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Irish focus recruiting efforts on defensive tackle

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It’s no secret that Louis Nix is likely playing his final season for the Fighting Irish. While the preseason All-American has a fifth year of eligibility remaining, Nix is on track to get his degree and will likely enter the NFL Draft after the season, with the mighty defensive tackle on track to be a first round draft pick.

With the loss of Eddie Vanderdoes, that leaves a fairly large hole in the interior of the defensive line. While Tony Springmann looked good in limited minutes, there’s no doubt that the Irish coaching staff is focusing their efforts on finding a new mountain (and maybe two) in the middle of their defensive line, and this week two premiere prospects got a look at Notre Dame.

The early returns on visits from New York’s Thomas Holley and Kentucky’s Matt Elam were both positive. The Irish coaching staff would welcome the commitment of both players — two highly touted defensive tackles — and signing either would be a great get and important anchor for the defensive line.

Taking a closer look at Holley, the Brooklyn native hails from the same high school that gave the Irish Ishaq Williams, though the two don’t know each other. Holley is an intriguing prospect, with the 6-foot-4, 300-pound defensive tackle new to the sport, playing in his first season of organized football last year. That makes for a raw prospect, but the athleticism he’s displayed has brought offers from Alabama, Florida, Ohio State, and many other elite programs.

Holly spent the weekend between South Bend and Columbus, and he had all the obligatory great things to say about Notre Dame that an interested prospect usually says. Camping with the Irish staff, he had a chance to work with defensive coordinator Bob Diaco, defensive line coach Mike Elston, and even head coach Brian Kelly chipped in with the talented New Yorker. Holley isn’t in a hurry to make a decision, but he’s a guy that is well positioned with Notre Dame, and understands that the depth chart has some opportunities.

(Want to feel good about where the Irish stand with Holley? Take a look at 247’s Crystal Ball Predictor, where four of four analysts predict Holley to Notre Dame.)

If there’s a way to make Holley look undersized, standing next to Elam will do it. The mammoth prospect, who reportedly measures 6-foot-6, and according to his high school coach is tipping the scales at close to 370 pounds, took in South Bend yesterday and had nothing but good things to say about his visit.

“It was one of the best visits I have been on,” Elam told Steve Wiltfong of 247 Sports. “Just a wonderful campus. Just so much tradition there. It’s crazy.”

Again, the idea of early playing time was brought up, and as you’d expect, Elam was open to the plan.

“I can come in and really play,” Elam told Steve Hare at Irish Illustrated. “They have absolutely no one at nose guard so it’s a great time to come in. That’s real important to me.”

It’s hard not to think of Louis Nix when you look at Elam and what he brings. If he’s even close to 370 pounds, there’s a ton of work that needs to be done on the conditioning side of things, and expecting Elam to fit into the Irish defense, especially after hearing Kelly and his staff talk about work volume and conditioning, is tough to believe.

That said, it’s impossible to teach size, and Elam looks to be built from a mold similar to the one that produced Stephon Tuitt. Those are rare finds, and if Elam has the work ethic to get himself in shape, he could turn into one of college football’s elite prospects.

Elam has a top five that includes Notre Dame, Ohio State, and Alabama, so if the Irish are going to win either of these prospects, they’ll have to beat two of the country’s most relentless recruiters in Urban Meyer and Nick Saban.