How many scholarships will Notre Dame award recruits for the 2014 class? The number will start at one point, but it shall rise. More importantly, will the Irish land the studs needed to win a national title?
As a given rule, always add two scholarships to the total to be given out from the original allotment to be awarded. Why? Career-ending injuries, transfers, early departures to the NFL, and fifth-year decisions change roster management. The number the Irish coaching staff will be working with, at least now, will be 18. I’m going with 20, and that’s bottom end. Hopefully the Irish sign five or six first round draft picks within those 20 recruits. Here’s my perspective for each Position:
QB – 0/1
Redshirt sophomore Everett Golson could play through the 2015 season. It will be hard to recruit quarterbacks, assuming the roster stays intact. I highly doubt that it does. A position that goes through a high level of transfer attrition would be quarterback because most teams simply play one signal caller. Therefore, quarterbacks transfer. I will be surprised if Gunner Kiel sticks around for the 2014 season. He’s simply stuck behind Golson, and there’s only one year of eligibility difference. Maybe I will be proven wrong, but the odds of Kiel passing Golson on the depth chart appear to be very low. If Kiel does leave it will likely be before or shortly after the 2013 season so that he can begin practicing at a new school. If he does decide to stay, I have a feeling Notre Dame will end up with one of two scenarios: signing a mid-level quarterback recruit that simply loves Notre Dame or none at all. The signing of Malik Zaire will not make signing a signal caller any easier. Again, most quarterbacks want to play, not ride the pine. Bottom line, there’s a good chance a scholarship opens up via the quarterback position.
RB – 1/2
I expect Notre Dame to ardently pursue only the truly elite running backs and see where it goes, or maybe not? The odds on favorite to sign with the Irish, of course, will be Elijah Hood from Charlotte, NC (Christian). The Irish lead for his services. Assuming he pulls the trigger by no later than July, he will likely be the only ball carrier to sign with Notre Dame this year. Then again, perhaps Notre Dame will take another slot back/running back candidate such as Derrell Scott from Havelock, NC. Two running backs will not be out of the question, much like last year’s recruiting haul with Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
WR – 2/3
This area will be all about which wide receivers actually want to come. With the talented Justin Brent from Indianapolis, IN (Speedway) in the fold, Notre Dame will be selective. Many of their top targets appear to be prospects that will wait out the recruiting process and take visits. Landing a second wide receiver should not be that hard. If a third wide receiver signs, it will need to be a very talented player, a home run hitter, if one will.
TE – 1/2
With the Irish operating from more and more two-tight end sets, there will be a need to utilize more roster spots on tight ends. Much like wide receiver, an extra tight end will need to be very talented. Then again, with the ridiculous amount of injury attrition Notre Dame tight ends suffered through during the course of the past decade, a second tight end is almost a must if the Irish want to continue to use two-tight end sets that do not include true freshmen being in the rotation. Tight ends, like offensive linemen, usually need a season or two of strength and conditioning before being physically ready to play. The wildcard will be Alex Welch. Will he be willing to come back for a fifth-year? Will he be capable of returning to the really good blocker before his knee injury? I error on the side of caution with knee injuries because of the unpredictable nature knee injuries bring. Until otherwise proven, I am not projecting him back for 2014. That’s just my nature. I hope he’s capable and plays at a high level. If so, Notre Dame could sign just one tight end. At least that’s an option.
OT – 2/3
Tackles move to guard, guards do not move to tackle, or at least that’s the general rule. Notre Dame needs to sign offensive tackles with elite athleticism and size. The national title game displayed the difference with SEC schools: dominant offensive line play. Notre Dame must become much more physical up front. The best way to do that derives from signing elite tackles and figuring out the best overall lineup from that group. From a personal perspective, Notre Dame still needs an ‘Ogre’ at right tackle (and preferably one at left tackle, too). This player needs to be an absolutely massive, mean, physically dominant, and occasionally on the edge of gaining personal foul penalties type of player that sets a tone during each game. The last such player I remember would be Jeff Faine over a decade ago, and he did it as a center. Notre Dame needs that tackle to set the edge for every down, but especially those short yardage plays where everyone in the stadium knows that the Irish will run the football. If the opportunity to sign three tackles arises, I honestly believe Notre Dame will do it. Moving tackles to guard or center happens all the time, so take the best athletes, and those athletes generally play offensive tackle. Because I feel this position will be the most critical, overall, of the entire recruiting class, here’s a list of top offensive tackles Notre Dame offered that I feel could be game changers. The Irish absolutely must sign at least one elite tackle this year.
Cameron Robinson, 6-6, 325, West Monroe, LA – I would take this young man over every other offensive tackle on the board, and it’s not because I believe he’s definitively the best offensive tackle. It’s his intimidating presence and style of play that leads me to rating him no. 1 on the board. He’s the quintessential ‘Ogre’ recruit that Notre Dame needs. He’s just massive and throws people around. This is the type of player that almost always stays in the SEC. Notre Dame must find a way to sign a few guys like this if it wants to defeat top SEC programs come bowl season. The Irish offered long ago. The first step comes with Robinson visiting Notre Dame, and hopefully sooner than later. Do not count Notre Dame out.
Donnell Stanley, 6-4, 320, Latta, SC – Could also play offensive guard. Stanley fits the ‘Ogre’ analogy quite well, just like Robinson. He’s a powerful young man. I would love for the Irish to land Stanley.
Jamarco Jones, 6-5, 285, Chicago, IL (De La Salle) – Could play tackle or guard. He’s very raw, but he’s also athletic. He’s one of those young men that could blossom into something special down the road.
K.C. McDermott, 6-5, 285, Wellington, FL (Palm Beach Central) – Notre Dame appears to be towards the front of the pack for his services, but his brother played for Miami so the Hurricanes will be a team to watch. National recruit.
Braden Smith, 6-6, 280, Olathe, KS (South) – A very fluid athlete with the skills to play the all-important left tackle position. Like McDermott, the Irish appear to be within the lead group to sign the talented prospect. Also like McDermott, he’s a national recruit.
Casey Tucker, 6-5, 275, Chandler, AZ (Hamilton) – An early Southern California commitment that continues to speak with several schools, Tucker plays with a nasty streak that I like. Notre Dame holds his interest.
OG – 1
Signing two could happen, but I hope it does not. If the Irish land Sam Mustipher from Olney, MD (Good Counsel) I believe they should call it a day. Go after the athletic offensive tackles first. See what happens. This will be interesting to watch because the Irish appear to be in on a plethora of good offensive tackle prospects, but many of them could wait until very late in the recruiting process to make a final decision. Will the Irish coaching staff be patient and wait it out or take another inside guy as the safe pick? It’s much, much easier to sign interior offensive linemen because there are more of them.
C – 0/1
If a handful of the current and incoming freshmen work out at center, there’s really no need to sign a center. The performance of the players on the roster this fall will dictate the result.
OLB – 1
A stud. A dominant player. Notre Dame needs just one, but that player must be really good. Further, he needs to be somewhat versatile so that he can cover in space at least occasionally. The most important skill will be a pass rusher, however, and the recruit Notre Dame set its sights upon would Andrew Williams from McDonough, GA (Eagle’s Landing Christian). I believe he will be an early Notre Dame commitment.
ILB – 2
I am concerned about this position because like offensive tackle, the truly elite players are rare, and many of them decide late. It’s great that Notre Dame added Greer Martini already. He alleviates some of the pressure. My best guess for the second inside linebacker will be Nyles Morgan from Crete, IL (Crete Monee). If it’s not him, however, signing a second high level inside linebacker could be quite difficult.
DE – 2/3
This will be a position of flexibility. If a second really good nose guard wants to jump onboard, great! At least that’s my take. At worst, Notre Dame needs some wide bodies with enough skill to push the pocket and play the run. Jay Hayes from Brooklyn, NY (Poly Prep) started Notre Dame in the proper direction. At least one more defensive end will be needed, and if a third wants to jump on board that would be preferred. Lots of candidates, but as always it will be difficult to sign the best defensive linemen because of how much each school covets their services.
NG – 1/2
At the end of the day, four defensive linemen will be needed. At least one of those defensive linemen needs to be a behemoth interior player, or at least a player that can grow into that stature. Enoch Smith, Jr. from Chicago, IL (Mount Carmel) appears to be the best bet, but do not discount Notre Dame signing another interior player that could also swing outside and play a little defensive end.
CB – 2
This will be one of Notre Dame’s greatest challenges. After signing three cornerbacks this past February, it will be hard to attract two more cornerbacks this next February. Consistency will be the key because teams simply pass the football more than ever before. Numbers at cornerback will be paramount to help ensure Notre Dame places two very good cornerbacks on the field for years to come. The past twenty years of Notre Dame Football displayed just how easy it can be to destroy a defense if even one of the two starting cornerbacks lacks the talent to play major college football. Numbers, numbers, numbers!
S – 0/1
If Notre Dame signs a safety it must be a stud. It would be great to sign another top-notch safety, but the depth chart appears to be loaded with young prospects. It will be very hard to attract someone that can make an early dent into the depth chart. Thus, I doubt Notre Dame signs a safety.
ST – 0
It’s just not happening. No need for this recruiting cycle.
This recruiting class should end with 20 or more scholarships being handed out. There will be transfers and the like, and those loses will lead to recruiting gains. I expect Notre Dame to sign a recruiting class ranked some place between no. 5 and no. 10 in the major recruiting service rankings. Most importantly, this recruiting class should be about solidifying roster balance and signing a handful of difference makers at running back, wide receiver, offensive tackle, and at each position on defense, especially within the front seven.