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Jaylon Smith provides proof of physical progress


Actions speak louder than words. A photo is worth a thousand words. And so go the old tropes.

If they are accurate at all, former Notre Dame linebacker Jaylon Smith spoke loudly Friday with thousands of words.

The encouraging video comes a month after the former Irish All-American and Butkus Award winner told The Dallas Morning News he could have competed in the playoffs “at an elite level.” While that may have been written off as mere optimism, the training video provides a bit more concrete proof Smith very well may be able to aid the Cowboys’ defense in 2017.

The second-round pick is now 13 months removed from tearing both his ACL and MCL against Ohio State in the Fiesta Bowl, an injury that also caused nerve damage. The severity of the nerve damage scared off many NFL teams before the Draft.

Dallas returns all its 2016 starting linebackers—Kyle Wilber, Anthony Hitchens and Sean Lee—but only Lee has entrenched himself into a future starting spot. Whereas Smith is signed through 2019, both Wilber and Hitchens have only one more year remaining on their contracts. If healthy, Smith would most likely challenge Hitchens for the middle linebacker role.

Offensive Signees: Kelly’s Takes

Of the 21 signees in Notre Dame’s class of 2017, 10 are expected to listen to new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s play calls, and an 11th will serve as the kickoff specialist following any success that offense may have. During his National Signing Day press conference, Irish coach Brian Kelly showered each of those 11 with only glowing words.

Avery Davis: Cedar Hill; Cedar Hill, Texas
Measurements: 5’11”, 192 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 80 player in Texas; No. 39 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “What we love about Avery is that he’s played for championships. That’s what Cedar Hill does at the highest level in Texas. So he has that pedigree, that he’s used to playing in big games. He doesn’t shy away from the competition. He plays his best in the biggest of games. This year against DeSoto, he was outstanding in a shootout against the eventual state champ.

“Love his pedigree. Love the fact that he played in big games, and that he was always at his best when his best was needed. He’ll come in and obviously be counted on in our rotation immediately. An extremely athletic quarterback that can come in and do some things right away for us.”

C.J. Holmes: Cheshire Academy; Hamden, Conn.
Measurements: 6’0”, 200 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 2 player in Conn., per; No. 5 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Versatility is what comes to mind. I look at him as a guy like [former Notre Dame and current NFL running backs] Theo Riddick and C.J. Prosise. He’s going to play both running back and wide receiver for us. We think we have a nice package for him right away. We’re going to ask him to compete right away. He’s going to be one of those guys that we’re going to force feed him a little bit and get him involved.”

Michael Young: Destrehan; Saint Rose, La.
Measurements: 5’11”, 175 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit; No. 20 player in Louisiana, per; No. 71 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “As a slot receiver, somebody that can really do a number of things for us inside and out … We think he has the skills necessary to come in an dpush and compete at that position. We’re really pleased with the receivers.”

Jafar Armstrong: Bishop Miege; Lee’s Summit, Mo.
Measurements: 6’1”, 200 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 3 player in Missouri; No. 77 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Jafar Armstrong … is somebody that now adds some size and speed to that position that makes it very intriguing for us. We think Jafar is somebody that could possibly be that X receiver that gives you that deep threat, a guy that can really push the field vertically for us. He was a nice addition to this class.”

Brock Wright: Cy-Fair; Cypress, Texas
Measurements: 6’5”, 240 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 5 player in Texas, per; No. 1 at position
Cole Kmet: Saint Viator; Lake Barrington, Ill.
Measurements: 6’6”, 240 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 3 recruit in Illinois, per; No. 3 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “When you have some of the finest players, you’re not going to pass up that opportunity. The tight end position is a great example. Brock Wright is arguably one of the best, if not the best, tight ends in the country. But you’re not going to pass up an opportunity at a young man like Cole Kmet, who thoroughly impressed us when we got a chance to see him in Irish Invasion.

“We think there can’t be a better tandem at the tight end position in a signing day today. We think we’ve got two tight ends coming in to obviously a very good situation already with [graduate student] Durham Smythe, [rising junior] Alizé Jones, [rising senior] Nic Weishar, [rising senior] Tyler Luatua. We have great depth at that tight end position, and thes two guys only add to it.

“I think you start and look at the depth at that position, it really jumps out at you.”

Aaron Banks: El Cerrito; Alameda, Calif.
Measurements: 6’7”, 315 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 16 in Calif., per; No. 13 at position
Joshua Lugg: North Allegheny; Wexford, Pa.
Measurements: 6’7”, 293 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 6 player in Penn., per; No. 22 at position
Robert Hainsey: IMG Academy; Pittsburgh
Measurements: 6’5”, 276 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 21 player in Fla., per; No. 11 at position
Dillan Gibbons: Clearwater Central Catholic; Clearwater, Fla.
Measurements: 6’4”, 311 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 74 player in Fla.; No. 56 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “We return four out of five starters on the offensive line, and really five guys that have starting experience. If you take a look at the recruiting on the offensive line—Josh Lugg, Aaron Banks, Dillan Gibbons, Robert Hainsey—these are guys that are rated as high as any offensive linemen in the country.

“But they’re going to come into a situation where we have, for example, on our left side with [rising senior] Quenton Nelson and [graduate student] Mike McGlinchey two guys that are arguably the best at their positions in the country.

“We have very, very good offensive linemen coming in, but we’ve got talented players at that position with experience across the board. We feel great about the depth that we’ve developed at that position.”

Jonathan Doerer: South Mecklenburg; Charlotte, N.C.
Measurements: 6’3”, 188 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 6 kicker in nation
Brian Kelly’s Take: “He just jumped out at us. Somebody with his numbers, his ability, his length, 6’3”, extremely-gifted athlete. We were looking for somebody that could take over the kickoff duties for us right away.

“The strength that he has, averaging 78-plus [yards] kicking the football with four-plus [seconds] hang time. Just crazy numbers. It was just too good to pass up for us. He was a great fit for us. We went into that with really no expectations to go after a kicker until we saw him and fell in love with his ability.”

Defensive Signees: Kelly’s Takes

Of its 21 signees in Notre Dame’s class of 2017, 10 are expected to line up in new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme. During his National Signing Day press conference, Irish coach Brian Kelly heaped some praise on each of those 10.

Darnell Ewell: Lake Taylor; Norfolk, Va.
Measurements: 6’4”, 295 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; Ninth at position, per, and No. 139 in country
Brian Kelly’s Take: “He’s in great shape physically and his mental preparation. I love the way he prepares in everything. He has a single-minded purpose in everything that he does. He takes care of himself. He’s very committed. He visited Ohio State and Notre Dame, and knew exactly where he wanted to go to school …

“He’s a guy that is prepared and wants to play immediately. We’re not going to tell him anything different. Come over here and compete right away. He’s got the physical traits, and he’s got the mindset.”

Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa: Kapolei, Hawaii
Measurements: 6’4”, 270 lbs.
Rankings: four-star recruit; No. 4 player in Hawaii, per, and No. 39 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “When you talk about d-linemen that are really emerging, Myron Tag-Amosa—I’m not going to give you the whole name because I will butcher it. I’ll save that as I get to know him a little bit.

“Myron jumped off the screen with his first-step quickness. For a big guy, we really think he’s got a huge upside. We think he’s starting to scratch the surface in terms of where he can be. He has some length to him, pass-rush ability, inside guy, not necessarily strictly an edge guy. He’s got some versatility.

“We like the fact that he’s a young player that’s going to get better and develop.”

Kurt Hinish: Central Catholic, Pittsburgh
Measurements: 6’2”, 283 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit; No. 11 player in Pennsylvania, per, and No. 38 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Another guy that was part of that 15 group, if you will, that had always been kind of the first defensive lineman that we wanted and had identified, was Kurt Hinish, because of his toughness. We really wanted that tough-guy mentality on our defensive line. Kurt brought that to us right away. Not only did he make plays, but he had a toughness to him. We wanted to upgrade that toughness across the board.

“We thought we had some big, athletic guys. We wanted that physical and mental toughness that Kurt brought to his game.”

Jonathan MacCollister: Bishop Moore; Deland, Fla.
Measurements: 6’4”, 253 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Speaking of a guy that’s developing on the outside, Jonathan MacCollister, who played mostly at the tight end position … He’s long, athletic, call him ‘Big Bird.’ He’s a very athletic player that we’re going to play on the outside. He’s a guy that we think has the length, the athleticism that can play the defensive end position.”

Kofi Wardlow: St. John’s College High School; Washington, D.C.
Measurements: 6’3”, 230 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit; No. 47 at his position, per
Brian Kelly’s Take: “We were looking for one more pass-rusher. We think Kofi has some elite skills at the defensive end position where he can grow and develop. We really liked his athleticism and his size, really impressed with him in person…

“He really fit the profile. He reminded us of a young [former Notre Dame and current New York Giants defensive lineman] Romeo Okwara. Not quite as long, but he is actually thicker than he is.

“He’s just a really young, raw, extremely athletic guy. A guy that we think can develop into a really nice edge player for us.”

David Adams: Central Catholic, Pittsburgh
Measurements: 6’2”, 225 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 8 player in Pennsylvania, No. 18 at position
Drew White: Saint Thomas Aquinas; Boca Raton, Fla.
Measurements: 6’1”, 225 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Linebackers, we have two that are instinctive, tough, smart. Those are the three things that stand out with David Adams and Drew White…Captains, competitive, smart, instinctive linebackers. It just adds to what we’re looking for from a defensive perspective. Really, really excited in having them on our football team.”

Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah: Bethel; Hampton, Va.
Measurements: 6’2”, 188 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus three-star recruit; No. 18 player in Virginia, per, and No. 40 at position
(Notre Dame has Owusu-Koramoah listed at linebacker, but Kelly discussed him as a safety, and that is likely where he takes the field for the Irish.)
Brian Kelly’s Take: “Another one of those guys that really fit what we were looking for, especially in coach Elko’s defense, that safety position that can come down close to the line of scrimmage. Plays physical.

“We hosted him with [rising senior linebacker and captain] Nyles Morgan. When you host somebody, you want them to see Notre Dame and see the social aspects. These guys didn’t leave the film room. I mean, it was like they were joined at the hip for six hours just talking football. That’s the kind of kid [Owusu-Koramoah] is. He loves football. He’s going to be a great addition to the Notre Dame football family.”

Isaiah Robertson: Neuqua Valley; Bolingbrook, Ill.
Measurements: 6’3”, 190 lbs.
Rankings: Consensus four-star recruit; No. 4 player in Illinois, per, and No. 18 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “His reach is really incredible in terms of what were able to see in our testing. Again, a guy that we think can play the safety position for us at a high level. Comes from a great family. His dad played at Wisconsin, so he’s got great genes.

“In terms of where we play him, he played safety, a lot of wide receiver, but we want to focus on the defensive side of the ball with him.”

Jordan Genmark Heath: Cathedral Catholic; San Diego
Measurements: 6’2”, 205 lbs.
Rankings: three-star recruit; No. 73 player in California; No. 67 at position
Brian Kelly’s Take: “The one guy that jumps off the page immediately for us is Jordan Genmark Heath … This is a product of Mike Elko and his ability to stick with a recruit tha he had seen earlier. Both [Elko and new linebackers coach Clark Lea] knew about Jordan, and we were able to get him up here in a short period of time on a visit…

“You can make the case he could play on either side of the ball. We were really looking for that safety that had the skills that would really fit in nicely to the defense that we’re going to employ. I just think he was a real nice fit.”

Kelly credits Swarbrick, Elston & Core 15

Of course Irish coach Brian Kelly would spend his National Signing Day press conference praising the 21 signees Notre Dame reeled in. (Those lauding snippets should float around here later today.) Kelly thanking his coaching staff, including five new assistant coaches, for its diligent recruiting efforts should not surprise anyone, either. In a bit of a departure from the annual prototypical script, however, Kelly heaped acknowledgement upon director of athletics Jack Swarbrick, as well.

“Every weekend, Jack Swarbirck … met with our recruits. That’s unusual,” Kelly said Wednesday afternoon. “I don’t think that happens everywhere that your athletic director makes himself available to meet with recruits.

Following a disappointing 4-8 season and vocal dismay from fans and alumni, Swarbrick’s role was as much about advocating for Notre Dame as it was about endorsing Kelly and his future.

“In a lot of instances, he had to be there to support our program and talk to recruits about where this program is and where it’s going,” Kelly said. “There are questions when a family comes on campus. He reminded them about the investment we were making in staff and what we were doing for the present and for the future.”

More directly, Swarbrick answered the questions recruits had but neither Kelly nor his staff could sufficiently answer.

“With the kind of season we had, the first question out of everybody, ‘How long is coach Kelly here? Is this his last year? What kind of year does he have to have?’” Kelly pointedly elaborated. “[Swarbrick] assured them there’s no problems with the football program. This is a program this on solid ground.”

Core 15 in “a difficult season”
Returning to the expected National Signing Day dialogue, Kelly expressed appreciation for the core of the Irish class of 2017—Fifteen recruits who stuck by Notre Dame despite the disappointing 2016 season and aggressive negative recruiting from other schools. The six exceptions include three National Signing Day commitments (defensive back Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah and defensive linemen Kofi Wardlow and Myron Tagovailo-Amosa) and three commitments from the week prior to the first Wednesday in February (safety Jordan Genmark Heath, receiver Jafar Armstrong and kicker Jonathan Doerer).

Those 15 did not waver despite other recruits’ de-commitments, allowing Kelly & Co. to focus on strengthening the class, rather than only maintaining it.

“We couldn’t be where we are today unless we had 15 student-athletes that were committed to Notre Dame from the start to the finish,” Kelly said. “Really, during a very difficult season, this group of 15 had to endure the things that would occur out there in recruiting during a very difficult season: Other schools reminding them about a very difficult season that we had.”

Kudos to Elston
Those 15 remaining loyal granted Kelly a chance to restock a coaching staff with five new assistants—for these purposes, let’s discount new quarterbacks coach Thomas Rees, as he is technically a graduate assistant yet and, thus, was not personally involved in recruiting. While Kelly tackled that, defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston focused on staying in touch with the core 15. Better safe than sorry, after all.

“During this whole time, [Elston] was able to keep it together, relative to we were short on numbers in staff,” Kelly said. “He was calling a lot of those recruits that weren’t necessarily his geographically or by position and really keeping that 15 together so that we could get the staff back and get them back out on the road.

“He did a tremendous job of keeping that group together.”

Coaches AND Recruiters
With Elston in touch with the recruits, Kelly focused on the needed hires. More than any other time, filling the vacancies in January underscores the dueling needs of strong recruiters and talented player developers. Kelly said he did not make one aspect a priority compared to the other, instead focusing on both.

“I looked at everything,” he said. “They had to have all of those qualities. We were given the opportunity to go out and find the very best.”

Kelly implied further efforts from Swarbrick and University administration, adding there was not a distinct monetary cap on the five (eight if including Rees and two strength and conditioning additions) hires.

Elko’s Impetus to Late Additions
One new hire in particular altered some recruiting focus. New defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s focus brought the four late defensive commitments renewed and increased advances from Notre Dame, per Kelly.

“The defensive players, they were a better fit into the scheme,” Kelly said. “It was much more about being a better fit with a new defensive coordinator.”

Armstrong did not commit last week due to a defensive shift. Kelly said the receiver was long on Notre Dame’s radar, but there was only necessarily space for him in the class when another de-committed. (Kelly was presumably referencing Jordan Pouncey, who signed with Texas on Wednesday.)

“[Armstrong] was on our radar from day one… When we had somebody de-commit, he was the first guy we went after,” Kelly said. “We could have gone either way on that. Jafar was somebody we wanted from the very beginning. We just, from a numbers game, weren’t going to be able to take two.

“That was an easy one for us to get back into.”

Signing Day Victory: DL Wardlow concludes Irish class

Do not forget to tune into day and WatchND throughout the day for real-time official announcements of national letters of intent and a live signing day show on the “Fighting Irish Board” presented by Vivid Seats.

Consensus three-star defensive lineman Kofi Wardlow (St. John’s College H.S.; Washington, D.C.) switched his commitment from Maryland to Notre Dame today, completing the Irish class of 2017 and the annual drama of National Signing Day. Wardlow’s commitment brings coach Brian Kelly’s haul to 21 recruits, including three commitments on Signing Day alone.

“We really liked his athleticism and his size,” Kelly said during his Signing Day press conference upon announcing Wardlow’s commitment. “… He really fit the profile, and then reminded us of a young [former Notre Dame and current New York Giants defensive lineman] Romeo Okwara. Not quite as long, is actually thicker than he is, but he’s really young, raw and extremely athletic.”

Wardlow joins Jonathon MacCollister as the only two genuine edge threats in this class, hence why his last-minute switch is so vital to Notre Dame.


St. John’s College H.S.; Washington, D.C.

Measurements: 6’3”, 230 lbs.

Accolades: Three-star recruit; No. 47 at his position, per

Other Notable Offers: Maryland, Michigan State, Missouri

Projected Position: Defensive end

Quick Take: Bolstering the edge rush is never a bad thing, especially in a class with only one other defensive end. Wardlow completes this Notre Dame recruiting cycle on a high note, and even that psychological factor alone should not be underrated.

Wardlow has played football for only two seasons, focusing on basketball in the past. Naturally, that leaves him with as much raw potential as realized. Furthermore, that basketball background established a level of agility and understanding of footwork not often seen from players of Wardlow’s size.