247 Sports

Weekend notes: Recruiting, position battles, and more

40 Comments

It’s not all that surprising that a little snippet from Chuck Martin on the state of the quarterback depth chart would get the comments section churning. There’s no question that Tommy Rees is one of the more polarizing players we’ve ever discussed on this site. Love him, hate him, he’s the guy that’s going to start for the Irish. Call me a Rees apologist, and it’s certainly something I’ve been called in the past, but I don’t think there’s any question that a veteran quarterback with a ton of experience can get better — and play smarter — during his senior season.

Criticism for the way Rees has played in certain big games and against certain defenses is completely valid, though you get the feeling that a Chuck Martin led offense will be a bit different than the one that Charley Molnar implemented. Needless to say, we’ve got around 50 days to beat that topic into the ground, and then we’ll see what happens when things start counting for real.

***

Onward to a few notes of interest, and the first one being some moves up the board for some Notre Dame recruits that did some damage on the camp circuit. 247Sports.com updated their big board and it’s filled with Irish recruits who had impressive summer seasons.

Two of the biggest movers were offensive lineman Quenton Nelson and wide receiver Justin Brent. Nelson’s rating shot up over 100 spots, catapulting him into the nation’s elite, with a ranking of 74th overall and the 6th highest rated offensive lineman in the country.

Nelson did plenty of impressing while at both the Rivals series camps and at The Opening in Oregon, and while he’s not going to get confused for a guy that’ll run past you (he clocked a 5.6 forty), he’s getting rave reviews for his physical nature and athletic ability.

Probably more impressive than Nelson’s jump was the coming out party for long-time Irish commitment Justin Brent. After impressing everywhere he went this summer, Brent is now the 63rd ranked player in the country according to 247. To put that into context, that’s a higher ranking than high profile targets like Sony Michel, Michiah Quick, and Allen Lazard, skill players coveted by Irish fans everywhere.

Lastly, while Rivals has always seen him as one of the elite players in the recruiting class, 247 has now seen the light on Elijah Hood as well. After blazing a 4.48 in the 40 at The Opening, and weighing a stout 222 pounds, it’s pretty clear that the Irish have a physical specimen coming in at running back next year. Passing camps and 7-on-7 tournaments aren’t the best place for a runner like Hood to impress, but matching his prodigious highlight tape with that type of speed answers some questions.

Quarterback DeShone Kizer, offensive tackle Alex Bars and tight end Nic Weishar are also listed in the Top 247.

***

ESPN’s Mark Schlabach took a look at some of the most high profile position battles in college football and focused on the running back race in South Bend.

Here’s his take:

Running back: George Atkinson III vs. Amir Carlisle vs. Cam McDaniel vs. Will Mahone vs. Greg Bryant vs. Tarean Folston

Notre Dame’s running game took a lot of pressure off quarterback Everett Golson last season, but now the Irish will have to play without Golson, who is ineligible for the 2013 season, and leading rushers Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood, who have departed. Atkinson, who ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns last season, seems to be next in line to start. He has good speed, but struggled with blocking and patience last season. Carlisle, a USC transfer, can’t stay healthy; he missed last season with an ankle injury and then broke his collarbone in the spring. Bryant, an incoming freshman, was ranked the No. 2 running back in the country by ESPN Recruiting Nation and had scholarship offers from Alabama, Auburn, Clemson, Florida, FSU, Georgia and dozens of other schools.

Obviously, we’ve spent a few thousand more words talking about this, so we can understand the simplification of the scenario by Schlabach, one of the better guys out there covering the national beat.

That said, seeing patience and blocking being tagged to George Atkinson‘s name and injury concerns following a now healthy Amir Carlisle shouldn’t be surprising, especially when you’re looking at the program from afar. A breakout year for both players — and both doing a lot to prove the skeptics wrong — would be a huge step forward for this offense.

(Not mentioning Cam McDaniel should be some additional fuel for the Texas junior, who I think might be the best natural running back on the roster.)

***

If you were to read the tea leaves, the Irish might be close to getting another verbal commitment in the ’14 recruiting class. Fort Lauderdale wide receiver Corey Holmes has already visited South Bend four times and just got back from a trip to Los Angeles where he took a look at UCLA.

Just about every major recruiting service expects Notre Dame to be the pick when Holmes announces next week. If he does pick the Irish, they’ll be getting a long and lean wideout with good speed and the ability to go catch the football.

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year

Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl
4 Comments

Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.

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
13 Comments

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
17 Comments

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
22 Comments

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.