DEFENSE! Maybe my favorite part about yesterday's flurry of late activity is that these recruits are coming on the defensive side of the ball. That's our second year in a row where a lot of the best players in the class were defensive players. In 2008, we brought in Ethan Johnson and Filer and Fleming and Blanton among others. And this 2009 class features Te'o and Tyler Stockton and Fox and Motta and Calabrese and maybe even Starling. And now we have news that Chris Martin has committed for 2010.
That's probably 10+ feature guys added to the defense in the last few years. Suddenly a defense was desperate for impact guys is flooded with young guns. We're a little thin on the defensive line, but the linebacker and secondary units are loaded. For a defense that is desperate for some impact players, Te'o and Stockton and Martin seem like the perfect antidotes.
While I know everyone is bent out of shape about the offense and the o-line coach and Weis and who is calling all the plays and all that, I'm really interested in seeing where this defense is going in the next few years. Defense wins championships. We saw it with the Steelers, and we see it in college. The intensity of the defense being played in the NFL Playoffs (especially that Pittsburgh-Baltimore game) blew me away. Florida and USC were the two best teams in America last year, and they had the two best defenses in the country. That's not some coincidence. I love watching both those teams play defense. Everything is about attacking and being physical. Obviously they have great talent, but defense is about mentality. Not only are both those teams trying to keep teams off the scoreboard, they aren't trying to give you an inch! When was the last time Notre Dame's defense had a mentality like that?? The early 90s?? We haven't had a great defense in over 15 years. Our "best" defenses recently were the bend but don't break models. I want to see a defense that dominates games.
I like that Weis is making a commitment to the defense in recruiting. He probably could have used scholarships on a quarterback and another receiver, but he really zeroed in on defensive guys down the stretch. One of the things that I've noticed about Ohio State's recruiting under Jim Tressel is that his classes almost always have more defensive players than offensive players. Tressel is a big believer in the "put your best athletes on defense" guys. A lot of the "athlete" types that he brings in tend to end up on the defensive side of the ball. It sends a message that they are committed first and foremost to having a championship defense. That's what the goal should be at Notre Dame.
I'm excited to see what all these linebackers can do under Tenuta and Corwin Brown. If these guys can really unleash all these linebackers and create an attacking style defense, that's what we need. And it will be interesting to see who we bring in to coach the d-line next year. While I like all the exotic blitzes and bringing pressure with the linebackers, we need to find ways to get pressure with our defensive line. The good defenses can wear teams down up front with their front four. It's great to have linebackers like Te'o and Martin and Brian Smith, but you need big uglies in front of them to take up blockers and wreak havoc.
And for god sakes, there is NO EXCUSE for a Notre Dame team not to be able to stop the run. STOP THE RUN. STOP THE RUN. STOP THE RUN. That is the #1 responsibility of any defense. Go listen to what Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau say about stopping the run. It's the most important thing they focus on. If you can't stop the run, your defense isn't going to be any good. I am tired of seeing teams run at will on our defense. It happened constantly last year: Pitt, Michigan, MSU, USC, even Syracuse. We wilted in the fourth quarter over and over. There is no reason for a Notre Dame team to be soft. The goal for this program should always be to be the toughest team in the country. Maybe we don't have USC talent, but we can make up for it with toughness.
One name who I hope features prominently in the new architecture of the ND defense is Mr. Bryant Young. I think he is being groomed to be our next d-line coach, so I hope we can find a good veteran coach to tutor him on how to coach d-line in college football. I have no idea if BY will be a great d-line coach, but it seems like he has been on the most respected players in the NFL for a long time. I see no reason why he wouldn't be great d-line coach. I hope he's in the weight room all offseason working with guys like Ethan Johnson and Hafis Williams and Brandon Newman and Tyler Stockton and KLM. And on the recruiting trail, I hope he becomes an asset for this program to upgrade the d-line. We really need more depth at defensive tackle. It seems like DT is the hardest position for Notre Dame to recruit because of the limited number of stud guys who are on our radar academically. If we want to play with the big boys, we'll need to find a way to get some of those players.
Anyway, yesterday was a great day for Irish football. I am thrilled to have Te'o on board. He seems like a great kid and his highlight videos are off the charts. The guy is a freaking Eagle Scout!! I don't think there is any question that he will be right in the mix to start at middle linebacker right out of the chute. We are desperate for some strength up the middle, and Te'o would be a perfect fit. If Te'o fills in the middle and Brian Smith and Filer and Fleming and Neil are working the outsides, that could be a heckuva linebacker unit. Te'o and Smith could be a deadly combo if they are both around for the next couple years.
From what he is saying, Te'o is going to take the mission after next year. Not sure what that will mean in terms of his future at ND, but it's still great to have him on board. The momentum of this signing has been huge. It seems like all of college football has been buzzing about Te'o coming to South Bend all day, and Todd McShay was on ESPN saying that Notre Dame was the story of the day in college football. You can't beat that type of publicity. Hopefully it will pay off in 2010 with another monster class and some further inroads on these Poly kids. Weis can sell to recruits that they could be the final pieces on a championship defense.
What number is Te'o going to wear next year?? I would love to see him in a #33 or some sort of linebacker jersey. The single digit thing would be cool too, but part of me would love to buy some old school linebacker # at the Bookstore next year. I definitely plan to own a Manti Te'o jersey by next year.
One question I have about the mission. Is he basically going to be completely out of football for two years?? Is there a summer break or anything like that?? Is he still going to be taking classes at ND for part of the year and working out?? Is he
going to be able to lift weights and all that or is he going to come back to ND in 2011 weighing 185 pounds?? It seems like there are conflicting reports about when he is going to do this thing. It could be after next year, but maybe it won't be until after the 2010 season (which obviously would be nice to have him around for Clausen's senior year).
Finally, I wanted to hand it to Brian Polian for the absolutely remarkable job that he has done in recruiting the last couple years. Polian has become a force in California. Shaq Evans, Wood, Clausen, Crist, Fauria, Te'o, Martin, McDonald. Plus, he's been our main man in Ohio with Rudolph, Fox, the McCarthys, and Brandon Walker. Not a bad haul. For all the criticism that this guy gets, he's hands down our best recruiter and a valuable member of the staff. If we didn't have Polian on this staff, it's very possible that we would be in serious trouble on the recruiting front. Polian deserves a ton of credit.
It is amazing to me that the two coaches who get the most heat on the staff are the two best recruiters: Polian and Ianello. Ianello has cleaned up in the Minnesota/Chicago areas, and he is going to be the main guy in the Seantrel Henderson sweepstakes. I certainly am not in any rush to shove either of those guys out the door. Heck, I'm hoping we don't lose them to other schools! If I was a team looking for a coordinator/head recruiter position, I'd probably be looking at those guys and offering up big dollars.
Can't wait to head to Lowe's before the season starts next year to pick up a fence and bring it to South Bend! De-FENSE!