When Charlie Weis was fired after the 2009 season, Brian Kelly was hired at Notre Dame for one reason; to return the Fighting Irish to its rightful place amongst the nation’s elite.Brian Kelly understands that to win at Notre Dame, his team has to play good defense. If he wants to return Notre Dame to prominence however, he must field a defensive line that dominates in the trenches.
At the 2010 signing day press-conference one thing was clear, Kelly was not satisfied with Notre Dame’s depth chart along the defensive front. He vowed to do “better” when it came to recruiting defensive lineman in the 2011 class, especially at the defensive end position.
Kelly has lived up to his word.
There will be a new kind of defensive end recruited at Notre Dame during the Kelly regime. Gone are the days when players such as 6-foot-2, 245-pound Darius Flemming will line up as an every-down defensive end as he did a year ago in John Tenuta’s 4-3 scheme. Bob Diaco’s 3-4 defense calls for bigger, longer and stronger edge players to compliment the lone defensive tackle in the scheme, known as a nose guard.
There are two types of defensive ends that Kelly and his staff will recruit to play in their defense. There are guys that I like to call “maulers”, who clog up running lanes, take on double teams, win the leverage battle at the line of scrimmage and cause disruption in the backfield. There are also however, athletic pass-rushing ends that get after the quarterback in passing situations and who try to wreak havoc in the backfield.
In the 2011 recruiting class, Notre Dame has received verbal commitments from three defensive ends. Each brings something different to the table in terms of skill-set, but most importantly, all three guys fit the mould of what Brian Kelly is scouring the country looking for in edge players to man his 3-4 scheme.
Brad Carrico (Dublin, OH/Dublin Coffman)
Weight: 270 pounds
ESPN ranking: 82nd ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Rivals ranking: 45th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Scout ranking: 61st ranked offensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting class.
Average ranking: 63rd ranked defensive end/offensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting class.
Making a case
Brad Carrico started the 2011 recruiting class off on the right foot when he gave his verbal commitment to the Notre Dame staff back in March. The Ohio standout is exactly what Brian Kelly is looking for in a defensive end. Carrico is the kind of kid that could be ready to contribute early on in his college career. He has an excellent frame for a 3-4 defensive end as he is both tall and stout. In my opinion, the 6-foot-6 bruiser’s best characteristic is his toughness. Carrico is the definition of “all day tough”. When you watch his film the first thing that jumps out at you is that he loves contact. Often times you see defensive ends shy away from contact and instead look to take a finesse route to the quarterback. The Dublin Coffman star is the complete opposite. He drives offensive lineman backwards because he understands how to use leverage and how to get into the opponents chest, destroying their balance as they attempt to anchor. Defensive line coach Mike Elston frequently talks about “block destruction” and that is exactly what he is going to get out of Carrico.
Carrico may have all the tools to be successful in this scheme, but there are some things that I think he will need to improve on before he makes any kind of impact for the Irish. The first thing that I think he needs to work on his quickness off the ball. As strong as he his, he could be even more of weapon if he exploded into the offensive lineman across from him. Another thing that I would like to see Carrico master is using his hands to shed defenders. In high school he is strong enough that he overwhelms offensive lineman, but at the college level he is going to need stronger, faster hands in order to disengage the man across from him in order to make a tackle. Lastly, I would like to see Carrico come off the ball lower at times. For a guy who is 6-foot-6 he does a pretty good job of winning the leverage battle, but he could be even better if he kept a lower base.
There is no question in mind that Carrico fits into the “mauler” category as a defensive end. He may be limited as a pass rusher, but that is quite alright with me because I don’t think that is the reason why Coach Kelly and his staff recruited the big Ohioan in the first place. Carrico is the kind of player that should see significant snaps on first and second down and obvious rushing downs. He has the size and ability to defend two gaps if he is asked too and he should provide a greatly needed shot of toughness to an Irish defensive line that has a recent history of wearing out in the second half of games. It would not at all surprise me if Carrico ends up being 6-foot-6, 295 pounds before his college career is over. I would like to see him red-shirt as a freshman if possible because he needs to continue to bulk up, as well as build up a stronger core, but I think he possesses the strength, toughness and raw skill-set to be a starting defensive end for the Irish down the road.
Tony Springmann (Fort Wayne, IN/Bishop Dwenger)
Weight: 271 pounds
ESPN ranking: 43rd ranked offensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting class.
Rivals ranking: 35th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Scout ranking: 55th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Average ranking: 44th ranked defensive end/offensive tackle in the 2011 recruiting class.
Making a case
Tony Springmann is an interesting prospect to me, because I really like his upside as a right offensive tackle. That isn’t to say that there is not a lot to like about his potential as a 3-4 defensive end however. The Bishop Dwenger product has solid feet for a big man and flashes the ability to get penetration in the backfield or to stretch a play out towards the sideline. What Springmann really brings to the Irish defense however, is a non-stop motor. He will undoubtedly cause defenses fits at times because he is going to consistently outwork the player across from him. The 6-foot-6 lineman is tenacious and plays with the kind of nasty attitude that will really wear down the player across from him. He is a kid that will give Brian Kelly everything that he has got, on every single snap. I was exceptionally excited when the Indiana native chose Notre Dame because I feel that he is exactly the type of player that usually ends up going to a school such as Boston College and then proceeds to play the Irish extremely tough for the next four years.
The only major concern I have about Springmann at this point is his overall strength. Like Carrico, I believe he will have the necessary size to play early, but he simply needs to get stronger before he is going to be effective. Springmann does not look like he has overly powerful legs at this point and his upper body has room to add plenty of weight and muscle. He really does have a nice frame for a defensive end in this scheme, now it’s a matter of filling that frame out.
It will be interesting to see just how big Springmann gets once he is on campus, eating correctly and following coach Longo’s program. The size of his frame suggests that he could be 295-300 pounds down the road but that is going to take some work. Like Carrico, Springmann fits into the “mauler” class of defensive ends. His tenacity and motor are going to ensure that he fights for a position in the two-deep in due time. I would like to see him red-shirt and spend an entire season in the weight room because if he can improve his strength and add some proper weight, he has the makings of being a contributing defensive end down the road. Right now Springmann is really raw and lacks the technique that will make him successful at the next level. Fortunately for the Indiana star however, he has a great work ethic and a great attitude and kids like that are often quick learners. Down the road I would love to see Springmann in a two-man rotation at the defensive end position, along with his classmate Carrico. I think that their combination of heart, skill and toughness would absolutely fatigue an opponent over the course of a game.
Aaron Lynch (Cape Coral, FL/Island Coast)
Weight: 260 pounds
ESPN ranking: 7th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Rivals ranking: 6th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Scout ranking: 9th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Average ranking: 7th ranked defensive end in the 2011 recruiting class.
Making a case
Tailor-made is how I would describe Aaron Lynch in reference to the defensive end position in a 3-4 defense. Lynch might just be the most important recruit in the 2011 recruiting class, for a variety of reasons. First of all, the 260-pound Floridian possesses all the athleticism you could want in a defensive end of his size. He has a fantastic first step and he explodes into the opponent’s backfield at the snap. Lynch is a kid that can easily stretch a running play out to the sideline, or get to the quarterback in passing situations. While speed might be Lynch’s best attribute, it’s not because he lacks strength. The Island Coast stud has a thick natural build, incredibly powerful legs and an upper body that has lots of room to add and re-distribute weight. I have watched the film of nearly every defensive end ranked ahead of Lynch and I can honestly say that there isn’t a single guy in the country that I’d rather have as an edge man in this scheme.
The athletic big man isn’t without flaws in his game however. At this point in his career, Lynch is simply big and strong enough to get to the passer without using much in way of technique. He does not possess a variety of pass-rush moves at this point and he needs to learn how to use his hands better, much like Carrico. Making sure that he comes off the ball low and in control is something else that I would like to see Lynch work on. I feel as if he stands up at times to see into the backfield, rather than simply working his way across the line of scrimmage, getting in position to make a play. For a tall guy he actually does a decent job of staying low at the snap most of the time, but if he is going to reach his full potential, it’s something Lynch is going to have be more consistent at doing.
There is no telling how good Lynch could be. He is the perfect pass-rushing compliment to his “mauler” classmates Carrico and Springmann. In terms of future size, I could see Lynch playing at between 280-285 pounds and being extremely fast and powerful. I expect Lynch to be playing a prominent defensive role by the start of his sophomore season and he will have every opportunity to start in place of the departed Ethan Johnson in 2012. Expect Lynch to get after the quarterback and for coach Diaco to design stunts, twists and formation based adjustments in order to give the Florida standout the freedom he needs to make plays. Lynch playing opposite a Carrico/Springmann rotation, with Louis Nix manning the nose guard position, could make for a dominant 3-4 defensive front.
As long as he stays healthy and motivated, do not be surprised to see Lynch contend for All-American honors down the road and to end up as high draft pick in the NFL draft. It’s not a matter of whether or not Lynch is going to be good; it’s simply a question of how dominant he will be.