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Barnett’s gone: What’s next for Notre Dame at quarterback?

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Blake Barnett made it official Wednesday night, stepping away from his Notre Dame commitment. Via a statement made on Twitter, Barnett said the following:

“I am officially de-committing from the University of Notre Dame and opening up my recruitment. I want to thank the University and the coaching staff for allowing me the opportunity to attend such a prestigious university.”

Reached via text by Jake Brown of Irish Illustrated, Barnett said he was no longer considering Notre Dame, making his commitment to Oregon seemingly inevitable. After committing to the Irish last November, Barnett went from being rock solid to the Irish 48 hours ago to dropping the school completely.

“Notre Dame has stayed recruiting me,” Barnett told Rivals all the way back on June 2. “They stayed on it because they know schools come around especially this time of year when recruiting starts to pick up. They have to be aggressive sometimes, to be honest.”

You can never say never in recruiting. But at this point, expect the Irish to make some quick moves as they reevaluate their quarterback options. After scouring the internet the past 24 hours, let’s walk through some of the other options the Irish staff might consider exploring.

 

Travis Waller
Servite (Anaheim, CA)

Long considered a favorite of Oregon’s, the smart money is pointed to Waller as Notre Dame’s next choice at quarterback with Barnett likely heading to the Ducks. Mike Denbrock and the Irish coaching staff have spent a ton of time at Servite, so they should know Waller.

At 6-foot-3, 190-pounds, Waller has offers from Alabama and more than a few other elite programs, and while he’s a lesser-rated quarterback than Barnett, he’s in the same stratosphere. Expect the Irish to head back to Troy Niklas’ alma mater to check Waller’s interest.

 

Deondre Francois
IMG Academy (Orlando, FL)

Considered by many to be a Florida State lean, BlueandGold.com’s Tom Loy tabs Francois as a potential target for the Irish. With offers from the Seminoles, Auburn, Tennessee, Florida, Miami and a whole slew of others, Francois hardly feels like a consolation prize.

At IMG, Francois is working with former Heisman Trophy Winner Chris Weinke, which likely has people thinking that Florida State is a foregone conclusion. But Weinke played his prep football at Cretin-Derham Hall, a school with great connections to Notre Dame, so we’ll see what happens.

 

Brandon Wimbush
St. Peters Prep (Jersey City, NJ)

Wimbush is committed to Penn State, the quarterback of choice for James Franklin’s first full Nittany Lions recruiting class. But there’s a lot of things that are great fits for the Irish and Wimbush, especially the Jesuit-based education, dual-threat skill-set, and the Irish friendly Garden State.

Wimbush literally committed to the Nittany Lions less than a month ago, so it’s hard to tell if this is just a dart thrown against the board. But the Under Armour All-American has an impressive set of offers and would likely listen to the Irish staff, especially considering Christian Hackenberg’s stable place at Penn State.

 

Brady White
Hart High (Santa Clarita, CA)

Catching up with the South Bend Tribune, Tom Lemming tabbed Arizona State target Brady White as a guy that Notre Dame could kick the tires on. While he’s listed as a pro-style quarterback, White’s got the type of mobility Todd Graham likes, and both Graham and Brian Kelly tend to see the same type of virtues in quarterbacks.

White just notched an invite to The Opening and is still alive in the Elite11 competition. He committed to Arizona State in early May, just after landing an Oregon offer. The Sun Devils have a commitment from quarterback Bryce Perkins from local powerhouse Chandler, but Perkins also projects to succeed at either wide receiver or another skill spot if he can’t play quarterback. Who knows what that means, but White could accept an Irish house call.

 

Sheriron Jones
Rancho Verde (Moreno Valley, CA)

Multiple ND-centric sites are saying Jones is on Notre Dame’s radar, so who am I to say that he’s not. At almost 6-3 and with a 4o-yard time dash that’s a reported 4.6, he’s the type of dual-threat guy that on paper makes sense. With offers from Florida, Tennessee, Nebraska and Arizona, he’s got the pedigree  and ability according to other coaches that run a similar style to Notre Dame’s.

It’s crazy to think that after losing out on Barnett, the Irish could throw out offers to 4-5 kids within a 50 mile radius of Barnett. But that gives you an idea of just how important holding your ground in Southern California really is.

 

Somebody Else’s Quarterback

Let’s be serious. There’s no love lost in recruiting. So if the Irish go chase after somebody else’s quarterback, Irish fans will be just fine with it, even though there’s all sorts of grousing about Barnett’s decision to turn his back on South Bend after spending the past eight months pledging his undying support for the Irish.

(That’s recruiting, folks!)

But expect to hear from Matt LaFleur and Mike Denbrock as the Irish work to get as many promising quarterbacks on campus as possible, with the Irish Invasion camp now less about Barnett interacting with other commits, but now about a possible audition for intriguing prospects.

Other names floated by those that cover recruiting more closely than me: Lamar Jackson of Boynton Beach, Florida, current Washington commit Jake Browning, Boise State commit Brett Rypien, Georgia commit Lorenzo Nunez.

(Heck, is Bubba Starling sick of hitting .188 in A ball yet?)

 

Sit This Cycle Out

It might not be a bad idea to sit this recruiting cycle out at quarterback. With a limited class size, the Irish still have Everett Golson for both this year and next, four years of eligibility for Malik Zaire and four years for DeShone Kizer.

Barnett was likely pitched at Oregon the idea of watching Marcus Mariota work his way to the top of the NFL Draft and then compete for the starting job immediately. That’s not the case at ND, where three scholarship quarterbacks are still on the depth chart for Barnett’s freshman year.

Getting a gap in there might not be the worst thing in the world, though Kelly has talked about wanting to take a quarterback every recruiting cycle. That’s mostly to protect for transfers, which is essentially what Barnett’s subtraction weeds out.

This also might be a good time to hit the 2016 prospects hard, doing their best to close rising junior Jacob Eason or fellow SoCal elite signal caller Malik Henry.

 

Kelly and Swarbrick turn attention to science of injury prevention

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Amidst the chaos of their live Signing Day show, UND.com ran had a far-reaching interview with head coach Brian Kelly. It was conducted by his boss, athletic director Jack Swarbrick, and his former team captain, Joe Schmidt.

So while there was a little bit of talk about the 23 recruits who signed their national letters-of-intent, there was also a very illuminating exchange on an issue that’s really plagued the Irish the past few seasons: Injuries.

Football is a dangerous game. And for as long as people play it, there’ll be impactful injuries that take players off the field. But as Notre Dame settles into what looks like their longest run of stability since the Holtz era, the focus of Kelly and Swarbrick has moved past modernizing the team’s medical services, strength program and nutrition and onto the science of injury prevention.

Here’s what Kelly said about the efforts currently taking shape:

“I think the science piece is very important, because no longer is it just about strength and conditioning,  it’s about durability. It’s the ability to continue to play at an optimal level but also with the rigors of a college schedule, and particularly here at Notre Dame, how do we maximize the time but maximizing getting the most out of our student-athletes and not lose them?

“As you know, we’ve had a couple years here in a rough stretch of injuries. And how do we have an injury prevention protocol that brings in the very best science? You’ve done a great job of reaching out in getting us those kind of resources. so I think tapping into that is probably the next piece. As well as providing the resources for our student-athletes. Continuing to look at facilities. Continuing to give our student-athletes maybe that little edge. Because everybody’s got 85 scholarships.”

It’s clear that the issue is one that’s on the radar for not just Kelly, but the athletic administration. So it’ll be interesting to see some of the steps taken as the program begins investing time and additional resources to an issue that’s really hit the Irish hard the past few seasons.

There’s plenty of other good stuff in the 13-minute interview, so give it a watch.

Five things we learned: Signing Day 2016

FILE - In this Jan. 1, 2016, file photo, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly makes a call during the first half of the Fiesta Bowl NCAA College football game against Ohio State in Glendale, Ariz. Kelly has agreed to a six-year contract to stay on as coach at Notre Dame through 2021, the school announced Friday, Jan. 29,2 016.  (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin, File)
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There were no last minute defections. No roller coaster recruits or down-to-the-wire decisions. Heck, there were no fax machines—with Notre Dame ditching the office dinosaur for a wireless, smart phone option.

Brian Kelly inked another Top 10 recruiting class on Wednesday. And he did so in decidedly uneventful fashion.

“It’s awesome. I think that everybody should try it once in their career,” Kelly said.

So while Kelly and the Irish staff hold out hope that 5-star talents Caleb Kelly and Demetris Robertson still decide to spend their college careers in South Bend, the 23-man class announced Wednesday was another Top 10 effort and a step in the right direction for a program on very stable ground.

Let’s find out what we learned.

 

Notre Dame’s staff continued to focus on rebuilding the secondary and rushing the passer. 

Yes, Brian Kelly saw what you saw—a group that struggled getting to the passer or to field a nickel or dime personnel grouping. So they countered that in the best way they knew how: By continuing to stockpile talent.

Notre Dame added seven defensive backs and four edge defenders in the cycle. They include safeties Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill and cornerbacks Julian Love, Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn. Perhaps just as important is the impression some of these defenders made in their time on campus, with Kelly pointing to Elliott and Studstill’s work during summer camp really making them must-have recruits.

“Jalen Elliott competed like no player that I have seen since I’ve been coaching in a camp setting,” Kelly said. “Same thing with Devin Studstill. His skill level was of corner-like ability but had the size of the safety, and so our guys went right to them early on, and that was a focal point because we got a chance to see them up close and personal.”

At defensive end, the Irish welcome 5-star recruit Daelin Hayes, getting him on campus as he recovers from shoulder surgery. He’s joined by former Alabama commit Khalid Kareem, the strongside counterpart that is an early candidate to see the field, especially as the staff looks for someone to spell Isaac Rochell for a few snaps. Longer-term prospects include a few speed rushers—Julian Okwara (younger brother of Romeo) and Ade Ogundeji, a long-limbed, below-the-radar edge rusher.

“We’re pretty excited about the potential for some guys in this class that can answer some four-man pass rush needs that we do have,” Kelly said.

 

It may not be the biggest group, but Brian Kelly is excited about his offensive line—especially the guys he pulled from Ohio State’s backyard. 

Three recruits in the offensive line class point to a big 2017 at the position. But the three the Irish did sign—guard Parker Boudreaux and tackles Liam Eichenberg and Tommy Kraemer—have Kelly very happy.

“Parker Boudreaux has that physical presence inside like, and I’m not comparing him, but he’s a Quinton Nelson in terms of size and physicality,” Kelly said. “And then two edge guys with Liam and Tommy on the outside. Those two kids are as good as you’re going to find in the country, and couldn’t be more excited to have two kids from the state of Ohio, from two great Catholic schools in St. Ignatius and Cincinnati Elder from the state of Ohio.”

Both Eichenberg and Kraemer were priority targets for Urban Meyer and company, with neither wavering after committing to Notre Dame. Kraemer was Ohio’s Gatorade Player of the Year and an Army All-American. He’ll be able to step into the two-deep immediately, capable of playing up front if the Irish need him. Eichenberg more than held his own at the Under Armour All-American game and has a high ceiling, especially as he learns the game under Hiestand.

It doesn’t take away the sting of the Fiesta Bowl. But it’s a nice consolation prize.

 

Irish legacies Jamir Jones and Julian Okwara may have big brothers who played for Brian Kelly, but they earned scholarships on their own. 

Classmates Jarron Jones and Romeo Okwara will turn over the reins to their younger brothers, linebacker Jamir Jones and defensive end Julian Okwara. The younger duo’s commitments felt all but inevitable throughout this recruiting cycle—even if that wasn’t always the case.

Jones had to come to camp to earn a scholarship. Having played quarterback and tight end as a high school standout in Rochester, the defensive staff had to see how he moved before they could find a position for him to play.

Similarly, Okwara’s journey to Notre Dame shouldn’t be taken for granted. While his older brother leaves Notre Dame the team’s leading quarterback sacker, Julian has a better natural pass rush skill-set than the 2015 team-leader.

“Julian can separate himself in a way because he has an elite initial movement and speed that Romeo has had to try and develop,” Mike Elston said in Okwara’s Signing Day video. “Romeo has the size and the power and the aggressiveness, but Julian can really add value for us right away.”

Kelly talked about how important it was to not just land this duo, but to have them already understand what the journey is that lies ahead.

“We didn’t recruit them because their brothers were here. We recruited them because we thought they were players that fit here at Notre Dame that would be very successful,” Kelly said. “Obviously it helps when their brothers have a great experience here and really enjoy their Notre Dame experience as a student and as an athlete, so that helps you in the recruiting… those kids really fit and can stand on their own two feet.”

 

Even without Demetris Robertson in the fold, Notre Dame’s receiving class is a group to watch. 

You want productivity? Throw on a highlight tape of Javon McKinley. You want an intriguing set of physical tools? Look no further than Chase Claypool. You want a sleeper prospect who out-performed every elite prospect who came to the Irish Invasion camp? Then your man is Kevin Stepherson.

Most of the attention on Signing Day was the fate of 5-star receiver Demetris Robertson. But the trio of athletes that’ll reload the receiving corps is a group that deserves recognition even without an additional infusion.

McKinley provided the day’s only scare when his smart phone struggled to send his signature via electronic fax. Claypool sent his national letter of intent in the day after scoring 51 points on the basketball court. And Stepherson is already taking part in team workouts in Paul Longo’s strength facilities, getting a jump start with the spring semester and 15 practices as the Irish try to figure out what life looks like after Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

After Fuller left campus early on the back of two record-setting two seasons, Kelly said his staff has become more and more comfortable with the fact that his skill players need to develop quickly—especially with the allure of the NFL just ahead.

“If you’re really that good, you may not be here very long, and we hope that you’re here for four years and you stay, but you’ve got to be ready to compete,” Kelly said. “So our expectation in the recruiting process is for the wide receiver group to come in and compete to get on the field and be a player for us immediately.”

That’ll happen whether or not Robertson is a part of this group.

 

Amidst significant transition on both the coaching staff and recruiting office, Notre Dame managed a Top 10 class. Expect things to only get better from here. 

Let’s go back to Signing Day 2015. Within 24 hours of Brian Kelly’s press conference, he was dealing with two major changes—recruiting coordinator Tony Alford was out the door to Ohio State and Kerry Cooks was headed to Oklahoma. Two aces on the staff were gone, forcing the Irish to not just replace long-time staffers, but to find new area recruiters for the state of Texas and Alford’s stronghold in Florida.

Kelly brought in first-year college assistant Todd Lyght to work with defensive backs. He tapped the school’s rushing leader Autry Denson to handle the backs and duke it out in Florida. Mike Sanford shook up the offense as Bob Elliott moved into an off-field position. But perhaps just as important as those moves, Kelly turned over the administrative reins to Mike Elston, who moved into a recruiting coordinator position he had filled for his boss back at Cincinnati.

Elston had to reorganize a staff that saw relationships walk out the door and reboot a recruiting effort that saw significant changes behind the scenes. And in short order things got back on track and have progressed to the point that the Irish are ahead of the game, setting junior days and summer camp dates earlier than ever.

For those paying attention, they’ve noticed the improvements. Notre Dame has paid more attention to messaging—staffers more active on Twitter. There have been improvements on Instagram, Facebook and Vine—platforms that might sound like gobbledygook to grownups, but are critical pieces to a year-long recruiting effort. That should help this staff press ahead in 2017, a recruiting class that already has five members.

“With that team that we’ve put together, we’re not going to look back. It’s only going to get better,” Kelly said.

It was Elston that engineered the equipment truck visit to Savannah, a late-game recruiting move that drew a lot of attention to Notre Dame. It was recruiters like Denson who went to Alabama and got a visit out of Ben Davis, a Crimson Tide legacy who gave the Irish a much longer look than anybody could have expected. And it’s no surprise that a former Pro Bowler and first-round draft pick like Lyght was able to reel in a large group of defensive backs eager to learn from a guy who was a clear success story.

“I think each and every year, you hope that this group is the best group you’ve ever recruited,” Kelly said. “I’m hoping for that again.”

 

Faxes in: Liam Eichenberg

Liam Eichenberg
Rivals / Yahoo Sports
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LIAM EICHENBERG
Cleveland, Ohio

Measurables: 6’6″, 280 lbs.

Accolades: 4-Star, Under Armour All-American, 2015 MaxPreps first-team All-American, 2015 American Family Insurance All-USA Ohio, AP All-Ohio Division I first-team.

Impressive Offers: Florida State, Miami, Michigan, Ohio State, Penn State, Tennessee

Projected Position: Offensive tackle.

Quick Take: Another offensive tackle with sky-high potential, Notre Dame snatched Eichenberg out from under Urban Meyer’s nose, bringing in yet another blue-chipper for Harry Hiestand to mold. More of a developmental project than Kraemer, Eichenberg’s upside could be just as lofty, especially after some time in a weight room and on the practice field.

What he means to the Irish: With numbers at tackle on the light side, Eichenberg won’t be asked to get on the field, but he might start his career in the two deep behind Mike McGlinchey. That could take away a redshirt if things go wrong, but the view from behind McGlinchey is a good spot for him, learning behind another talented athlete who came to campus as a developmental prospect but will enter his senior season (McGlinchey has two years of eligibility remaining) as a legit NFL prospect.

Eichenberg has the same kind of ceiling. He’ll just need to keep improving—something that he’s shown after a strong Under Armour All-American week in Orlando.

Obligatory YouTube clip: