Notre Dame’s assistant coaches on December’s signed offensive recruits


This week’s focus was on the six new signees Notre Dame added to the recruiting class of 2018, bringing the total to 27. When the first 21 put pen to the proverbial paper back in December’s early signing period, only Irish head coach Brian Kelly and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian spoke publicly about the newest pieces of the roster.

The full array of Notre Dame assistant coaches offered the expected praises Wednesday. Some excerpts as they pertained to the offensive signees from December:

Quarterbacks coach Tom Rees on consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec: “When you talk about Phil, the mental makeup of him might be the most impressive thing.

“… When you look at him as an athlete, he will be the most impressive guy you see. You step on the basketball court, he’s the best athlete on the court by a mile, guards the other team’s best player, moves well. You watch him on the football field, same thing. Athletically, there is not a lot he can’t do.

“… For him, the first thing is where are we mentally and where do we need to improve there. Physically, I think a little more consistency on an every throw basis, mechanically and accuracy is something that everyone needs to strive for, but I think we’ll continue to push for him.”

Running backs coach Autry Denson on consensus three-star running back and early enrollee Jahmir Smith: “Just someone who can play a significant role on the football field. Excited to have him on campus. Anytime you can get a young man here early, that obviously adds to his maturity and his process in regards to developing.”

Offensive coordinator Chip Long on Smith: “He’s been doing a great job in the weight room. Just watched him run this morning. He’s going to be a good fit and he’s going to be a good player.”

Receivers coach Del Alexander on consensus four-star receiver Kevin Austin: “Probably one of the guys that in terms of publicity is one of the bigger fish. We talk on a regular basis. Those signees that signed on Dec. 20 have already begun watching video, so they’re getting a regular dose of what we’re doing here. Those guys are eager to get started. Kevin and I have already developed a relationship and we’re communicating on the little things that will help him hit the ground running.”

Micah Jones (rivals.com)

Alexander on rivals.com four-star receiver and early enrollee Micah Jones: “He’s here now, running around, doing well in the weight room. He’s getting some good attention there because when we’re doing conditioning, when we’re doing weight training, he doesn’t seem to be a freshman. He’s standing up and being just as productive as the guys around him.”

Long on the tight end duo of rivals.com four-star and early enrollee George Takacs and consensus three-star Tommy Tremble: “One thing I always like to do with the tight end group, I like to obviously have size and athleticism. Both of them bring that, both of them are a little different, which I think is good, you don’t always want the same type of player. You want to have variety, certain guys can do certain things. I always like to have that versatility each year and each signing class.”

Long on Takacs: “George has spent a little bit more time with his hand on the ground than Tommy has. Tommy’s been more of a skilled wideout, coming in. The good thing I got to see this year with George, though, is he was split out wide and did a lot of good things in the passing game, so they both have ball skills. Both are very smart, very athletic in their way.”

Long on Tremble: “Tommy is probably a little bit more explosive, where George has a little bit more size, but that can come in time. The one thing that really caught my eye with Tommy is he played defense for them. As I’m evaluating tight ends nowadays, I want to see defensive film, I want to see you be able to put your face on something and strike. That’s a bit thing with the toughness that we want to have, and he did that. He is exceptional, to go with his explosiveness.”

RELATED READING: Brian Kelly on December’s eight offensive signees
Seven early enrollees set a new Notre Dame high, but will they make an impact?

Friday at 4: National Signing Day’s Things We Learned & Things We Knew


From a pure numbers perspective, Notre Dame went above and beyond by signing 27 recruits this cycle. To a degree, that was expected. As soon as the Irish exceeded 23 recruits, the effect was the same, only increasing: Each signee meant another roster spot needs to be found by August. That was known.

It was not known the final piece of that boom would be consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin (pictured above). His 11th-hour and unexpected commitment put Notre Dame’s defensive back haul over the top, joining consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown in choosing the Irish on Wednesday. Signing seven defensive backs in one class is a bit extreme, but considering a year ago included only two safeties and no cornerbacks, the overcompensation served a purpose.

Joe Wilkins (rivals.com)

To that point, Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght acknowledged Wednesday the influx of defensive backs could allow for some flexibility for the likes of consensus three-star Joe Wilkins, who excelled as a receiver as much as a defensive back in high school.

“I think there is going to be some two-way play for him when he first gets here,” Lyght said. “To really find out where his skillset is best served on this team, whether that be on the defensive side of the ball or on the offensive side of the ball, that’s too soon to be determined, but we’ll know soon enough.”

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Not that the receivers exactly need another piece to consider, either. Consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys appeared to be trending toward the Irish before this week, but sealing the deal with him created a receivers class of four, equally balanced between speed and physicality. Keys and consensus four-star Braden Lenzy offer the breakaway speed that can single-handedly force a coverage adjustment, while consensus four-star Kevin Austin and rivals.com four-star Micah Jones offer physical threats possibly ideally designed for sideline receptions.

“That’s the goal. Year-in and year-out you want to make sure you bring in a different skillset and that you’re not one dimensional,” Notre Dame receivers coach Del Alexander said. “We’ve got quickness, we’ve got speed, we’ve got size, we’ve got a little bit of everything. That’s what you should do each year you bring in a group of receivers.”

The Irish may have had that with or without Keys, but considering the numbers game inherent to college football, doubling up on speed doubles the chances of it making an impact down the road. (See: Stepherson, Kevin.)

This class’s depth of defensive backs and receivers will be cited for a time to come. Eleven of the 27 recruits fill the edges of the passing game, be it on offense or defense or, in the case of Wilkins, perhaps both. In a year when Notre Dame did not excel in defensive line recruiting, focusing on the pieces of the aerial game served as an adequate alternative. If this class leads the Irish to the bowls always mentioned as a season’s goal, those two position groups will almost certainly be heavily involved.

Pardon the second usage of the following quote just today, but it best underscores the Irish success this year in recruiting defensive backs and receivers.

“From an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is [as] good as any class that we’ve recruited here at Notre Dame,” Kelly said. “… When I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we’ve done there.”

Admittedly, what the Irish had done at those two positions was largely hit-or-miss. If looking at the last three classes via rivals.com ratings, even just the top-end recruiting has yielded inconsistent results. Last year, Notre Dame managed only one defensive back (safety Isaiah Robertson) rated as highly as each of this year’s top two defensive backs (safety/cornerback Houston Griffith and safety Derrik Allen) and top two receivers (Austin and Lenzy).

In 2016, two receivers matched that ranking, Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley. The former broke out a bit this past fall while the latter has been hampered by injuries. A total of five defensive backs reached that recruiting ranking. The cornerbacks (Julian Love, Troy Pride, Donte Vaughn) have largely lived up to that billing while the safeties (Jalen Elliott, D.J. Morgan) have not, just like the rest of the safeties on the Irish roster.

Similarly, three receivers met that metric in 2015, and their careers covered the spectrum. Equanimeous St. Brown is already headed to the NFL, Miles Boykin may be a starter Sept. 1, and C.J. Sanders is transferring out of the program. The two defensive backs offer a similar range: Finally healthy, Shaun Crawford excelled this past season; Mykelti Williams never took a snap for Notre Dame.

The objective here is to reinforce a point Kelly made while discussing the incoming depth.

“They’re all young players, and they’ve got to prove themselves.”

That echoed both common sense and words from recruiting coordinator Brian Polian on the first day of December’s early signing period.

“Let’s be careful about who we are anointing the next stars,” Polian said then. “… Obviously we feel these young men can come in and compete at a high level, but sometimes it takes time, and we need to allow for that learning curve and that process before we start anointing guys as saviors.”

Jarrett Patterson (rivals.com)

Speaking of the early signing period, it stacked the deck for the Irish to close this strongly. Kelly described the last six-plus weeks as “extremely intentional.” Notre Dame knew it needed defensive backs, and it got them in spades. It wanted a couple more offensive linemen, and new offensive line coach Jeff Quinn made a strong first impression in retaining consensus three-star Luke Jones’ commitment and in bringing in three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson. The Irish hoped for a running back, and consensus three-star C’Bo Flemister will help relieve some of the burden felt by a depleted position group.

But let’s not forget the two areas already known to be excellent.
Notre Dame signed 3 four-star linebackers. Two of them, along with consensus three-star Ovie Oghoufo, enrolled early. As strong as the Irish coaching staff finished in recruiting defensive backs and receivers, this linebacker group is the best in recent memory, to say the least. It is not beyond feasibility to envision three of them starting as sophomores, nor would that necessarily be a bad sign.

And any year in which Notre Dame signs the quarterback it initially targeted can be counted a success at that position.

So, if defensive back, receivers, linebackers and quarterback were all recruiting wins, and offensive line and running back filled the depth as necessary, then 2019’s goal is clear: Defensive line recruiting will be the driving priority.

Thus spins the never-ending recruiting cycle.

Brian Kelly on Notre Dame’s six signees, with some assistant insights

Associated Press

December’s early signing period allowed Notre Dame to focus its final efforts in this recruiting cycle, narrowing its range of targets to defensive backs, offensive linemen and — due to roster reductions — running back. In discussing Wednesday’s six signees, both Irish head coach Brian Kelly and recruiting coordinator Brian Polian mentioned going 3-for-3 in those categories, at least in part thanks to securing those 21 prospects six-plus weeks ago.

Adding in a receiver provided even further depth.

Lawrence Keys (rivals.com)

Kelly on consensus three-star receiver Lawrence Keys: “[He] really gives us an explosive playmaker. He adds to the depth at that class. … We just felt like we were looking for a guy that could make plays with the ball in his hand.”

Receivers coach Del Alexander on consensus four-star receiver Braden Lenzy, a December signee who made that decision after Kelly’s comments during the three-day early signing period: “Just a spark plug. A kid that has a wealth of knowledge of everything sports, is really intelligent outside of sports. It was just great listening to him and his dad argue back-and-forth about current and past players of their favorite teams and watch that father-son bond and also appreciate where he is mentally. He is a gym rat, he is a junkie, and he wants to be really good as a football player, but he also wants everything that Notre Dame has to offer off the field.”

Kelly on the class of 2018’s depth at both receiver and defensive back, setting it apart from most years: “It’s probably from an across the board depth standpoint on the back end of our defense and at the wide receiver position, an area that I feel is good about as any class that we’ve recruited here at Notre Dame. Now, look, they’re all young players, and they’ve got to prove themselves. But I think when I walk away at the end of the day and take a step back, those two areas I feel really good about relative to what we’ve done there.

“That stands out to me.”

Noah Boykin (rivals.com)

Kelly on consensus four-star cornerback Noah Boykin: “We love the intangibles about Noah. He comes from a school that is not a predictor, a school that we would normally not recruit here at Notre Dame, but I will tell you that one of the things that we were so impressed with — and maybe this doesn’t happen everywhere — we weren’t certain about Noah and his ability to come to Notre Dame and be a great fit until after his admissions meeting. The feedback that we got from admissions in terms of his interview really sold us on this was the right place for him.

“Here’s a young man that wanted to reach for the best and not settle, and that’s what really, for us, drove this.

“… He has got a confidence about him at that corner position. He’s a natural corner, and just gives us great flexibility and depth at that position that we’ve been lacking for so long here.

“But here’s a young man that chose Notre Dame for the right reasons, and we’re really excited about having him here.”

Kelly on consensus three-star cornerback DJ Brown: “We really think that we’ve got somebody here that is a true corner. He’s long at 6’1″. Very smart player. I think what stood out for us is his football intelligence, the way he played the game.

“… DJ has got the skills to play corner right now, but he’s 6’1″, 190, so we know that he’s got length. We know he’s got the ability to be a bigger, stronger player, as well. We liked his football IQ. We liked the way he played football. And so that was first and foremost, and then his length. Those are things that I think you can’t teach, and we wanted some size at that position. He brings it to us.”

Kelly on three-star offensive tackle Jarrett Patterson: “He’s a guy that’s long but can play both guard and tackle, as well. So versatility was really what we were looking for at that offensive line position. Again, augmenting, obviously, the depth there. I think we did an incredible job of adding two offensive linemen that are going to shape this class quite well.”

Jarrett Patterson (rivals.com)

Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn on Patterson: “A great athlete, great size, length, moves well. The one thing also that I felt that was really key for me, when I saw his film, it caught my eye: There was a focus and a determination, he was intentional with his technique, his hands, his body positioning, how he was finishing guys.

“You could tell between his junior year and his senior year, he made great strides in the weight room, he dedicated himself into the weight room, he was eating better. He had that mindset. There was a purpose that he had in terms of what he wanted to demonstrate on the field because he knew that was going to provide him some opportunities to be able to come to Notre Dame.”

Kelly on consensus three-star offensive lineman Luke Jones: “Luke gives us great versatility, can play the guard position, can play center. We were looking for that. In particular an inside guy that had that versatility.”

Kelly on consensus three-star running back C’Bo Flemister: “The running back position, obviously, was a need for us, and C’Bo Flemister is a guy that really was attractive to us with his running style. From a football standpoint, we loved the fact that we had a north-and-south back here that played with low pads, and that’s what we were looking for, a guy that could really hit it inside-out for us and be extremely productive at the position. Great fit for us, really solid student that fits here at Notre Dame. So really excited about C’Bo.”

Running backs coach Autry Denson on Flemister: “I call him my throwback player. He is a down-dirty, old-school, get-it-done kind of player. It was refreshing to watch his film.”

A Signing Day victory, Notre Dame gets the letter: Noah Boykin, consensus four-star cornerback



Woodson H.D. High School; Washington, D.C.

Measurements: 6’2”, 170 lbs.

Accolades: Consensus four-star prospect, No. 21 cornerback in the class per rivals.com, No. 204 overall in the country and No. 2 prospect in the nation’s capital.

Other Notable Offers: Boykin is a veritable National Signing Day victory for Notre Dame. Heading into the day, the former Maryland commit was expected to choose Florida, perhaps Virginia, but not the Irish.

Projected Position: Cornerback.

Quick Take: Boykin’s greatest assets are his range and physicality. In some respects, that combination could land him at safety by the end of his collegiate career. For now, his ability to stick with receivers in routes sets him up well at cornerback.

Short-Term Roster Outlook: At the very least, Boykin will see action on special teams, but some time in the two-deep at nickelback or in the dime package could be feasible. His addition to the roster could also increase the likelihood of current sophomore Julian Love moving to safety.

Long-View Depth Chart Impact: Boykin’s surprise signing finishes the focused Notre Dame effort of making up for last year’s mistakes. In the class of 2017, the Irish pulled in no cornerbacks. Boykin makes for a total of five. That jump from one extreme to the other in just two recruiting cycles will give Boykin, and the rest of this year’s cornerback signees, chances both this year and in the long run.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Lawrence Keys, consensus three-star receiver


Lawrence Keys

McDonogh 35 High School; New Orleans

Measurements: 5’11”, 160 lbs.

Accolades: Consensus three-star prospect, No. 22 recruit in Louisiana, per rivals.com.

Other Notable Offers: Holding offers from the likes of Georgia, LSU, Michigan and Oklahoma, Keys’ recruitment came down to Notre Dame and Texas.

Projected Position: Receiver.

Quick Take: Keys brings more speed to the Irish receiving corps. His measurements may indicate he is slight of frame, but that would not be wholly accurate. Nonetheless, time spent in a collegiate strength and conditioning program will diminish those concerns and help Keys fit more in line with what Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long typically prefers in receivers.

Short-Term Roster Outlook: Notre Dame’s current receivers do not boast an excess of top-end speed, especially after the dismissal of current sophomore Kevin Stepherson and the intended transfer of junior C.J. Sanders. Keys will not arrive as highly-touted for his speed as classmate Braden Lenzy will, but if he can establish himself before the Oregon track star does, then there may be a role for Keys right away.

Long-View Depth Chart Impact: Even if Lenzy gets the nod ahead of Keys this season, the latter will have plenty of chances moving forward, considering they are essentially the only two burners in the Irish receiving room at the moment. Junior Chris Finke is certainly quick and graduate transfer Freddy Canteen was brought in largely for his speed when healthy, but neither has the ability to take the top off a secondary like Lenzy and Keys should.

Keys is the fourth receiver in this class. That is quite a haul in every respect, and from a pure numbers standpoint, it sets up Notre Dame very well for the next few years.