If there’s a recruit that’s cut from Bob Diaco’s mold, Grant Blankenship fits it. The oversized Texan, at 6-foot-6, 270-pounds, is the type of prospect that looks tailor-made to be a 3-4 defensive end.
But in Brian VanGorder’s system, Blankenship is more of a test case than an archetype, with the Irish shifting to a traditional 4-3 that doesn’t necessarily utilize Blankenship’s size on the edge of the defense, but more on the interior of the defensive front.
For however uncertain Notre Dame’s defensive scheme is, what’s clear is there’s a desperate need for players of Blankenship’s size. With Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell hardly certainties on the interior, Blankenship might be thrust into duty if he can prove himself stout and athletic enough to get on the field.
Let’s take a closer look at the incoming freshman.
6’6″, 264 lbs.
Blankenship wasn’t an elite recruit, but his offer list sure started to look like one as his recruiting cycle wore on. A quick run through of his playing opportunities counted Charlie Strong and Texas, Oklahoma, TCU and Arkansas chasing him — the top regional programs that Kerry Cooks fended off.
That recruitment likely wasn’t hard once the Irish offered him. Blankenship has been coming to Notre Dame football camps since grade school and his mother was the first person to initiate contact with the Irish, imploring the staff to take a look at her son.
Notre Dame did and an offer came soon after. Blankenship committed later that summer and added a lineman that’s more raw than Andrew Trumbetti, but could bring better size into the fold.
While the immediate need might be there, it looks like Blankenship will need to do some developing before he’s ready to take center stage on the Irish defense. But the frame and athleticism are there to be a more than willing defensive lineman, and it’ll be Mike Elston’s job to get him to the next level.
We’ve heard that Blankenship has already begun hitting the weight room hard, potentially checking into South Bend this summer in the 280 pound range. If that’s the case and he still possesses the athleticism we see on tape, he could turn into a highly productive player.
Will he dominate off the edge? We haven’t seen that yet. But with the right motor and size, he’ll be put in a position to succeed, regardless of the Irish scheme.
In a perfect world, Blankenship isn’t needed in 2014. Both Chase Hounshell and Tony Springmann are more physically developed, and forcing Blankenship into the lineup now could do more harm than good. But one look at the depth chart gives you an idea that Blankenship could be used sooner than later.
The youth movement up front, with seven or eight recruits that can play defensive line, will judge the Irish’s staff to identify prospects. And while the scheme changed late when Bob Diaco took the UConn job, it’ll be Brian VanGorder’s job to utilize the talent the Irish have accumulated. Blankenship brings a long-bodied edge player, one of the true 3-4 prototypes if he grows into his size.
Seeing a high school player rush the passer wearing a number in the 80s gives you an idea that he’s physically athletic enough to wreak havoc on both sides of the ball. With Blankenship’s length, it’s likely the Irish will find a spot for him, though it might on the inside of the defensive line if he lacks the athleticism to get after the quarterback.
*Penalty, 15 yards. Out of alphabetical order. Still first down.