Linebacker recruiting turns focus to Anzalone

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Over the past few days, the linebacker target list for Notre Dame has gotten more refined. Unfortunately, it’s been because a few top names have fallen off the board. With Irish targets Chans Cox deciding to stay home and play for Arizona State, and Dallas linebacker Jordan Mastrogiovanni committing to Oklahoma today, Notre Dame will set their sights on Alex Anzalone, who is in South Bend this weekend for an unofficial recruiting summit, joined by a large contingency of Irish commits and targets.

The Irish need to replenish the cupboards after Manti Te’o departs for the NFL, and after focusing on the edges of the defense, Notre Dame’s coaching staff will look to add some play-makers on the interior of the linebacking corps this recruiting cycle, where the Irish will be turning over the depth chart in the next two seasons with Te’o, Carlo Calabrese and Dan Fox all entering their senior seasons (both Calabrese and Fox have fifth years of eligibility).

The South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James caught up with Anzalone before he headed to campus, and got an idea of where the one-time Ohio State commit stood. Here’s more from the SBTrib:

For the second time this spring, Alex Anzalone will be visiting Notre Dame. Since the last time Anzalone visited South Bend for junior day on March 24, the rising senior linebacker committed and decommitted to Ohio State and has begun the process of re-evaluating schools he has previously visited.

Anzalone arrives on campus Thursday and will be making an overnight stay, something he didn’t do on his previous visit to Notre Dame.

“I definitely wanted to get back up there and visit again because it’s been awhile since I visited last time,” Anzalone said. “I want to talk to some of the commits and continue building a relationship with the coaches.”

On his last visit, Anzalone got a chance to hang out with Irish inside linebacker Dan Fox and tight end Tyler Eifert. This time Anzalone will get a chance to meet more Notre Dame players and a number of commits in the 2013 class that will be visiting as well.

Anzalone already knows tight end commit Mike Heuerman, who will also be on campus, from being recruited by Ohio State at the same time.

“Him and I are really close,” Anzalone said of Heuerman. “It’ll be good. It will be a fun time.”

With other commits on campus Anzalone will have an opportunity to get to know the types of players he would be surrounded by at Notre Dame. Anzalone said he can get a better understanding of the program from commits and players than he can get from just the coaches recruiting him.

Offensive line coach Harry Hiestand has been the lead Irish recruiter for Anzalone. He said the two have a strong relationship so far.

Anzalone has looked closely at Florida and Notre Dame since walking away from the Buckeye, and Ohio State hasn’t given up on the talented Wyomissing, Pennsylvania product, who doubles as a running back for his high school team.

Anzalone mentioned that he’s already friendly with Heuerman, but he’ll also have a chance to spend time with ’13 commits Hunter Bivin, Rashad Kinlaw, Jacob Matuska, James Onwualu, Malik Zaire, not to mention fellow linebacker Jaylon Smith, who will likely continue his full court press on Anzalone, as Smith looks to help the Irish put together the best recruiting group of linebackers in the country.

Who that group will consist of is the $64,000 question. With Cox staying home and Mastrogiovanni deciding to play for Oklahoma (a campus less than 200 miles from his home), the Irish still have plenty of offers out there. Notre Dame is chasing committed prospects Trey Johnson (Auburn) and C.J. Prosise’s teammate Doug Randolph, who has seen an awful lot of Notre Dame for a recruit that’s committed to Stanford. Smith has pushed on blue-chip California linebacker Michael Hutchings to take a legitimate look at the Irish while also taking aim at Florida’s Michael Deeb, a good fit at 6-foot-3, 235-pounds, but without an offer from Florida, Florida State or Miami (the Seminoles came through with an offer this afternoon). Spokane’s Danny Mattingly will also be on campus for the Irish’s three-day camp on June 24.

It’s hard to get too worked up about missing out on recruits eight months from Signing Day, but missing out on Cox and Mastrogiovanni make Anzalone’s visit this weekend an important one. With he and cornerback Mackensie Alexander both on campus, and a slew of talent coming through South Bend for camps later in the month, the 2013 recruiting class could come into better focus by the 4th of July.