Michael-Deeb

Freshman Focus: Michael Deeb

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All-American Manti Te’o is gone. Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese will move on after this season as well. Left to take over on the inside are recruits handpicked by Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco to play in this defense.

Those selections haven’t been plentiful. Already put on scholarship is recruiting walk-on Joe Schmidt, who has mostly played special teams. While the staff has high hopes for Te’o’s replacement, Jarrett Grace, there’s not a lot of depth at the inside linebacker position, especially after this season.

That’s what makes the signing of a player like Michael Deeb so important. At 6-foot-2, 240-pounds, Deeb is a ready-made middle linebacker, a physical specimen that will immediately look the part getting off the bus. He may not have been the most highly recruited player the Irish were chasing at the position (that would be Alex Anzalone, who left the Irish at the altar just days before early enrollment), but he’s a guy the staff has looked long and hard at and feels confident he’ll fit their system.

“We had eyes on Michael Deeb. Michael came here to our camp. We were able to observe Michael,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “We love his energy, we love the way he plays the game, and obviously from our standpoint feel like he’s a guy that can come in and obviously compete for us.”

By default, Deeb will have to compete, first on special teams and in ’14 for a starting role. Let’s take a closer look at the Florida product and see what he has to offer.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Deeb may be one of the least highly decorated players in the Irish recruiting class. He falls outside of every services’ Top 250, though he does have some intriguing scholarship offers, namely Florida State.

Perhaps what’s most interesting about Deeb is his development as a football player. Listening to the Irish coaching staff talk about Deeb, they saw a football player who dramatically improved between his junior and senior seasons. Playing for one of the top programs in Florida, Deeb improved on all the minor deficiencies the coaching staff saw in his game — things they asked Deeb to work on.

A highly productive football player on Fridays doesn’t always equate to that on Saturdays, and there’s likely a level of athleticism missing that kept some programs from offering him. That said, Deeb profiles perfectly as a program fit both on and off the field, and he’s a guy the staff thinks will end up being a productive player in their system.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

Expect to see Deeb on the field almost immediately, a special teams presence almost from the start. From there, it might only be a season before Deeb finds his way into the starting rotation at linebacker, just from a numbers perspective.

The depth chart in ’13 looks to be fine at the top with the platoon of Fox and Calabrese partnering with Grace to anchor the defense. But the development of Kendall Moore — a productive player when given the opportunity, but one that clearly still is missing a few elements to his game — will likely determine whether its Deeb that slides in or Moore.

There’s no doubt that looking at the numbers, finding inside linebackers is a key to this recruiting class. Numbers almost demand that Deeb find his way onto the field in this defense, and making sure guys like Grace, ’14 prospect Greer Martini, and at least one more body get infused into the depth chart.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

It’s hard to look at Deeb and not think of other Irish linebackers. First and foremost, it’ll be interesting to see if Deeb has more athleticism than Carlo Calabrese, a hit first, ask questions later type player that struggles athletically with some of the demands of his position. Since Bob Diaco took over the defense, Calabrese has been a productive player, especially in the run game.

Another player Deeb reminds me of is Mike Goolsby, the highly touted Chicagoland prospect who wasn’t the all-everything player many expected, but still had a productive finish to his collegiate career. Goolsby had a little bit more height than Deeb, but both players should bring a physicality to the field immediately.

The combination of necessity and ability will determine a lot about Deeb’s next four seasons. The staff expects him to see the field quickly, and if they believe he can be a cover man on special teams perhaps he’s faster than many recruiting experts think. All reports call Deeb an excellent leader and a born football player. Those virtues are also important ones for a linebacker.

Expect Deeb to be a contributor from the start. His ceiling? That’s up to the evaluation and development skills of the staff, and the want-to of the player.

 

 

Path to the draft: Ronnie Stanley

CHICAGO, IL - APRIL 28:  Ronnie Stanley of Notre Dame holds up a jersey with NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell after being picked #6 overall by the Baltimore Ravens during the first round of the 2016 NFL Draft at the Auditorium Theatre of Roosevelt University on April 28, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jon Durr/Getty Images)
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Your name didn’t have to be Mel Kiper or Mike Mayock to understand that from the moment Jaylon Smith stepped foot on campus at Notre Dame he was destined to be an early-round NFL draft pick. But as the dust settles on the Irish’s impressive 2016 draft haul, a look back at the developmental process of the team’s seven draft picks serves as a wonderful testament to Brian Kelly and the program he has built.

Notre Dame’s draftees come in all shapes and sizes. Fifth-year seniors like Nick Martin. Three-and-out stars like Jaylon Smith and Will Fuller. Consistent four-year performers like Sheldon Day and one-year wonders like C.J. Prosise.

But each followed a unique path to the NFL, one that was fostered by a coaching staff that allowed each athlete to develop at their own pace and ascend into a role where an NFL team thought highly enough to select each player in the first 103 picks of the draft.

Let’s take a trip down (recent) memory lane, as we connect the dots from recruitment, development and playing career as we look at Notre Dame’s seven success stories.

 

Ronnie Stanley
No. 6 overall to Baltimore Ravens

The first offensive lineman selected in the 2016 draft, Stanley’s recruitment saw the Irish find their first bit of success at Bishop Gorman High School, leading the way to Nicco Fertitta and Alizé Jones. A four-star prospect who hovered between a Top 100 and Top 250 player depending on the evaluation, Stanley was invited to the Semper Fidelis All-Star game, a second-tier game that all but signified his status outside of the elite, at least on the recruiting circuit.

That’s not how Notre Dame’s coaching staff felt about him, though.

“He’s probably as gifted of an offensive linemen that we have seen in many years,” Kelly said on Signing Day in 2012.

Stanley proved early that Kelly wasn’t blowing smoke. He saw the field in 2012’s first two games, earning reps against Navy and Michigan before he suffered an elbow injury that allowed him to save a year of eligibility.

But even offseason surgery didn’t prevent Stanley from stepping into the starting lineup, flipping to right tackle and playing 13 games in a very successful sophomore campaign across from first rounder Zack Martin.

Even though Stanley was blossoming into one of college football’s best players, we still openly wondered who would slide to fill Martin’s left tackle spot. (That’s how it goes with offensive linemen, their work only truly appreciated by those with either inside information or a coach’s eye of evaluation.)

In his opening comments before spring practice in 2014, Kelly named Steve Elmer, Christian Lombard and Mike McGlinchey as candidates along with Stanley, so it wasn’t necessarily a lock for the staff yet either. But it took just a few practices for the Las Vegas native to solidify his spot on the left side.

Stanley’s first season at left tackle was so solid that some wondered if there’d be two. While some of the online analysts saw Stanley as a potentially elite draft pick, the NFL Advisory Board came back with a second-round grade, perhaps all Stanley needed as he made his decision to stick around for his senior season. Still, Notre Dame took no chance. Kelly, Harry Hiestand and Jack Swarbrick traveled to Las Vegas to sell Stanley on the virtues of a final season in South Bend.

It worked. With a healthy offseason and weight-room gains needed, Stanley stuck to the script and played a mostly anonymous 2015 season. That was a very good thing—only along the offensive line can All-American honors and being named Offensive Player of the Year be considered ho-hum.

Add in the vanilla off-the-field life, and an elite academic profile that’s a comfort to teams investing millions in a potential cornerstone, Stanley’s placement as a Top 10 pick should have never been in doubt. While he lacked the dominance at Notre Dame that we saw from Zack Martin, he possesses athleticism and a body that Martin wasn’t given—a big reason the Cowboys shifted him inside to guard from day one.

Picked instead of Laremy Tunsil amidst a bizarre scenario that’ll go down as one of the draft’s cautionary tales, John Harbaugh talked openly about his relationship with Harry Hiestand and the comfort that came from Notre Dame’s offensive line coach as they pulled the trigger on Stanley. And Stanley, almost epitomizing that faith that the Ravens showed, all but embodied that when he told Joe Flacco in his first visit to Baltimore that he celebrated his selection by heading back to his hotel room and going to sleep.

Counted on by Baltimore to be a key piece of the puzzle as the Ravens look to rebuild an offensive line tasked with protecting a franchise quarterback in his prime, now it’s up to Notre Dame’s highest draft pick since Rick Mirer to continue his ascent.

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

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.