While he’s hardly a recruit that spent a lot of time on Notre Dame fans’ radar, defensive tackle Daniel Cage became a key component in the Irish’s 2014 recruiting plans with the departure of Matt Dickerson late in the cycle. A much-needed interior presence on the defensive line, Cage’s recruitment was brief but successful.
At over 300-pounds and 6-foot-2, Cage has the versatility to be a one- or two-gap player for the Irish. He’s also one of the first targets and acquisitions for Brian VanGorder, the product of a “wider net” being cast.
Let’s take a closer look at the incoming freshman and Cincinnati native.
6’2″, 305 lbs.
While he came onto Notre Dame’s radar late, Cage is far from a consolation prize. For a lack of national profile, Cage has several offers that point to a potentially productive player, with Michigan State, Missouri, Nebraska and Arkansas all chasing him.
Cage didn’t take an official visit to South Bend until the last week of January, just days before Signing Day. And while his recruitment was a flurry of activity, Brian Kelly sounded more than happy to see Cage’s fax come in early that Wednesday morning.
“As you know, it was not a long recruiting process. We told Daniel the circumstances, because of losing a player and then having a couple of guys go early, we had to recruit him in a shorter window,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “But we were able to show him why we thought Notre Dame was the right fit for him, and he got a chance to see Notre Dame, and he signed with us today.”
Cage acknowledged that Bob Diaco didn’t initially offer him when he was first evaluated. But VanGorder’s entrance — and the changing personnel on the roster — reopened those doors.
It’s worth noting that Brian Kelly knows Cincinnati quite well from his time as the Bearcats head coach, and he spoke of the reputation not just of Cage, but the Winton Woods program. What that means in the short term is still up for debate.
With just YouTube clips to look at, Cage is clearly a big body, but he’s got athleticism that appealed to Brian VanGorder. The interest was mutual once a shift to a 4-3 system was discussed, making Cage more than just a run-plugger who eats blocks. He played as both a defensive end and tackle in high school, though projects as a tackle at Notre Dame.
Finding the field may be easier than expected, with the depth behind Jarron Jones and Sheldon Day still very much a work-in-progress. But without any updates from campus on Cage’s acclimation to college football, it’s still an educated guess to see how quickly he sees the field.
What will be fascinating to follow is the “larger net” that Kelly and VanGorder cast for defensive line prospects. Looking back at the earliest offers from this coaching staff, all the way back in 2010 and 2011, the hit rate is about 50-50 on those “developmental” offers. Keeping a complete flier like Bruce Heggie out of it, this staff has done a very good job finding below-the-radar type players like Romeo Okwara and Chris Brown, humble recruiting rankings that will be exceeded come this season.
Cage will be part of a new wave of defensive tackle prospects, with five bodies set to join the program between the 2014-15 recruiting cycles. They’ll be replacing players like Tony Springmann and Chase Hounshell, playing a different system, but hopefully turning into effective players.
That Cage came on board at the end of January doesn’t mean anything. But after being in the NFL for the better part of the last decade, VanGorder’s been given a lot of say in player evaluations, and Cage was clearly his call. That he was so quick to jump on the Cincinnati prospect should give us an early litmus test of VanGorder’s player evaluations and also a look at how the defense will change under his direction.