Orlando Sentinel

Kelly on the recruits: Skill Players

21 Comments

After looking at both the offensive line and front seven hauls, let’s take a look at the skill players Brian Kelly brought in. After bolstering the offensive line class with four additional recruits and bringing in 11 players that will restock the front seven, here are the remaining members of the 2014 recruiting class.

(I’ve included specialist Tyler Newsome in this write-up, even if he isn’t technically a skill player.)

BK on wide receiver Justin Brent:

“When I got a chance to see him work out this morning, the first thing that stood out to me is that he does not look like a freshman.  He had his shirt off this morning and he was running around, and he looks like a senior.He is a physically gifted young man.”

“You can see a lot of the accolades that are out there with him in terms of where he was ranked. But what we were looking for specifically, and there were some really good players at this position, we were looking for a physical player at this position, somebody that could impose their physicality, could run after the catch. His ability to run after the catch was very impressive for us and had, for us, some of the things, the traits that we were looking for at that particular time and that position.”

***

***

BK on wide receiver Corey Holmes:

“Really a precise route runner.  Really like his game.  He is a mature player.  Very mature in the way he handles himself in the classroom.  Off the field, really like everything about Corey Holmes.  I can’t tell you anything I don’t like about this young man.  His family is just a great fit for Notre Dame.  Very mature kid, one that’s wanting to take on all the challenges of Notre Dame.

“He reminded me a lot, and I don’t like to make the comparisons, but he has a lot of the same feelings in terms of where TJ Jones developed, but he’s 6’2″.  This kid is longer.  He’s a bigger kid than TJ.  But he’s got a lot of those mannerisms and characteristics.  This is a great fit for us from that high school.  He’s played great competition, and he’s a great fit for our program.  We’re really pleased to have Corey Holmes in our program.”

***

***

BK on quarterback Deshone Kizer

“There’s so many things to love about DeShone.  He’s 6’5”.  I love that.  He’s 212 pounds.  I love that.  So you can see you’ve got a tall, athletic quarterback who’s got good size.  He’s going to be able to do the multidimensional things that we love.  Now we’ve got three quarterbacks on campus that all do the same things.  You don’t have to adjust your offense.  All three of the quarterbacks, we finally‑‑ all do the same things.

“He led his team the last couple years, came up a little short, but extremely competitive and confident, confident, confident kid.  That’s what you’ve got to be.  That’s what I told all these guys.  If you come to Notre Dame as the quarterback, you’d better be really confident in your ability because they are going to knock you down five pegs every day, so you’d better be above that.”

***

***

BK on tight end Tyler Luatua

“One of the things that stood out to me on his visit is that people said, well, he didn’t talk enough.  He wasn’t engaging enough.  I didn’t hear enough from him.  I said, well, you just don’t know him well enough because when you get to know Tyler Luatua, he’s just like Justin Utupo; you can’t shut him up.  So it was clear to me that we just needed to spend a little bit more time with him, and Mike Denbrock did a great job recruiting him, said, listen, just spend more time with him.  We got him on the phone, he spent more time with people on campus, and he blew them all away.  He’s just got that kind of personality.  We really love his personality and who he is.

“As a tight end he’s a pass catching tight end.  No, he’s not the 6’5″, 6’6″ tight ends that we’ve had, but he is a really good tight end.  He can catch the football.  He can block for us.  He’s going to be able to do all the jobs that we have at the tight end position for us. We think we got one of the best tight ends in the country in Tyler Luatua.”

***

***

BK on punter Tyler Newsome

“We had Tyler up here this summer.  We had the kicking camp here, and we got a chance to see him work out.  Just was really impressed with his versatility.  Long lever punter, which in terms of his abilities really transcend the normal punting.

“He’s a guy that doesn’t come along very often.  He’s 6’3″, 190 pounds right now, and he is skinny.  He’s going to be a really big kid.  We loved the pop that he had as a kicker, but we were most intrigued by his punting, and that’s an area that he’s going to continue to work on and continue to develop, but he was such an intriguing young man in all the kids that we saw that when we saw him punting, there was nobody that was even close to with the potential upside that he has.”

***

***

BK on safety Drue Tranquill

“He kept jumping out at us.  This kid was making plays, and Coach Hiestand kept banging me about hey, listen, watch this kid, and we kept looking at him, and he’d keep making plays during camp.  And so he was always on our radar, but we were not ready to offer a scholarship at that particular position. It got to the point where I watched more film, we watched more film.  I loved his attitude.  I loved the way he played the game.  I said, we’re going to offer him as a head coach’s offer.  Head coach can offer anybody, right?  Coach, we don’t have a scholarship.  I said, well, we’ve got a scholarship now.

“So I offered him a scholarship, and we really didn’t have a position for him because we just loved the way he played the game, and so that’s kind of how the recruiting process went on Drue.  People have asked does he play safety, does he play running back?  I don’t know where he plays, but he’s going to play somewhere here at Notre Dame because he’s a darned good football player, he’s athletic, he’s competitive, and we’ll find a place for him somewhere.  He’s one of those guys if he’s going to play at Notre Dame he’s going to play somewhere because he’s a really good football player.”

***

***

BK on cornerback Nick Watkins

“Nick Watkins, you talk about a talented football player, his dad played in the NFL, great pedigree, 6’1”.  This is a long corner.  This is draft day, you’re getting a No.1 draft pick.  This kid is an exceptional football player.

“We think we got one of the best corners around.  Long, athletic, can really do a lot of things for us.  He can play man, he can play zone.  I got a chance to see him play.  I didn’t see him play one game in person, but I saw a lot of his tape.

“I just think he’s an outstanding player that is going to develop here, and again, from my standpoint, love the ability that we can get a corner that has some size to him.”

***

***

BK on tight end Nic Weishar

“We could argue about this all day.  He’s the finest pass catching tight end that we saw.  You could argue about who it is, but we think he is.  We love his ball skills, we love his ability to use his body to control defenders, has a knack of catching the football in the air and taking it away from people.

“He’s a guy that will have a great career here at Notre Dame.  He’ll be that‑‑ he’s got that model and size that we’ve had here at Notre Dame. He’s not where Luatua is in terms of size right now.  He’s going to have to get stronger.  He’s 215 pounds.  But he will.  But he is a terrific pass catcher, and he’s going to be another one in the line of very, very good tight ends here at Notre Dame.”

***

How did Mike Elko fare against past Irish opponents?

TALLAHASSEE, FL - OCTOBER 18:  Karlos Williams #9 of the Florida State Seminoles scores the touchdown that would win the game against the Notre Dame Fighting Irish during their game at Doak Campbell Stadium on October 18, 2014 in Tallahassee, Florida.  (Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
Getty Images
28 Comments

Former Irish defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder took over at that position before the 2014 season. Former Wake Forest defensive coordinator, and now VanGorder’s successor at Notre Dame, Mike Elko took over in Winston-Salem at the same time. Since then, the two programs faced common opponents nine times.

With the lone exception of Army, all these games featured ACC opponents. When it comes to talent, Wake Forest tends to be outmatched in the ACC. Recruits from 2011 to 2016 suited up for the Deacons in the 2014-16 seasons. During those six recruiting cycles, Wake Forest never finished higher than No. 10 in the conference according to rivals.com’s rankings. In 2012 and 2014, the Deacons finished at the bottom of the conference in recruiting.

Notre Dame, meanwhile, finished behind an ACC team a total of 10 times over those six years. Florida State outpaced the Irish five times, the exception being Notre Dame’s No. 3-ranked class in 2013 following its national championship game appearance. Clemson finished ahead of the Irish four times (2014 joining 2013 as the outliers), and Miami rounds the listing off with its No. 9-finish in 2012, compared to Notre Dame’s No. 20.

The point being, VanGorder and the Irish could anticipate having a stronger and deeper roster in at least six of the games discussed below. Elko and Wake Forest may have been able to make that argument—and it would be a debatable one—just once, when they faced Duke this past September.

Before comparing the two units’ successes and failures in those nine—actually, 18—contests, let’s establish two points of clarification. Notre Dame and North Carolina State played in a literal hurricane this past October. Comparing that game to any other will accomplish nothing. Furthermore, before anyone starts griping about that afternoon’s play-calling, this is an exercise discussing defensive performances, not offensive. The run:pass distribution of Oct. 1, 2016, bears no significance here.

Secondly, the other two games the Irish played fitting this criteria but after VanGorder’s dismissal—Syracuse and Army—are included below. Only so much of the scheme changed mid-season, and the personnel did not.

If you are busy catching up from a long weekend and do not have the time to look at the numbers below, a quick summary for you: In five of the eight instances, Elko’s unit fared distinctly better than VanGorder’s in multiple notable statistical categories. However, the Deacons struggled with Army’s triple-option attack, and both 2014 Florida State and 2015 Clemson blew right through the aggressive defense far easier than they did against Notre Dame.

Presented in something resembling reverse chronological order: (more…)

Four-star WR Micah Jones chooses Irish; Rees may need to wait; Other late-week reading

jones
rivals.com
24 Comments

A day may come when Notre Dame suffers a recruiting disappointment in the 2018 cycle, when a high school star spurns the Irish coaching staff for a foe, but it is not this day.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township High School; Gurnee, Ill.) committed to Notre Dame on Friday, joining a class of now 10 recruits, including four who committed just this week.

Jones chose the Irish over offers from the likes of Iowa, Michigan State and Ole Miss, among others.

He is the first receiver among the 10 commitments and the seventh considered a four-star prospect. At 6-foot-5, 196 pounds, Jones should present a large target for whomever the Notre Dame quarterback is in the fall of 2018, most likely then-senior Brandon Wimbush.

Tom, Tommy or Thomas; Assistant Coach or Graduate Assistant?
Thomas Rees may need to wait a season before officially being a coach at Notre Dame. The legislation to approve a 10th assistant coach was expected to be voted on, passed and effective in April. A newly-added amendment may push the effective date to following the 2017 season. The amendment will be voted on immediately before the legislation itself is.

The delay makes sense. Most coaching hirings and firings occur in December and January. In theory, creating a one-timing hiring frenzy following spring football could leave many programs in the lurch. In practice, however, this is not anticipated.

“The majority of the FBS guys that I’ve talked with currently believe that 10th coach is going to come from within their own organization,” Todd Berry told the Associated Press. Berry is the executive director of the American Football Coaches Association and former coach at Army and Louisiana-Monroe. “Quality control, graduate assistants, analysts, or they’re planning on hiring somebody that’s out of work.”

A majority is not a unanimity, though, and that carousel will innately work to the disadvantage of the Group of 5 schools.

As for Rees, a graduate assistant can still work extensively with players. The most-pertinent difference between a graduate assistant and an assistant coach is the former cannot recruit. Given Notre Dame’s recent success on the recruiting trail—and the early commitment of class of 2018 consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland H.S.; Gibsonia, Pa.)—Rees may not be an absolute necessity in that regard this cycle.

A Kizer Appraisal
Former NFL scout Greg Gabriel took a look at former Irish quarterback DeShone Kizer this week, largely paying the draft prospect compliments.

In calling Kizer “the most talented quarterback in this draft class,” Gabriel set a high ceiling for Kizer’s spring. Part of Gabriel’s positive assessment comes from acknowledging Kizer’s responsibilities as the Irish signal-caller.

“The spread offense that Kizer played in at Notre Dame is more sophisticated than many of the spread offenses we see elsewhere at the collegiate level. The Notre Dame offense is a whole-field read scheme in which the quarterback has to go through a progression that encompasses both sides of the field. He also can change the play and/or protections at the line of scrimmage. Given all that, Kizer was asked to do more than many spread quarterbacks are asked to do.”

Gabriel also reflected on the dynamic differences for Kizer in 2015 and 2016 and what may have elicited some of his seeming stagnation.

“There was the unnecessary quarterback controversy at Notre Dame, and the offensive line wasn’t as experienced or as talented and the receivers were mostly first-year starters.”

As much as Gabriel raves about Kizer, he would be the first to tell you anything beyond individual player evaluation is a waste of air this early in the draft process. Mock drafts may be fun, but they are not much beyond that.

Take the fates of Tony Romo and Jimmy Garoppolo, for example. Few, if any, in the NFL expect them to dress for the Cowboys and Patriots, respectively, again. Where they end up could directly impact Kizer’s draft placement.

Jaylon Smith May Be Back to Form
Former Notre Dame and current Dallas Cowboys linebacker Jaylon Smith posted yet another encouraging video to Twitter. This one shows Smith really might be game-ready right now and, if not, almost certainly will be by the fall. Should there be any difficulty with the embedded video below, here is a link straight to it.

OL Mabry makes third commitment this week; WR Jones may follow Friday

mabry
rivals.com
45 Comments

Two weeks ago, Irish coach Brian Kelly gave a non-answer of an answer to a question about a likely early signing period this coming December. Avoiding specifics, he indicated he thinks the effects of such a change will be seen on a case-by-case basis entirely dependent on the recruits.

“Some will, some won’t,” Kelly said. “…Each kid is going to have to react to it based upon also how their school is going to be dealing with it. Some will come off the board at the time.

“We’re expecting some to sign early, but I think our mindset is we’re going into it business as usual. We’re all going to have to fight until February.”

After this week, Notre Dame is going to have more year-long fights than anticipated. Consensus three-star offensive lineman recruit Cole Mabry (Brentwood High School; Brentwood, Tenn.) became the third prospect to offer a verbal commitment to the Irish coaching staff in less than 36 hours with his Wednesday decision. Mabry received the offer over the weekend, but waited a few days before making his decision public, lest emotions be dictating his thought process.

At 6-foot-6 and 255 pounds, Mabry will have time to add muscle to his frame, with four or five offensive tackles greeting him on the Notre Dame roster in the summer of 2018. That ability to mold his style and growth may have played a part in the Irish interest.

“They love my height and athleticism and how I play,” Mabry told rivals.com. “We got to break down film and go through things that they do that pair up with how I play now. They think I’ll be a great fit in their offense.”

Mabry is the ninth Notre Dame commitment in the class of 2018, though the first offensive lineman.

Judging by new Notre Dame director of football performance Matt Balis’s agenda for the Irish roster’s Valentine’s Day morning, Mabry will have much to look forward to in terms of strength and conditioning.

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township H.S.; Gurnee, Ill.) is scheduled to announce his verbal commitment this Friday at 4 p.m. ET. Along with Notre Dame, Jones is considering Iowa, Michigan State, Nebraska, Ole Miss, Illinois and Northwestern. He would be the first receiver in Notre Dame’s 2018 class. Naturally, whomever Jones commits to, the recruiting fight will last until at least December, and perhaps all the way to February.

Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits; Elliott officially a ‘Husker

allen
rivals.com
26 Comments

It’s early. It’s really, really early. Not in the day, though this post is scheduled for an a.m. hour. No, it is early in the 2018 recruiting cycle. Any piece of news, each commitment, everything should be taken with two grains of salt.

Nonetheless, Notre Dame—and more specifically, new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and defensive backs coach Todd Lyght—enjoyed Tuesday’s recruiting news when two consensus four-star coverage men committed to the Irish.

Safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.) and cornerback Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.) joined a class of now eight commitments, six of which play on the defensive side of the ball.

Gervin, the No. 11 cornerback in the class according to rivals.com, waited mere days after attending Notre Dame’s Junior Day over the weekend. Irish coach Brian Kelly and staff’s failure to land a recruit at Gervin’s position in the 2017 haul actually helped reel in the recruit with offers from Florida, LSU, Michigan and dozens others.

“The opportunity to play right away, they didn’t sign a cornerback this last class,” Gervin told Blue & Gold Illustrated helped sway him. “Also, the education is second-to-none. It speaks for itself.”

Allen, pictured at top, has leaned toward Notre Dame for months. The No. 3 safety in the country per Rivals, he chose the Irish over the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Florida State.

Elliott officially to Nebraska

The two highly-touted defensive backs will not have the chance to learn under the tutelage of Bob Elliott. Nebraska officially announced the hiring of the former Notre Dame safeties (2012-13) and linebackers (2014) coach. Elliott spent the last two seasons serving as a special assistant to Kelly, focusing largely on defending the triple-option attacks of Army, Navy and Georgia Tech.

Elliott rejoins former Notre Dame defensive coordinator Bob Diaco in Lincoln. Diaco was hired as the Cornhuskers’ defensive coordinator in January.

The Lincoln Journal Star’s Brian Cristopherson reports Elliott will make a nice wage in eastern Nebraska.