Brian Kelly essentially called his shot back on his first Signing Day, identifying defensive end and the edge of the defense as areas his staff needed to target and fill in the upcoming recruiting class.
Last Saturday’s Blue-Gold game already showed us the early returns, with Aaron Lynch and Ishaq Williams immediately competing for playing time. Stephon Tuitt, Ben Councell, Tony Springmann, Chase Hounshell and Troy Niklas are right behind them, heading to town this summer. Sure, not everybody will end up along the defensive line (early-enrollee Brad Carrico has already made the shift to offensive line), but adding big bodies like these players, not to mention guys like Anthony Rabasa and Ben Councell, and you immediately see the implementation of a recruiting plan happen quickly.
When Brian Kelly announced the 23 signees in the 2011 recruiting class, he pointed the focus at the back-end of the defense, where he’ll need to replenish a secondary that’ll see Gary Gray, Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton exit at season’s end.
To that point, the Irish have already gotten three big commitments in the secondary with cornerbacks Tee Shepard and Ronald Darby joined by safety Nicky Baratti. But according to Christian McCollum at IrishSportsDaily.com, the Irish are still charging hard after Geno Smith, one of the top cornerbacks in the country.
Smith raised a few eyebrows when he took to Twitter after Ronald Darby gave his commitment to ND:
“Shoot… That’s two db’s for Notre Dame. I was liking them,” Smith tweeted.
Smith was informed by recruiting coordinator Chuck Martin that there was plenty of room left.
“I ended up talking to Coach Martin later that day and he was just explaining the situation and saying don’t worry about it at all,” Smith said. “He said they’re just trying to build a championship defense. He said last year they signed the defensive linemen and this year they’re trying to get the fab five defensive backs. I’m buying into what they’re saying. They’re just trying to build a national championship team.”
Smith has Alabama as his leader, but Martin and Co. have shown that there’s little fear going into the South and trying to pull top players, like they did last year with Tuitt and Lynch. Getting Smith on campus this summer and for an official visit will be critical, but knowing that the game plan is to bring five more bodies into the secondary should have Irish fans resting easier.
The Irish brought in defensive backs Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Eilar Hardy, and likely Matthias Farley last season, so the influx of young players on the Irish roster won’t be limited to the 2012 class.
Still, with limited scholarships available for the 2012 class, and a number of fifth-year decisions that’ll likely be made after the season, knowing the Irish plan on taking five players in the secondary — in a class that could be limited to 20 players — shows that the coaching staff understands the importance of bringing in talented players on the back-end of the defense.