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February 22, 2009
2009 Recruiting Roundup
I'm obviously a little late to this party, but now that things have calmed down a bit and the Irish are about to get into spring practice, let's take an in-depth look at Charlie's 2009 class.
Most of this info is lifted from ND's Scout and Rivals sites, so I'll thank the boys at Irish Eyes and Irish Illustrated in advance for all the hard work they do to give us recruitniks our proper fix all year round. I neglected to include any of the ESPN rankings because, well, I'm just that lazy. And the predictions are all my own, so feel free to hunt me down when they don't come true.
One of the most important recruits in the class, given the need at his position and the timing of his commitment. Stockton verballed at the Spring Game, and along with Cierre Wood, helped to keep the momentum from the huge 2008 recruiting class going. His impressive offer list speaks volumes about his perceived potential. Stock rose throughout the year, especially at the Army All-American Game where he was considered one of the best DT's all week. A short, stout run-stopper, Stockton also boasts a non-stop motor that allows him to be effective in pass-rushing downs as well.
Ceiling: Given the likely impending move to a 4-3 under Tenuta, Trevor Laws seems like a nice comparison, given the effort he puts forth, along with his somewhat short, squat build.
Prediction: His status as an early entrant will certainly help him get on the field sooner. It doesn't seem far-fetched to assume that Stockton will see time in a rotation this year, and become a full-time menace by 2010. Barring injury, there's no reason to believe he won't achieve a Laws-type ceiling and have a similar impact over the course of his career.
Manti Te'o - Honolulu, HI Scout: 5-star, #1 ILB Rivals: 5-star, #2 ILB (#1 Best Instincts, #2 Best Run-Stopper) Offers - USC, UCLA, BYU
Without a doubt, the headliner of the class. Finally gave Irish fans something to cheer about on Signing Day when he slipped on an ND hat, providing Weis a huge recruiting victory over his arch-nemesis, Pete Carroll. Enough has been said about this guy on Irish sites all over the internet, but he's generally considered one of the more polished HS kids ever seen on a recruiting highlight video.
Beyond his own accomplishments, the recruiting and commitment of Te'o may open a door to a state and culture that has been mostly overlooked by ND coaches to date. Doug has covered the Polynesian issue in previous posts, but if Weis can start injecting one or two of these guys into the front 7 every year or so, it might go a long way to bringing our defense back to the top of the college football world.
Ceiling: A multi-year starter and All-American certainly isn't out of the question. Limited only by the posibility (probability?) of an impending Mormon mission which would take him away from a regimented workout program, and may require Weis to recruit him all over again. Kory Minor was the last 4-year starter at LB for the Irish. He seems like a good comparison.
Prediction: He'll see the field this year. The only question is whether he'll be the starter and QB of the defense in the Nevada game. The defense as a whole might greatly benefit from a move back to the outside by Brian Smith, who has not had the same impact since being forced to the inside by necessity. Should Te'o play a bunch his freshman year, might he be dissuaded from leaving for the mission if the Irish will be finding themselves in position for a title run in 2010?
Your prototypical big, hulking, mean ILB, Calabrese loves to hit people and it shows in his highlight videos. Questions about his footspeed may limit his playing time, but he's pretty polished at this point as well. If ND chooses to switch around to a 3-4, Calabrese would certainly be more likely to find his way on the field.
Ceiling: Ultimately, I believe Carlo is a guy who's more effective in running situations, and may need to come off the field on passing downs. If he fills out a bit more, he sounds like a Corey Mays-type LB.
Prediction: Calabrese offers some depth at another position of need for the Irish. Although ND has had sufficient bodies at ILB, no one has distinguished themselves, forcing Brian Smith to the inside where he's probably out of position. A move to a 4-3 defense probably limits his chances to see the field, but my guess is if Carlo doesn't see the field in his first 2 years, he probably won't see much of it at all.
Zeke Motta - Vero Beach, FL Scout: 4-star, #10 OLB Rivals: 4-star, #5 OLB (#2 Best Instincts, #8 in FL's Postseason 100) Offers: Florida, FSU, Auburn, UCLA
HS safety who has already been pencilled in for the Harrison Smith - OLB position at ND. Stock rose significantly as the season went on, including at the Army All-American Game. Rivals has identified him as a possible "Impact Freshman" in 2009 and moved him up to #54 in their Top 100 list. Motta's verbal gave Weis another victory over an arch-nemesis: Urban Meyer and the Gators, who desperately tried to woo Zeke as the months went on.
Ceiling: Difficult to analyze at this point. ND seems to be leading the charge in converting athletic safeties into OLBs to combat spread offenses, both in the run and in the pass. But given his talent, multi-year starter and perhaps even All-American might not be out of the question.
Prediction: The second of three early entrants, Motta's presence on campus will hopefully allow him necessary time in the weight room and in the film room to get him on the field sooner. He's being tossed into a fairly deep group, so competition for playing time will be fierce.
Since Weis has always preached that he wants to have the 11 best players on the field, I wouldn't be surprised to see Zeke moved back to a strong safety/rover type position, based on depth chart issues. ND is going to be hurting for safeties in the very near future and Motta may be too good to keep in an OLB rotation.
Dan Fox - Rocky River, OH Scout: 3-star, #22 OLB Rivals: 4-star, #13 OLB Offers: Pitt, MSU, Stanford, WVU, UVA
Love to see those Ohio catholic high school kids making their way to South Bend. Fox hails from Cleveland St. Ignatius, the same school that produced current Irish players John Ryan and Robby Parris. Fox is another example of an athletic OLB prospect who can cover TEs and RBs out of the backfield. Will definitely need a few years in the weight room to fill out, but could develop into a nice rotation player down the road.
Ceiling: Maybe Rocky Boiman? Boiman was a much higher-regarded prospect out of HS, but the similarities are there. Good HS program, tall, athletic, good in coverage.
Prediction: Another guy who might be a victim of a numbers crunch, but I think by his junior year, he could see some significant PT on passing downs, and against teams like Michigan or Purdue, if the Boilers continue to try to run a spread-type offense.
EJ Banks - McKees Rocks, PA Scout: 3-star, #26 S Rivals: 3-star, #45 ATH Offers: OSU, FSU, Clemson, Pitt, Va. Tech
The only addition to ND's defensive backfield, Banks is a former HS QB who suffered a season-ending knee surgery which required off-season surgery. Generally considered a CB prospect, Banks' best chance at getting on the field may come in special teams. That of course will depend upon his recovery from ACL surgery. Banks is currently on campus as the 3rd early entrant in this class.
Ceiling: His film shows incredible quickness with great moves in space. If he is marked for special teams, an Allen Rossum comparison might be a bit lofty, but not out of question.
Prediction: The CB rotation looks a bit full right now, but will certainly be thinning in the coming years. Figure at least a full year to recover adequately from the knee surgery, followed by a year as a nickel back, and a starting job as a junior (likely RS sophomore).
Positives: For the first time in the Weis regime, the best recruit in the class was on the defensive side of the ball. Te'o, Motta and Stockton will likely all see the field very early, and Te'o may even threaten the starting lineup right off the bat. The LB class is outstanding, and Rivals ranked it as the "nation's top group by a long distance."
Negatives: Weis continued to build depth in the LB corps, but added only one guy each to the defensive line and the backfield. The 2008 DL haul allowed Weis to be selective, but not signing a single DE is troublesome and makes DL a priority in 2010. Similarly, the defensive backfield is definitely a strength right now, but will start thinning out in the next few years. The current state of college football, with more receivers and an increased emphasis on the passing game, requires a host of solid safeties and corners. The outlook would have been much different if either Jawanza Starling or Byron Moore had chosen ND over SC on Signing Day, but safety and corner are now big, big concerns for the upcoming classes.
Ben Turk - Fort Lauderdale, FL Scout: 3-star, #3 P Rivals: 3-star, #6 K Offers: Cincinnati
An NFL legacy from a school that's fast becoming an ND hotbed (St. Thomas Aquinas), Turk is in line to take over the punting duties in 2010.
Ceiling: 3-4 year starter following in his dad's footsteps as a long-time NFL punter. Craig Hentrich?
Prediction: He's got the bloodlines and the coaching from a world-class HS program to be successful in college. ND has been pretty fortunate with their punting of late with smooth transitions between Hildbold, Fitzpatrick and Price. Turk is next in line.
Nicholas Tausch - Dallas, TX Scout: 3-star, #4 K Rivals: 2-star, #9 K
Tausch had interest from a few other suitors, but no offers listed. ND offered two kickers this year, and Tausch jumped on board first. Tausch is the 3rd kicker taken by ND in 4 years. Disappointing that the Irish have been unable to secure consistent performance from either Ryan Burkhart or Brandon Walker to date, but Weis obviously felt he didn't have quite enough.
Ceiling: Not a terribly highly rated kicker coming out of HS, but his videos show he's got plenty of leg. If he can provide consistent kickoffs to the goalline or deeper, he'll have a job the minute he walks on campus. Ideally, he supplements Walker for the next few years, and takes over when Brandon graduates.
Prediction: Hoping to take the pressure of the kickoff return team, Weis gives Tausch kickoff responsibilities immediately and the freshman responds, giving the Irish a successful kickoff specialist for the first time since Nick Setta graduated.
Jordan Cowart - Ft. Lauderdale, FL Scout: 2-star, #33 C Rivals: 2-star, NA
Cowart also hails from St. Thomas Aquinas in Ft. Lauderdale and served as the long snapper for all 4 years of his HS career. During that time, he successfully completed over 330 snaps in a row, both in punting and FG situations.
Ceiling: Provides 4 solid years of consistent long snapping, allowing Irish fans to relax a bit more in FG and XP situations.
Prediction: Although Weis seemed a bit reluctant to admit as much, there were obvious problems in long snapping during this past year. Several punt blocks and multiple muffed snaps on FG tries have driven Irish fans crazy over the last few years. Cowart steps right in and ends any problems with the special teams snapping.
SPECIAL TEAMS ANALYSIS
Positives: Picked up a punter to take over after Price graduates. (Hopefully) picked up a kicker who can get the ball to the goalline consistently. A scholarship to a long snapper? Well, if its a need, and you find someone (from a great HS program) who is very good at it, you might as well snap him up. Continuing to foster a relationship with one of the best HS programs in the country can't hurt either.
Negatives: Another scholarship kicker? A scholarship to a freaking long snapper?
Chris Watt - Glen Ellyn, IL Scout: 5-star, #1 OG Rivals: 4-star, #2OG Offers: OSU, PSU, Michigan, UVA
A big, bruising interior lineman from Illinois. That's one recruiting battle the Irish cannot afford to lose. And Jim Tressel put up one heck of a fight. Until Watt pulled the trigger in July, there were plenty of recruiting experts who thought he was destined for Columbus. Watt's Glenbard West team rolled up tons of rushing yardage in 2008, and Watt was named a US Army All-American, impressing many analysts during the week of practice. Watt went up against the best of the best during the AA game, stoning such talented defensive linemen as Will Campbell, John Simon and even our own Tyler Stockton. Much like Trevor Robinson last year, ND was able to score their #1 interior line target, and even had to weather an 11th hour scare with the Iowa Hawkeyes.
Ceiling: Watt's got the size and strength to become one of the best interior linemen in ND history and make very early contributions. Multiple All-American? Outland winner? Sure, why not.
Prediction: ND likely has sufficient depth on the interior that would allow Watt to get a little seasoning. But if pressed into service, Watt certainly has the skills to play right away. I'm betting he sits this year, but sees time in a rotation come 2010, eventually becoming a multi-year starter, and a damn good one at that.
Alex Bullard - Brentwood, TN Scout: 4-star, #7 OG Rivals: 4-star, #15 OG Offers: Florida, Alabama, Michigan, Auburn, Tennessee
Bullard has gotten lost in the mix a bit, I think mainly because he remained so loyal to Weis throughout the process and wasn't involved in any of the big all-star games. But going into Tennessee and stealing one of the best OL prospects in the state was a huge blow to the Vols. Bullard played tackle in HS, but appears to be headed to the interior when he gets to campus. He and Watt provide a very nice 1-2 punch at the guard position.
Ceiling: A great run-blocker at the HS level, Bullard needs work in the passing game, but certainly could project out to a multi-year starter and an eventual NFL offensive lineman.
Prediction: Bullard's apparent limitations in pass blocking will likely keep him from having an immediate impact at ND. Provided he can develop that mean streak so necessary to succeed as an NCAA lineman, a solid rotation guy and possible eventual starter is not out of the question.
Zach Martin - Indianapolis, IN Scout: 3-star, #24 OT Rivals: 4-star, #22 OT Offers: Michigan, UCLA, UVA, Illinois
Another extremely important recruit, Martin will likely be the only incoming OT in the '09 class. Considering the impending graduations of Paul Duncan and Sam Young, there will be a need for tackles on the offensive line in the very near future. An impressive showing during the ESPN Under Armour game boosted Martin's stock a bit, and rumors abounded that Kirk Ferentz thought he was one of the best tackle prospects in the country.
Ceiling: A very strong run-blocker, Martin needs work in pass protection, but his athleticism and quickness bode well for a productive future as a RT. Rotation guy and multi-yeat starter sounds about right.
Prediction: He'll get a year to mature, but after that, he'll absolutely be in the discussion for at least a rotation spot. Here's guessing that Martin and Dever will battle over the RT spot for years to come.
Tyler Eifert - Fort Wayne, IN Scout: 3-star, #25 TE Rivals: 3-star, #24 TE (#5 Best Hands TE) Offers: Purdue, Wake Forest, Cincinnati
Received his offer when he showed up to ND's summer camp and caught everything thrown in his vicinity. Committed almost instantaneously, bringing some much-needed depth to the TE position at ND. Its always great to see a lifelong ND fan get a chance to fulfill his dream by coming to South Bend and playing under the shadow of the Dome.
Ceiling: He absolutely reeks of John Carlson. Has a long way to go to get there, but Clausen, Crist and others are going to love throwing to this kid for the next few years.
Prediction: Needs at least a year, and probably more, to build up the adequate bulk to play the position. But his receiving skills will almost certainly guarantee that he make an impact in the passing game at some point during his career.
Jake Golic - West Hartford, CT Scout: 3-star, #54 TE Rivals: 2-star, NR Offers: UCONN
As his brother did a year before, Golic got the ball rolling for the 2009 recruiting class by pulling the trigger in April. Was a bit overmatched during Army All-American Week, including a few drops during the course of the game.
Ceiling: Probably as a 2nd or 3rd TE. Not his fault really. ND has amassed some solid TE talent over the last several years.
Prediction: When you've got guys like Mike Ragone and Kyle Rudolph playing your position, you're going to have a tough time finding the field. But as with Eifert, Golic does provide valuable depth at a position that needed some more.
Cierre Wood - Oxnard, CA Scout: 4-star, #6 RB Rivals: 4-star, #8 RB (#5 Best HR Threat, #8 in CA's Postseason Top 100) Offers: USC, Florida, UCLA, UNC, Cal)
Another one of the most important recruits in the class. Wood committed (along with Stockton) during the Blue-Gold weekend, again carrying over the momentum from the #1 208 class. For the majority of the 2008 season, Wood was the best offensive player in California and the best RB in the country. His stock took a tumble when he suffered some minor injuries during his senior year and failed to blow away recruitniks at the Army AA Bowl. An explosive athlete, Wood gives the Irish the HR threat that's been missing from the ND offense during the Weis era. Has very good hands as well, so its certainly possible that that Wood may make his largest impact in the slot, or perhaps even on defense (SC apparently recruited him as a DB). Also sure to have a positive effect on the largely dormant Irish return game.
Ceiling: I fully admit that this is one heck of a stretch, but Wood's closest comp at this point might be Rocket Ismail. Heresy, I know. He won't be as fast as Ismail, but Wood's big-play potential and versatility haven't been seen on Irish recruiting videos in some time.
Prediction: Wood wins the primary return job the minute he steps on campus, finds the backfield too crowded for his taste and eventually moves into a slot WR position, giving the Irish offense the explosiveness that's been lacking.
Wood gets the press, but Riddick is more ready to take the reins to the Irish running game right now. A somewhat diminutive fellow, Riddick is more than willing to run between the tackles, take a hit and keep on ticking. By locking up Wood and Riddick early, Weis had completed his 2008 RB recruiting by the end of April.
Ceiling: A more explosive Darius Walker.
Prediction: The logjam in front of him may make it difficult to see the field early, but Riddick provides the compact, explosive package that Weis seems to prefer in his RBs. He'll be a primary back at some point during his career, but he might have to wait for Hughes and Allen to graduate.
Shaquelle Evans - Inglewood, CA Scout: 4-star, #12 WR Rivals: 4-star, #24 WR (#17 in CA's Postseason Top 100) Offers: USC, Oklahoma, UCLA, OSU, Michigan
Raise your hand if you thought Notre Dame would be able to go into Inglewood and convince a stud WR to come to South Bend. Perhaps more amazing is that ND once again stole away a CA prospect that Pete Carroll had offered. A testament to the recruiting prowess of Brian Polian, who is finally starting to get some positive pub for his efforts. Shaq is another game-changer, an explosive athlete who's liable to take a 5-yard slant route all the way. Michael Floyd and Golden Tate have seemingly locked up the outside WR positions for years to come, leaving an opening in the slot. Evans will no doubt require some polish, but its going to be tough to keep him off the field.
Ceiling: Evans reminds me of David Givens, a guy who wasn't able to fill up the stat sheet at ND mainly hecause his incompetent coaching staff had no way to get him the ball. Hopefully the same won't be the case with Weis and Ianello.
Prediction: The slot position is his, but I think he'll probably need a year to get there. Once he does, the Irish might have one of the best WR corps in the country.
Roby Toma - Honolulu, HI Scout: 3-star, #103 WR Rivals: 3-star, NR Offers: UCLA, Hawaii
Te'o's teammate and best friend received an offer approximately 3 weeks before Signing Day when Nyshier Oliver decommitted and jumped on the Lane Kiffin Express. Fearless over the middle, Toma has great hands (including winning the Hands Competition at the ESPN Under Armour Game) and is fearless over the middle.
Ceiling: Joey Getherall. Doesn't have the wheels, but you've got to love the little guy that can go over the middle and make plays for his QB.
Prediction: Another candidate for the open slot position, Toma can help push guys like Evans and Kamara to work harder and get better in practice. Tough to see him making a big impact on the field, but stranger things have certainly happened.
Positives: In landing what amounted to his top two RB targets, Weis stocked the depth chart with even more talent, providing new RB coach Tony Alford with an embarassment of talent in the backfield. He also landed two potential slot WRs to participate in what will likely be an ongoing battle over that position. The interior lineman are very, very good and will provide additional depth and possible early time (Watt). The TEs are very raw, but Eifert in particular has great hands which might allow him to see the field before the rest of his body is ready.
Negatives: Weis offered a few QBs, but after failing to nab some of his top targets, he was willing to take a pass on the position. Clausen and Crist provide a nice luxury in that regard, but that depth chart is pretty thin should someone go down with an injury. The only other criticism I have comes on the offensive line, particularly at the tackle position. Weis seemed to pin his hopes to Xavier Nixon (and rightfully so, the kid's going to be a stud), but when Nixon left him high and dry, he didn't have much in the way of a backup plan. Martin is a nice get, but I'm not sure he could afford to be so choosy with such an important position. He's placing quite a bit of pressure on himself to land a bevy of OTs in the 2010 class.
The general consensus is that this represented a very good "filler" class for Weis and the Irish. He followed up the #1 class from 2008 with some very good star power in Te'o, Wood, Evans, Watt, Motta and Stockton. All 6 have the potential to make immediate impacts in 2009. Guys like Riddick, Bullard, Martin and Banks provide necessary depth at positions that require such. The specialists will almost certainly see playing time at their respective positions throughout the course of their careers.
However, Weis does have some sizeable needs to fill in the coming classes, and the 2010 recruiting class will definitely need to address the following positions (note the positions reference depth chart issues post-2009 season):
QB - Clausen will have one more year of eligibility, and Crist will be the only backup on scholarship. Weis will almost certainly need to take 2 here.
OT - The interior looks pretty good, but Young and Duncan will graduate, leaving the both tackles in the hands of players who have seen very minimal time to date. There are bodies available (Romine, Dever, Clelland, Martin) but no signigicant experience. Hopefully 2009 will see some of these guys make strides to get on the field. Fortunately, the Irish are already in good shape with quite a few OT prospects in the 2010 class, and have even scored a verbal from Christian Lombard from Illinois. I'd feel much more comfortable if Weis could get 2-3 more high-quality guys to join up.
DL - This area is pretty thin across the board. Run-stuffers and pash-rushers will be at a premium, and Weis will need at least 2 of each to continue to build up the defense. The early verbal commit from Chris Martin, a LB/DL from California, is unspeakably huge, as Martin will almost certainly be one of the best defensive players in the nation in the class of 2010.
S - After 2009, Kyle McCarthy and Sergio Brown will be gone, leaving Harrison Smith and Dan McCarthy as the only safeties currently on the roster. Weis needs at least 2 in the 2010 class, and I'd be happier with 3+.