Notre Dame student body president

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On Wednesday, wide receiver Corey Robinson added another impressive title to his resume as a student-athlete at Notre Dame: Student Body President.

The junior, paired with classmate Becca Blais as his vice presidential running mate, won a majority of the votes cast by his fellow students, a runaway winner with 59.4% of the votes, nearly triple the next highest vote getter.

Robinson posted the following on Twitter, thankful for the opportunity to serve his fellow students:

Robinson’s time at Notre Dame has been filled with accomplishments both on and off the field. He was named an Academic All-American as a sophomore. He’s a six-time Dean’s List member in the prestigious Program of Liberal Studies and is also pursuing a sustainability minor. He’s won the team’s Rockne Student-Athlete Award as well.

That’s quite a bit on the plate of Notre Dame’s lone senior wide receiver. But as you might expect, Robinson is well prepared for the next challenge ahead.

“I’ve planned ahead, gotten all of my hard work out of the way this semester, and I’m finishing up my senior thesis,” Robinson told The Observer. “I’m doing all the hard stuff now so in the fall and the spring, I just have to take two classes pretty much.”

Robinson’s other contributions as a student-athlete at Notre Dame include One Shirt one Body, an opportunity for college athletes to donate their athletic apparel to local communities. Robinson has presented the plan to the ACC as well as the NCAA, earning immediate support from both organizations.

 

Mailbag: Now Open (scheduling input requested)

UNIVERSAL CITY, CA - JUNE 01:  Actors Mike Myers (L) and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth from "Wayne's World" onstage during the 17th annual MTV Movie Awards held at the Gibson Amphitheatre on June 1, 2008 in Universal City, California.  (Photo by Kevin Winter/Getty Images)
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Okay folks, we’ve had enough semi-positive encouragement to keep the video mailbag going for another week. With that said, I’ll need some reader participation to keep this thing rolling on.

As always, submit your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold. You can also ask your questions live via Facebook. You’ll need to LIKE THIS PAGE first, and then at the appropriate time, head on over to watch and participate.

To that point, let’s pick a time that works for everyone. Right now, here are the options that work at Inside the Irish HQ.  Weigh in and the best time wins. (How’s that for a democracy?)

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