Cleveland Plain Dealer

Commitment train continues with blue-chip CB Shaun Crawford

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For a recruiting class that many expected to be small,¬†the last few weeks have been a whirlwind of activity. And while Ohio’s Shaun Crawford may only be 5-foot-9, no recruit has been bigger for the Irish. Crawford became the Irish’s fifth commitment of the past 10 days when he pledged to the Irish on Father’s Day.

Crawford joins defensive tackles Brandon Tiassum, Micah Dew-Treadway and Elijah Taylor, along with fellow Ohio cornerback Nick Coleman as recruits joining Brian VanGorder’s defense in the last two weeks. Add to that the May 30th commitment of linebacker Josh Barajas, and Notre Dame’s recruiting class has began to take shape over the past month.

Crawford chose the Irish over an elite offer list that includes Florida State, Miami, Michigan and Ohio State. He was committed to the Wolverines earlier this summer but an offer from Notre Dame changed all that. After visiting campus and being wooed by VanGorder and secondary coach Kerry Cooks, Crawford finally pulled the trigger on Sunday.

Crawford embodies the recruiting change that’s come since Bob Diaco took the UConn job. At cornerback, Diaco coveted size and height. That meant no offer to Crawford when he first visited, even with a lofty recruiting ranking. But Crawford gives the Irish a full-time player in the mold of Cody Riggs, a small, competitive, lightning-fast cornerback that can play both inside and out and contribute in the return game.

Crawford caught up with BlueandGold.com’s Tom Loy, detailing the decision to back away¬†from a Michigan commitment and decide on Notre Dame.

‚ÄúI‚Äôve always loved Michigan. Even after I committed, I loved Michigan,‚ÄĚ noted Crawford. ‚ÄúThis isn‚Äôt about them, really. I just really felt at home with Notre Dame. Once they offered and I talked to Coach Kelly, I just knew that I needed to give them another look. I remembered my first experience at Notre Dame and I just wanted to see if I would have the same feeling when I visited a second time. I wanted to see if it was a one-time thing or if that was just the place for me. After my visit to Notre Dame and talking to Coach Kelly, Coach Cooks, Coach McCarthy, [running backs] Coach [Tony] Alford and the rest of the staff, I just knew that I needed to be at Notre Dame and that‚Äôs where I truly wanted to be. Michigan didn‚Äôt do anything wrong or anything negative. I can‚Äôt say that enough. I have nothing but respect for them. Notre Dame is just the place for me and I had to make the best decision for me.‚ÄĚ

Crawford’s commitment makes 13 for Notre Dame. He’s a consensus 4-star prospect who has been invited to The Opening and will likely be back in South Bend for next weekend’s Irish Invasion.

 

 

Restocking the roster: Wide Receivers

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Some believe that the best way to look at recruiting is in two-year increments. As programs rebuild and rosters turn over, covering the needs of a football team over two recruiting cycles  allows a coaching staff to balance its roster.

That¬†balance is critical to the health of a program. And it’s not just the work of a rebuilding coach. As we saw in Brian Kelly’s sixth season, injuries, attrition and scheme change impacted the defense, especially in the secondary.

Another position set to deal with major change is wide receiver. Gone is All-American Will Fuller, departing South Bend after three years, scoring 29 touchdowns over the past two seasons. He’ll look to run his way into the first round of the NFL Draft. Also gone¬†are veterans Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, putting the Irish in an unenviable position, needing to replace the team’s three leading receivers.

Reinforcements aren’t just on the way, they’re already on campus. While there’s not a ton of production to see, the recruiting stockpile has created a chance to reload for Mike Denbrock’s troop. So let’s take a look at the¬†additions and subtractions on the roster, analyzing the two-year recruiting run as we restock the receiving corps.

DEPARTURES
Will Fuller
, Jr. (62 catches, 1,258 yards, 14 TDs)
Chris Brown, Sr. (48 catches, 597 yards, 4 TDs)
Amir Carlisle, GS (32 catches, 355 yards, 1 TD)
Jalen Guyton, Fr. (transfer)

 

ADDITIONS
Equanimeous St. Brown

Miles Boykin*
CJ Sanders
Jalen Guyton
Chase Claypool*
Javon McKinley*
Kevin Stepherson*

 

PRE-SPRING DEPTH CHART
Corey Robinson, Sr.
Torii Hunter, Sr.*
Justin Brent, Jr.*
Corey Holmes, Jr.*
CJ Sanders, Soph.
Miles Boykin, Soph.*
Equanimeous St. Brown, Soph.
Kevin Stepherson, Fr.*

 

ANALYSIS
Brian Kelly expects St. Brown to step into Will Fuller’s shoes. If the Irish are able to pluck¬†another sophomore from obscurity to¬†the national spotlight, it’ll say quite a bit about the depth and productivity¬†the Irish staff has built at the position. At 6-foot-5, St. Brown has a more tantalizing skill-set than Fuller‚ÄĒand he was a national recruit out of a Southern California powerhouse. But until we see St. Brown burn past¬†defenders and make big plays, assuming the Irish won’t miss Fuller is a big leap of faith.

The next objective of the spring is getting Corey Robinson back on track. The rising senior had a forgettable junior season, ruined by injuries and some bruised confidence. A player who has shown flashes of brilliance during his three seasons in South Bend, the time is now for Robinson, not just as a performer but as an on-field leader.

Torii Hunter Jr. is also poised for a big season. After finding reps at slot receiver and possessing the versatility to see the field from multiple spots, Hunter needs to prove in 2016 that he’s not just a utility man but an everyday starter. His hands, smooth athleticism and speed should have him primed for a breakout. But Hunter might not want to stay in the slot if CJ Sanders is ready to take over. After a big freshman season on special teams, Sanders looks ready to make his move into the lineup, perhaps the purest slot receiver Brian Kelly has had since he arrived in South Bend.

The rest of the spring depth chart should have modest goals, though all face rather critical offseasons. Justin Brent is three years into his college career and the biggest headlines he’s made have been off the field. Whether he sticks at receiver or continues to work as a reserve running back remains to be seen. Corey Holmes is another upperclassman who we still can’t figure out. Will he ascend into the rotation with the top three veterans gone, or will he give way to some talented youngsters?

Miles Boykin earned praise last August, but it didn’t get him time on the field. He’ll enter spring with four years of eligibility, same as early-enrollee Kevin Stepherson. The Irish staff thinks Stepherson has the type of deep speed that they covet, capable of running past cornerbacks and stretching a defense. Boykin has size and physicality that could present intriguing options for an offense that’ll be less reliant on one man now that Fuller is gone.

Live Video Mailbag: 40-year decision, more BVG, freshmen and more

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We’ve done plenty of mailbags, but this is our first shot at a Live Video Mailbag. This should be¬†a better way to answer more questions and¬†hopefully¬†interact with a few of you as we¬†try to work off some of yesterday’s Super Bowl snacks.

Topics on the list: The 40-year decision, more Brian VanGorder talk, the incoming (and redshirt) freshmen and a whole lot more.

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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.