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Notre Dame’s recruiting class gets an offensive skill player, consensus three-star RB Kyren Williams

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Notre Dame finally has an offensive skill player in the recruiting class of 2019 (again). Consensus three-star running back Kyren Williams (St. John Vianney High School; St. Louis) committed to the Irish on Thursday, joining and following four offensive linemen just as he will certainly hope to while actually in college.

Including those linemen and Williams, the Notre Dame class now has 15 commitments, but only the one running back among quarterback, running back, receiver and tight end possibilities. The modifier again is required in the lede because consensus four-star quarterback Cade McNamara (Demonte Ranch H.S.; Reno, Nev.) originally committed to the Irish before stepping away from that pledge in early March.

Even without a dynamic playmaker, the class had risen up recruiting rankings.

That should now not only continue but be a bit more legitimate.

Williams chose Notre Dame over a lengthy offer list, headlined by Michigan, Stanford and his homestate Missouri. Part of his allure to schools in general and specifically the Irish is his pass-catching abilities. Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long’s ideal running back can motion out of the backfield and be deployed as a genuine receiving threat, thus creating a myriad of possibilities in two-back sets. That is one of the driving reasons junior Tony Jones is considered the top running back entering 2018; he is a more viable receiver than senior running back Dexter Williams.

Kyren Williams visited campus this past weekend.

Monday’s Leftovers & Links: Consensus four-star guard gives Notre Dame four OL commits

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Notre Dame hosted a promising group of recruits over the weekend, and the effort has already paid a handsome dividend. Consensus four-star offensive guard Zeke Correll (Anderson High School; Cincinnati) cut short his selection process with a Monday morning commitment to the Irish.

Correll had been expected to visit Ohio State this coming weekend and make his decision after that. Instead, Correll chose Notre Dame over the Buckeyes, Stanford and Clemson, becoming the 14th commit in the Irish class and fourth offensive lineman. Rivals.com rates Correll the No. 11 recruit in Ohio and No. 14 guard in the country.

Three of those four linemen are four-star prospects, including Correll, as are all four of the pledged defensive line recruits. If iron sharpens iron, then those practice sessions in the trenches should lead to many sparks flying the next few years.

That is especially true of the offensive quartet, as the practice work may be the vast majority of work they see for a couple seasons. Current Notre Dame junior Tommy Kraemer should remain a starting guard through 2021, and the freshman and sophomore classes have a few guard possibilities, as well, in the likes of sophomores Josh Lugg and Dillan Gibbons and freshman John Dirksen.

At 6-foot-4 and 275 pounds already, Correll has the muscular frame wanted on the inside of the offensive line, and his discipline in blocks sets him apart from most high schoolers.

Continued mailbag request
A litany of reader questions were received in the last week. A handful were set to be answered this morning, but Correll’s commitment bumped those thoughts down the editorial calendar a bit. In the meantime, any more criticisms, questions or meanderings are welcome at insidetheirish@gmail.com.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING:
— If Notre Dame is 33-to-1 for the title, what does that actually mean?
No. 52 Bo Bauer, four-star linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
Indiana LB stays close to home with commitment to Notre Dame
No. 33 Shayne Simon, four-star linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
Notre Dame adds commitment of four-star linebacker Ekwonu to stellar defensive line haul
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker
No. 44 Jamir Jones, linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle

OUTSIDE READING:
Notre Dame reels in Rivals250 LB Osita Ekwonu
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Notre Dame adds commitment of four-star linebacker Ekwonu to stellar defensive haul

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As of Thursday afternoon, more than half of Notre Dame’s 13 commitments in the class of 2019 are consensus four-star recruits. Of those seven, five line up on the defensive side of the ball and the other two spend their time in the trenches of the offensive line.

In other words, it seems the Irish coaching staff is impressing the players it wants to in this cycle.

Linebacker Osita Ekwonu (Providence Day; Charlotte, N.C.) joined the grouping with a Thursday announcement. The No. 181 player in the country and No. 5 prospect in North Carolina, per rivals.com, Ekwonu’s finalists included Ohio State, Penn State, Duke and Northwestern while he also held offers from Alabama, Auburn and Michigan.

Ekwonu projects as a prototypical linebacker, currently holding about 215 pounds on a 6-foot-2 frame. Add 15 or 20 pounds of muscle to his already impressive tackling form and Ekwonu could become a hound for the ballcarrier from the Buck linebacker position. His ability to shed blocks and read plays well — be it via instinct or thorough film study — should suit him well in the inside-outside duties required of the Buck linebacker.

Defensive coordinator and linebackers coach Clark Lea served as Ekwonu’s primary recruiter.

“Seeing how he coaches and talking with him has been great,” Ekwonu told rivals.com. “Football is the last thing we talk about. He’s open to any discussion and he cares about his players as students and wants them to be active members of society.”

Ekwonu is the second linebacker to commit to Notre Dame this week, joining consensus three-star Jack Kiser (Pioneer High School; Royal Center, Ind.). Of the 13 commitments in the class, nine will start their collegiate careers on defense.

Indiana LB stays close to home with commitment to Notre Dame

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Notre Dame made linebacker a priority in the last recruiting class, finding four soon-to-be contributors. Thus, there may not be much of an impetus at the position in this cycle, making the Tuesday commitment of consensus three-star linebacker Jack Kiser (Pioneer High School; Royal Center, Ind.) that much more noteworthy.

Coming from just 70 miles south of Notre Dame, Kiser chose the Irish over Purdue, as well as Iowa and Michigan State.

Kiser’s high school is a small one — with an enrollment of approximately only 430 students from seventh to 12th grades, per the school website — part of why he played both sides of the ball the last two seasons, culminating with a 15-0 state title-winning 2017. Nonetheless, Kiser’s future is not at quarterback, and his commitment is not a hedge against Notre Dame failing to find a quarterback to join the now 12 pledges in the class of 2019.

Arriving a year after those four linebackers, Kiser’s route to playing time with the Irish will be a difficult one. He plays best against the run, typical of a physical high school senior who has yet to spend time in a collegiate conditioning program, pointing to a future on the interior, not at rover. As such, Bo Bauer and Jack Lamb will be the greatest roadblocks to Kiser finding playing time before his final years in college.

Monday’s Leftovers and Links: Notre Dame lands a punter; adds (another) late kickoff

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Notre Dame has its punter for 2018 in fifth-year captain Tyler Newsome. The Irish now also have their punter for the following four years with the Wednesday commitment from Jay Bramblett (Tuscaloosa Hillcrest High School; Tuscaloosa, Ala.). Bramblett became the 11th commitment in Notre Dame’s class of 2019 with an announcement on Twitter.

Recruiting punters can be tricky. The Irish coaching staff rarely wants to devote more than one scholarship to the position at a time, so a new punter is sought only every four or five years. This just happens to be that spot in the cycle.

Bramblett receives quite strong praise from Chris Sailer of Chris Sailer Kicking, the preeminent specialists training group in the country.

“Jay is a big-time high school punting prospect,” Sailer said to Blue & Gold Illustrated. “A great looking athlete with an explosive leg. He has an ideal frame for a D1 college punter. Jay punts for outstanding distance and big hang time.”

5 p.m. PT … meaning a very early return to Notre Dame
CBS announced the Notre Dame vs. Navy game in San Diego on Oct. 27 will kick off at 8 p.m. ET and be broadcast on CBS. That sounds great: On national broadcast television at evening local time, the sun will set as the game ends.

And the Irish will not get home until 5 or 6 a.m. ET. Figuring the game ends shortly before midnight ET, Notre Dame will be in the air no earlier than 1 a.m. and the direct flight takes at least four hours. By the time the Irish make the 20-minute drive to campus from the South Bend International Airport, it will be pushing 5:30 a.m. ET in a best-case scenario.

The CBS decision guarantees Notre Dame has a minimum of four primetime games this season, with 7:30 p.m. ET kicks set for the three home games against Michigan (Sept. 1), Stanford (Sept. 29) and Florida State (Nov. 10). It is overwhelmingly likely at least one of the trips to Virginia Tech (Oct. 6) and USC (Nov. 24) adds another late kickoff, if not both.

Kelly remains vague re: running backs
The South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen spoke with Irish head coach Brian Kelly on Monday before a round of golf at the Kelly Cares Foundation Golf Invitational in southwestern Michigan. In discussing rumors regarding the eligibility of senior Dexter Williams, junior Deon McIntosh and sophomore C.J. Holmes, Kelly did not offer much clarity.

Summary: Williams may or may not miss much of September. McIntosh and Holmes remain off the team, but the figurative door might be open a crack, although it is not open wide enough for both to get through it.

On the need for a balanced roster
In a mailbag last week, The Athletic’s Stewart Mandel pondered why USC has been blown out consistently against top-flight opponents during head coach Clay Helton’s two years at the helm, including last season’s 49-14 loss to Notre Dame.

Irish fans could quickly ask a similar question of Kelly’s last few seasons. In a logical manner, Notre Dame’s shortcoming may be the exact inverse of what Mandel diagnoses as the Trojans’ issue.

“USC is not lacking for skill-position talent, but against those elite intersectional opponents, it’s often been exposed on the line of scrimmage,” Mandel wrote. “… USC, a program we generally think of as teeming with NFL talent, has produced 10 first- or second-round draft picks since 2013. Of those, six were offensive players. Another was all-purpose weapon Adoree’ Jackson. The only guy on the list who played on either line of scrimmage was star DT Leonard Williams.”

In that same time span, a dozen Irish players have been drafted in the first two rounds. Five of those were offensive linemen and two more were tight ends. Only one was a defensive lineman (Stephon Tuitt, 2014). The list also includes two generational linebackers (Jaylon Smith, 2016; Manti Te’o, 2013), but it lacks any other defensive presence.

While the Trojans manage to trot out the speedy receivers, a couple linebackers and the likes of Jackson, they don’t find success in recruiting and/or developing offensive linemen. Notre Dame, meanwhile, can only count Will Fuller as that type of a high-end receiver and struggles to come across impact defensive linemen. Those types of holes keep both programs from finishing the season in the top-five more than once apiece in the decade.

INSIDE THE IRISH READING
The Heisman odds of Brandon Wimbush & Notre Dame’s opponents
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle
No. 73 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, starting right tackle
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain
No. 70 John Dirksen, incoming freshman, offensive lineman

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