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Notre Dame’s eight offensive signees: Brian Kelly’s takes

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He never specifically said who he was thinking of, but it was plenty clear Notre Dame recruiting director Brian Polian was referring to one player in particular when he pumped the brakes on the expectations around the Irish class of 2018 and the 20 commits who signed Wednesday.

“Let’s be careful about who are anointing the next stars,” said Polian, also the Notre Dame special teams coordinator. “That puts pressure on 17-, 18-year-old kids. That’s not fair. …

“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.”

In other words, consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec may be very good, but it seems unwise, quick-triggered and misguided to heap undue expectations upon a high school senior.

Then again, Irish head coach Brian Kelly was far from conservative in his effusive praise of Jurkovec in the first public comments Kelly was allowed to offer on the Pennsylvania product.

Consensus four-star quarterback Phil Jurkovec (Pine-Richland High School; Gibsonia, Pa.)
Measurements: 6’5”, 200 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Brian Kelly’s take: “I think he’s the best quarterback in the country. He’s somebody that I could put up against any quarterback that I’ve ever seen. …
“The reviews about him leading as a sophomore, at his age. He wasn’t a sophomore that was held back. He was a young sophomore that was out there leading his football team against really good competition. That was something that we needed to go see — presence, leadership ability, you have to see that in person. How he interacts with his teammates when he comes back on the sideline. To see that as a sophomore, it was important for us in this recruiting process of making decisions on quarterbacks that I needed to know about his makeup and that gave us the first glimpse of who he was and what his makeup was. …

“When I got a chance to go watch him play basketball, just his drive, his competiveness, his interaction with his teammates, those things you can’t get in the gym. You can get a little stronger, certainly you can continue to throw and build relationships in one-on-one, but you can’t get those traits that separate the good from the great.”
“This year they spread the field with massive splits and the ball was going all the way out to the numbers with great accuracy and speed. So what we saw in this past year was just a really quick release. Then we saw the ability to run the offense at the line of scrimmage, get into the right plays, run the football, just a complete control of what was going on out there. A clinic, at times.”

Consensus four-star receiver Kevin Austin (North Broward Prep; Pompano Beach, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 185 lbs.
Offense-Defense All-American
Kelly’s take:
“Kevin Austin is a unique player in that he can play all three positions for us. We wanted somebody that has versatility at that position. He can play X, Z and W. Smooth player, catches the ball extremely well, has great speed. We wanted somebody that wasn’t going to be penciled into a position.”

Rivals.com four-star receiver Micah Jones (Warren Township; Gurnee, Ill.)
Measurements: 6’5”, 205 lbs.
Kelly’s take:
“Micah is more of a boundary player, big, physical, can win one-on-one matchups. We love that about him and his size.”

Kelly on further receiver recruiting: “Obviously we need to continue to recruit at that position. We’re hoping to add to that position in this cycle to balance off the receiving crew. …
“The receivers, to be frank with you, they all get to come in and compete for starting positions, and that’s how I’ve articulated it to them.”

Rivals.com four-star tight end George Takacs (Gulf Coast H.S.; Naples, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’6”; 235 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American

Consensus three-star tight end Tommy Tremble (Wesleyan School; Norcross, Ga.)
Measurements: 6’4”, 225 lbs.

Kelly’s take on both Takacs and Tremble: “We needed to replace [Durham Smythe] and then add into this cycle. George and Tommy are terrific athletes that can be in line or they can spread out. They keep fitting the exact profile that we’ve been recruiting over the last few years at that position.”

Consensus three-star running back Jahmir Smith (Lee County; Sanford, N.C.)
Measurements: 6’0”; 199 lbs.
Kelly’s take:
“Jahmir Smith is going to come in and if he’s got it, you play freshmen running backs. I don’t know if he’s going to beat out all those guys, but I would never tell a guy, hey, you’re going to redshirt. You let those guys go. If they’re good enough, they’re going to play.”
Polian’s take: “I am a big Jahmir Smith fan, and I’m not sure that he got the type of recognition that he deserved. He’s a big, physical back, 5-10, 5-11, nearly 200 pounds as a high school senior, north and south runner, exceptional student, terrific kid.”

Consensus three-star offensive lineman John Dirksen (Marion Local; Maria Stein, Ohio)
Measurements: 6’5”, 300 lbs.

Consensus three-star Cole Mabry (Brentwood; Tenn.)
Measurements: 6’6”, 275 lbs.

Polian’s take on both Dirksen and Mabry: “I think Mabry and Dirksen [are underrated] in terms of their length and their size. These are going to be really big men that can move their feet. We often, on the offensive line, he weighs 270 pounds now — is he going to get big enough? We have a great strength staff. The world is filled with big guys.
“[Dirksen and Mabry are] big and can move their feet and bend and athleticism. You recruit that and hand them over to [Notre Dame strength and conditioning coach Matt] Balis and his staff, and let nature take its course.”

Kelly on the viability of starting freshmen offensive linemen: “It’s a little bit harder at the offensive line, although we saw it this year with [Robert] Hainsey, which was an anomaly, if you will.”

Notre Dame’s 12 defensive signees: Brian Kelly’s takes

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In signing 12 defensive players Wednesday, Notre Dame added depth to a defense that relied on a larger rotation of players this fall than had been the case recent years. Both that change and the recruiting to adjust to it can be attributed to defensive coordinator Mike Elko, coming up on the conclusion of his first calendar year with the Irish.

“Mike’s ability to say, I know what I’m looking for, that’s number one,” Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said in describing Elko’s impact on recruiting the class of 2018. “Then, grinding, getting on the road and grinding it out. … It’s being decisive and saying that’s who I want, and it’s grinding it out.”

As a whole, Kelly praised the defensive class, one that may yet grow but is already positioned to make an immediate impact. A year ago that might not have been the same quality of a compliment, but after a strong season for the Irish defense, a quick imprint upon it means the recruits would have earned those chances, not stumbled into them by default.

“I don’t know from a defensive standpoint that there are many of these guys that we go and say these are projects,” Kelly said. “These are guys that we think can play and academically have been given a thumbs-up in terms of the work that they’re doing. That’s pretty impressive in December.”

Consensus four-star safety Derrik Allen (Lassiter High School; Marietta, Ga.)
Measurements: 6’1”, 204 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Brian Kelly’s Take: “He was the first guy that we saw that had the ability to cover man-to-man, play the ball in the air and get the ball down on the ground with his size. That was the trait that we had to have in this class. It was a must, must, must. It was underlined five times. We have to find this player.
“So it was all in on that type of player, and when we saw that trait, it was just — in terms of our efforts, they all had to be focused in that direction when we saw those traits coupled with great student, great character, all other intangibles. It was a home run for us.”

Consensus four-star defensive back Houston Griffith (IMG Academy; Bradenton, Fla.)
Measurements: 6’1”, 192 lbs.
Under Armour All-American
Kelly’s Take: “Houston has the natural ability to play corner for us, but we are going to bring in young men that have the athletic ability to play at corner [and] we’re going to develop them and as they progress in our program — we never close the door on where they can be best-suited as they move through the program and look toward a career at the next level.
“He could be a corner, he could play nickel for us, could be a safety at the next level. He certainly has the skillset to play corner for us.”

Rivals.com three-star cornerback Tariq Bracy (Milpitas H.S.; Calif.)
Measurements: 6’0”, 170 lbs.
Recruiting director and special teams coordinator Brian Polian’s Take: “Tariq is one of these guys — one of the reasons I love him — it’s interesting their greatest strengths can sometimes be their weaknesses, too. Getting Tariq on the phone was like an act of Congress, and my wife would grow frustrated with me being downstairs on the phone at 1:30 in the morning because that was my best chance to get Tariq on the phone.
“He was not a guy that said look at me in the recruiting process, seeking offers, going to every camp to try and get his stars up. … His recruitment, frankly, probably would have been bigger had he sought that, but he was an attention-seeking guy.”

Consensus three-star defensive back Joe Wilkins, Jr. (North Fort Myers; Fla.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 175 lbs.
Kelly’s take on defensive backs in general: “The defensive players, the safeties, the corners, we all know that’s going to add competition to those ranks which is going to be a healthy situation for us. That’s what jumps out at me right away in terms of competition.”

Local consensus three-star safety Paul Moala (Penn; Mishawaka, Ind.)
Measurements: 6’0”, 200 lbs.
Polian’s take:
“The one guy that nobody has mentioned that I love is Paul Moala, a local guy here. How special is that? That we can find a player that ultimately we believe we can compete for a national championship with that fits the academic profile and comes from 10 miles away. …
“That Irish Invasion, those summer camps, some of that is recruiting and some of that is, you want a chance, come in and show us what you got. That was the kid in this class that came in and took advantage of a camp date and crushed it.”

Consensus four-star linebacker Jack Lamb (Great Oak; Temecula, Calif.)
Measurements: 6’4”, 224 lbs.
Under Armour All-American

Consensus three-star linebacker Ovie Oghoufo (Harrison; Farmington, Mich.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 207 lbs.

Kelly’s take on both Lamb and Oghoufo: “You do a good job of evaluating the personnel, and you can see that they’re not just box players. They can play outside the box. They are guys that are extremely athletic. We would rather take them and then begin to hone in on where they can best fit in that defensive structure rather than saying, he’s a box player, that’s all he can play.
“These guys give us flexibility to see how they’re going to fill out and develop.”

Consensus four-star rover Shayne Simon (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 210 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Kelly’s take: “His ability to pick things up, very smart player. When you talk about that position, playing close to the ball certainly helps.
“Here is a guy that is over 210 pounds already, physically mature but also very smart. … Certainly when you project a player that is closer to that position already makes for an easy reach for us, but even if he was back on the hash more, I think we would still feel comfortable with what he can do for us.
Shayne is an exceptional player and a guy that we feel can come in and compete right away.”

Rivals.com four-star linebacker Matthew ‘Bo’ Bauer (Cathedral Prep; Erie, Pa.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 220 lbs.
Kelly’s take on the early enrollees, of which Bauer is one: “The early enrollee piece has to come together almost at the same time as our recommendation, and the player being on that track. It doesn’t come like this, ‘Hey, there’s a linebacker, we’re going to tell him to be an early enrollee.’
“Let’s be clear on that. There has to be an alignment in that fashion.
“In this instance, for the most part, that happened with the linebacker crew in the same fashion as our recruitment of it, more so than we went and dictated that through the recruiting process.”

Consensus four-star defensive tackle Jayson Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 290 lbs.
U.S. Army All-American
Kelly’s take: “Jayson has a little bit more of the length and athletic ability, if you will, to play the three[-technique]. So [he and Ja’Mion Franklin] were a great complement in terms of a shade and three that we saw out there early on. We thought they complemented each other very well.”

Consensus three-star defensive tackle Ja’Mion Franklin (North Caroline; Ridgely, Md.)
Measurements: 6’2”, 300 lbs.
Kelly’s take: “Ja’Mion has the ability to play the shade for us. He has that ability to lockout, hold the point, but also has the quickness at that position. He’s going to be a 300-plus player at that position where you’ve got to have the ability to hold the point in there.”

Consensus three-star defensive end Justin Ademilola (St. Peter’s Prep; Jersey City, N.J.)
Measurements: 6’3”, 234 lbs.
Kelly’s take on defensive end recruiting: “If we had targeted and profiled the right fit for Notre Dame, we would have taken another pass rusher. … We’re not going to take somebody just to take somebody in this class at that position.”

Shoulder surgery sidelines Notre Dame TE Brock Wright

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Add another Notre Dame offensive skill player to the list missing the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1 against No. 17 LSU. A shoulder injury will sideline freshman tight end Brock Wright, as first reported by Pete Sampson of Irish Illustrated.

Surgery last week will likely limit Wright in spring practice, but its long-term effects are expected to be minimal.

Wright finishes his debut campaign with no catches in 11 games, primarily seeing action as a blocking back in specific situations. That would presumably have been his role in the postseason exhibition, as well.

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Notre Dame suspends WR Kevin Stepherson and RB C.J. Holmes
Claypool injured & out

Notre Dame suspends WR Kevin Stepherson and RB C.J. Holmes

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Already without sophomore receiver Chase Claypool, Notre Dame will not have sophomore receiver Kevin Stepherson or freshman running back C.J. Holmes in the Citrus Bowl on Jan. 1, Irish coach Brian Kelly announced Wednesday afternoon.

WNDU reported this suspension stems from a shoplifting incident Friday night in which both Stepherson and Holmes were arrested. Charges are pending.

This is Stepherson’s second suspension of the 2017 season, though the first one that cost him the season’s first four games was never officially confirmed. He was also involved in an arrest of five Notre Dame players for marijuana possession the week before the 2016 season.

It took Stepherson another couple games to find his on-field groove, finally breaking loose against USC for three catches for 58 yards and a score, adding two rushes for 24 yards. He finished the season with 19 catches for 359 yards and five touchdowns with five rush attempts gaining 76 yards. Accumulating those stats in essentially half a season kept Stepherson on a similar pace — actually, a better one — as his breakout freshman campaign.

Holmes enrolled early last winter, but then suffered a shoulder injury in spring practice. At first, it seemed that might keep him out the entire season, but as ankle injuries depleted the Notre Dame running back corps, he saw some action to provide possible depth. Holmes finished with eight carries for 32 yards, all coming in the Oct. 7 victory at North Carolina.

Claypool will miss the bowl game against No. 17 LSU due to shoulder surgery. He finished the season with 29 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns.

Kelly previously said junior Equanimeous St. Brown would move into Claypool’s position as the field receiver and junior Miles Boykin could see more time at the boundary position, St. Brown’s usual duty. That should still be the case even without Stepherson.

Irish fifth-year receiver Cam Smith has recovered from hamstring issues that plagued him in the season’s second half. He could be a quick fix to Stepherson’s absence.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Tariq Bracy, three-star cornerback

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TARIQ BRACY

Milpitas High School; Calif.

Measurements: 6’0”, 170 lbs.

Accolades: Rivals.com three-star; No. 39 cornerback in the country and No. 65 prospect in California.

Other Notable Offers: Bracy chose Notre Dame over a litany of west coast options, including Cal, Utah and Washington State.

Projected Position: Cornerback.

Quick Take: Remember when the Irish failed to sign a single cornerback just 10 months ago? Bracy is another piece of rectifying that failure.

Short-Term Roster Outlook: That dearth of corners directly in front of him presents a path for Bracy to find quick playing time, especially if current sophomore Julian Love wanders back to safety, moving junior Shaun Crawford to cornerback from the nickel position. Bracy could fill in there in certain situations from the outset.

Long-View Depth Chart Impact: The Irish might be alright with cornerbacks at the moment, but it will need them in 2019 or 2020, and without any in the class ahead of him, Bracy’s timeline will be expedited by a season. He’ll be contributing no later than his sophomore year and, given natural development, could be a starter as a junior.