March 31, 2009
2006 Recruiting Flashback
Rewind back to the fall of 2005. The Irish are riding high in Charlie Weis' first season, on their way to a Fiesta Bowl appearance in January 2006. Excitement was not restricted to the playing field, however, as Weis began to show his tireless recruiting chops, crisscrossing the country to land his first full class. A consensus Top 10 group (#5 - Scout, #8 - Rivals) and one of the biggest classes in ND history (post-scholarship reduction), the 2006 class was lauded as the foundation on which Weis would return the Irish to the glory days.
Now that the class of 2006 is entering its 4th year on campus, its time to take a look back to measure the impact of Weis' first full class, and also offer some predictions on individuals who will contribute to the Irish in 2009.
Scout: 3-star, #34 QB
Rivals: 4-star, #2 QB (Dual Threat)
(#54 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in IL)
Offers: OSU, Tennessee, Louisville
1 game played (2007 Georgia Tech)
1-3, 4 yards passing
12 rushes, 28 yards
2 fumbles lost
Transfer to Cincinnati
The poster boy for the disaster that was the 2007 season, Jones' story is well-documented throughout the interwebs, so I'll spare Irish fans a repeat of the distasteful saga. Jones came to ND with much fanfare. The #1 player in Illinois to Rivals, DJ was a signal that Weis would focus his attention on the traditional recruiting ground of the greater Chicago area that had been largely ignored by his predecessors, particulary Willingham. Praised for his leadership abilities, Jones was tabbed as the successor to Brady Quinn and Charlie's guinea pig for the horrendous attempt to bring the read option to South Bend.
Irish fans received a bit of closure to the Jones saga with the recent news that DJ would be moving to OLB for the Bearcats, effectively signaling the end of his QB career. Many depth chart engineers among the ND faithful had predicted an eventual move to WR or S for the talented athlete from Morgan Park once he reached campus. Looks like they were right.
Scout: 4-star, #9 QB
Rivals: 4-star, #9 QB (Pro Style)
(Rivals 250, #10 Player in PA)
Offers: PSU, UCONN, Louisville, Georgia Tech
Transfer to Connecticut
Frazer set passing records in Pennsylvania during his junior year of HS, but his future was clearly written on the wall as soon as Jimmy Clausen verbally committed to ND at the College Football Hall of Fame. To his credit, Frazer handled the situation as well as could be expected, and ended up with Randy Edsall and the Huskies. Injuries allowed Frazer to see some serious playing time during his first year in Storrs, starting against UNC and Rutgers, and appearing in several other games as well.
Frazer will have the opportunity to obtain some measure of revenge against his former teammates as the Huskies come to South Bend on November 21.
Scout: 5-star, #7 RB
Rivals: 5-star, #3 RB
(#27 in Rivals 100, #1 Player in IN)
Offers: OSU, Nebraska, Iowa
249 rushes, 988 yards, 3 TDs
8 receptions, 31 yards
1 Kick Return, 15 yards
Lost in the mix somewhat, Aldridge was one of the biggest recruits of the class, as evidenced by Rivals' ranking as the #3 RB in the country. Aldridge has never seemed to fully recover from the major knee injury suffered during his senior year and has seemingly lost some of the explosiveness that garnered the 5-star rankings. Aldridge has improved every year, and at times, looked like the most effective RB in the Irish rotation in 2008.
Rumors of a move to FB/H-back have been confirmed by spring practice reports, as Aldridge has been working in sets as both tailback and fullback. Should he continue to try his hand as a fullback, he will certainly be more likely to see the field in 2009.
Scout: 3-star, #38 RB
Rivals: 3-star, #25 RB
(#6 Player in MO)
Offers: Nebraska, Missouri, MSU, Iowa
15 rushes, 21 yards (2006)
3 tackles (2007)
Transfer to Missouri
Famously referred to as "Whoosh" by Weis following apparent impressive performances in practice, Prince couldn't find his way onto the playing field, thanks mostly to the steady Darius Walker. Moved to the secondary where he again found himself lost on the depth chart. Mutually beneficial transfer to Missouri where he is listed as the #3 CB on the depth chart for 2009.
Scout: 4-star, #26 RB
Rivals: 3-star, #4 FB
(#3 Player in IN)
Offers: Oklahoma, Purdue, Louisville
2 carries, 6 yards (2007)
3 receptions, 16 yards
Off Team Due to Concussions
The first of several recruits in this class also targeted by Bob Stoops and the Sooners, Schmidt matriculated to ND following an impressive Indiana high school career. Recruitniks hoped Schmidt could revive the dormant fullback/power back position at ND that had made a brief resurgence with Rashon Powers-Neal in 2005. Schmidt was also given the chance to step into the TE/H-Back position, but several concussions during the 2008 season effectively ended his career.
Scout: 3-star, #52 WR
Rivals: 3-star, #74 WR
(#9 Player in New England)
Offers: BC, Syracuse, Wisconsin
Appeared on Special Teams
Given Weis' penchant for undersized, no-name WRs during his OC years with the Patriots, it wasn't difficult for ND fans to envision good things for Gallup out of the slot position. But talent in the classes in front (Stovall, McKnight, Shark, Grimes) and behind (Kamara, Tate, Floyd) left few opportunities to see the field. Gallup has played sparingly on special teams, and moved to tailback during spring practice 2008. Given the depth chart, unlikely to have much of an impact for the remainder of his career.
Scout: 3-star, #63 WR
Rivals: 4-star, #25 WR
(#40 Player in FL)
Offers: Miami, Pitt, South Carolina, Clemson
Transfer to Central Florida
Irish fans were excited when Weis went down into Florida and took away a WR prospect from the likes of the Miami Hurricanes. Unfortunately, a combination of injuries and drops, coupled with the subsequent talented recruiting classes left Jackson without much of an opportunity to get on the field. Transfer #4 from the 2006 class.
Scout: 3-star, #44 WR
Rivals: 3-star, #64 WR
(#24 Player in OH)
Offers: Michigan, Iowa, BC
39 receptions, 418 yards, 1 TD
Parris displayed amazing hands in his recruiting videos, and during his career at powerhouse Cleveland St. Ignatius, reminding Irish fans of another lanky WR who was adding to his own legend in Soth Bend during the 2005 season. Given the opportunity to get in the mix during the abominable 2007 season, Parris had flashes of competency coupled with some terrible drops and was essentially passed up by younger receivers in later classes.
With Floyd and Tate locked in to the two primary WR positions, Parris is certainly in the mix for a complementary role. In fact, at times throughout the 2008 seasons, he looked like the #1 option as a #3 wideout. Will be prominently involved in one of the more interesting position battles this spring.
Scout: 3-star, #100 WR
Rivals: 3-star, #53 ATH
(#12 Player in OK)
Offers: Texas Tech, Kansas, Baylor
1 carry, 11 yards, 1 TD
1 reception, 6 yards
14 Kick Returns, 306 yards
1 Punt Return, 6 yards
Another waterbug-type WR, West scored the first time he touched the ball, on an end around against Purdue in 2006. The remainder of his contributions have come on special teams, including a few solid kickoff returns.
Should provide good depth for the return corps in 2009, but unlikely to make much more of an impact beyond special teams.
Scout: 5-star, #2 TE
Rivals: 4-star, #3 TE
(#81 in Rivals 100, #13 Player in CA)
Offers: USC, Miami, Nebraska
Transfer to Stanford
One of two recruiting battles against SC won by Weis, Reuland was passed on the depth chart by his classmate, Yeatman, and later by Mike Ragone of the 2007 class. Reading the writing on the wall, Reuland transferred to the Farm and will be eligible to face the Irish in Palo Alto this year.
Scout: 3-star, #38 TE
Rivals: 3-star, #39 TE
(#94 Player in CA)
Offers: Michigan, Nebraska, Arizona, Maryland
8 receptions, 43 yards
Transfer to Maryland
His blocking chops allowed him to move ahead of Konrad Reuland and slide in behind John Carlson as the #2 TE. Seemingly destined for an All-American lacrosse career to go along with his football exploits, Yeatman found himself in trouble with the notorious Residence Life office at ND, earning a suspension for his troubles. Strike two, an off-campus party during the 2008 season, resulted in his effective "expulsion" and a transfer to Maryland.
While this is neither the time nor the place to debate the disciplinary policies of Our Lady's university, Yeatman's absence during 2008 opened the door for Kyle Rudolph to step in and make an immediate impact. However, it also left a gaping hole for Weis' two-TE sets, resulting in several disastrous short-yardage plays throughout the course of the season. In my book, Yeatman's transfer has hurt more than any other.
Scout: 3-star, #35 TE
Rivals: 3-star, #23 TE
(#10 Player in MO)
Offers: Nebraska, Missouri, MSU, Ole Miss
Moved to DL: One tackle in career
Mullen arrived to campus as a man without a position. A glut of TEs guaranteed some creative depth chart engineering. Mullen was moved to the defensive line almost immediately upon his arrival. Packing on more than 30 pounds, Mullen has transformed himself to try to make a positive contribution to the Irish.
Large holes in the interior defensive line have allowed Mullen to fight for playing time, and this could be the year that he works himself into the rotation.
Scout: 4-star, #52 OL
Rivals: 3-star, #29 OT
(#6 Player in AK)
Offers: Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Arkansas
Shoulder injury required career-ending surgery
One of the members of the legendary Springdale, AK high school class that included Mitch Mustain, Webb suffered a career-ending injury, derailing a promising career and leaving a hole at the tackle position. As an interesting sidenote, Webb's former HS teammate (Mustain) was reportedly considering the Irish during his recruitment. Although rumors suggested Mustain was prepared to commit to ND himself, Weis chose to honor the scholarships given to Frazer and Jones.
Scout: 5-star, #2 OL
Rivals: 5-star, #1 OT
(#11 in Rivals 100, #2 Player in FL)
Offers: USC, Florida, Miami, Michigan
Has started every game since stepping foot on campus. RT incumbent.
Undoubtedly the #1 recruit in the class, Young was perhaps the most sought-after OL target in the country. Perhaps more out of necessity than anything else, Young earned a start in the 2006 opener against Georgia Tech at RT and has started every game since. A wildly unsuccessful switch to LT in 2007 and continuing spurts of inconsistency have led many to label him as a disappointment.
Has emerged as one of the leaders of the team after his famous late-night visit to the JACC for a heart-to-heart with Weis during the 2007 season. Hopefully more comfortable after moving back to his more natural RT position in 2008. Expecting huge things from the senior in 2009.
Scout: 4-star, #49 OL
Rivals: 4-star, #6 OT
(Rivals 250, #2 Player in NY)
Offers: Miami, BC, Virginia, Syracuse
Started 6 games in 2007, and all 13 in 2008. LG incumbent.
Flew under the radar a bit when compared with his classmates, but has emerged as one of the better linemen on the team. Slid into a starting role at the end of 2007 and started every game during 2008. Sports one of the meaner streaks on the team, but plagued by occasional bouts of inconsistency.
Expected to anchor the interior again in 2009, Olsen should be one of the biggest beneficiaries of (hopefully) better technique-focused coaching from new OL coach Frank Verducci.
Scout: 4-star, #10 OL
Rivals: 4-star, #5 OT
(Rivals 250, #1 Player in MN)
Offers: Florida, Miami, Iowa, Minnesota
Transfer to Minnesota during 2007 season.
Carufel is Exhibit A for the "ND is not for everyone" axiom. Apparently homesick throughout much of his first year on campus, Carufel never fit in on campus and went home during the 2007 season. Damaging transfer on the surface considering the extreme need for O-linemen on the awful 2007 squad, Carufel's departure opened the door for fellow ex-classmates Eric Olsen and Chris Stewart.
Scheduled to man a starting spot for the Gophers this year. Good luck to Carufel, another in a long line of great prospects from Cretin-Derham Hall.
Scout: 4-star, #42 OL
Rivals: 4-star, #11 OG
(Rivals 250, #31 Player in TX)
Offers: Nebraska, Texas A&M, Oklahoma St.
Saw action in 6 games in 2007. Took over at RG in 2008. RG incumbent.
A mountain of a man when he reported to campus, Stewart was a pet project of Ruben Mendoza, who has transferred the big man from Texas into a serviceable interior lineman. Manning the RG spot for the 2008 year, Stewart had his share of highs and lows, culminating in a nice performance in the Hawaii Bowl where he showed his athleticism by leading Armando Allen into the end zone on a screen pass in the 2nd half.
Expected to battle for his job with Trevor Robinson this year, Stewart is another who will greatly benefit from some improved coaching. Along with Sam Young, should make for a formidable right side of the line.
Scout: 4-star, #20 OL
Rivals: 4-star, #3 C
(Rivals 250, #35 Player in FL)
Offers: Florida, Oklahoma, PSU, Pitt
Played in 8 games in 2007. Starting C in 2008. Incumbent C.
Joined his HS teammate, Sam Young (St. Thomas Aquinas in FL) by making the trek to South Bend. Took over for John Sullivan at C during the nightmare 2007 season, and started every game in 2008. Also plagued with bouts of inconsistency, Wenger will not only benefit from the Verducci effect, but also some competition provided by those behind him, namely Braxston Cave and Mike Golic, Jr.
Must improve, particularly in the run game, if this line (and the team) is to make the necessary steps to become a more consistent and powerful squad in 2009.
Scout: 4-star, #17 DE
Rivals: 3-star, #10 WDE
(#18 Player in OH)
Offers: BC, Illinois, Kentucky
Hasn't registered a tackle.
Perhaps a victim of the constantly switching philosophies on defense, Wade has had 3 different defensive coordinators during his career thus far, none of whom has found a spot for him. Bouncing back and forth between a DE and OLB spot, Wade appears to have been passed by more talented and younger athletes in the classes behind him.
Here's hoping Wade can contribute something to the almost non-existent Irish pass rush and provide some punch from his (current) DE spot.
Scout: 3-star, #38 DE
Rivals: 3-star, #31 SDE
(#16 Player in OH)
Offers: MSU, BC, Maryland, Syracuse
50 tackles (6 TFL), 3 sacks, 2 Pass Breakups, and 2 Fumble Recoveries
Another product of the legendary Cleveland St. Ignatius, Ryan has had something of a checkered career thus far. Somewhat surprisingly (given his rather pedestrian recruiting ranking) thrust into starting roles, both on the defensive line and at an OLB spot, Ryan has been the target of much grumbling amongst Irish fans. Constant nagging injuries, including a shoulder problem that limited his ability to build weight, haven't helped either. However, when on the field, he has had some spurts of productivity.
Seemingly completely healthy this spring, Ryan has been given the chance to crack the starting lineup, due mostly to other injuries along the line. Here's guessing this is his last good shot to make a positive impression on the ND faithful.
Scout: 3-star, #52 LB
Rivals: 3-star, #15 ILB
(#19 Player in GA)
Offers: Oklahoma, Georgia, Florida, Michigan, Alabama
41 Tackles (1 TFL), 1 Pass Breakup and 1 Fumble Recovery
His offer list screams big-time LB, but Smith has yet to do much in his ND career. Passed by smaller LBs (including Mo Crum and Brian Smith) at the ILB position. Injuries to Brian Smith last year gave him his first real extended shot at playing time. The inability to crack the lineup would seem to speak volumes about the coaches' confidence in his ability to make contributions of a larger scale. Many fans have cited a lack of footspeed as the most likely culprit keeping him on the sidelines.
The move back to a 4-3, and hints that Brian Smith will remain inside, appear to suggest that Smith's time may have come and gone. However, practice reports and a recent Weis interview have suggested that Toryan may be turning heads so far this spring. Corey Mays similarly waited for his chance and made a serious impact during his senior year (2005). Can Smith do the same in 2009?
Scout: 3-star, #64 DE
Rivals: 3-star, #31 OLB
(#28 Player in GA)
Offers: Oklahoma, Florida, Nebraska, Alabama, Va. Tech
18 tackles (3 TFL), 2 sacks
Another LB from Georgia with an impressive offer sheet. Richardson was heralded as the successor to Justin Tuck and Victor Abiamiri, and expected to wreak havoc from the DE position. Alas, his career has also been something of a disappointment. Largely ineffective when on the field, and often benched for curious replacements (John Ryan?) Richardson has been an enigma, wrapped in a riddle...you get the point.
The move back to the traditional 4-3 defense this year may give Mo the opportunity to rush the passer and become the stud DE many expected when he showed up on campus. However, the emergence of Kapron Lewis-Moore and the expected move of Ethan Johnson to the outside might result in another squeeze for Richardson.
Scout: 4-star, #7 CB
Rivals: 4-star, #3 CB
(#51 in Rivals 100, #3 Player in PA)
Offers: Florida, Michigan, PSU, Pitt
36 tackles in 11 starts. 2.5 TFL. 1 INT (for TD vs. PSU). 10 Pass Breakups
5 Kick Returns, 84 yards
One of the more pleasant surprises in the class, Weis was able to snag Walls away from Wanny and Joe Pa. Perhaps the best and most consistent cover corner on the team, Walls played sparingly in 2006, and became a full-time starter in 2007, providing one of the few highlights of the season with his INT return during the PSU game.
Left school during the 2008 season, but has returned and will be battling a host of others to win back his CB spot. Will provide invaluable depth to what should be an incredibly deep group of corners.
Scout: 4-star, #9 CB
Rivals: 4-star, #7 CB
(#74 in Rivals 100, #3 Player in NC)
Offers: Clemson, South Carolina, Virgina
54 tackles (1 TFL), 1 sack, 3 INT, 13 Pass Breakups, 1 Fumble Recovery
Combined with Walls to make up the best CB class in the country. McNeil shone at the Army AA game, shutting down some of the best WR prospects in the nation. Gave many Irish fans a stroke with his 11th hour visit to Gainesville (the first taste of Urban-Poaching). Largely a special teams contributor prior to 2008, McNeil took over for Walls as the #1 cover CB last year. Had some trouble with Hakeem Nicks (who didn't?) but served as a very reliable CB overall.
Slated to continue as one of the starting corners this spring, McNeil, Walls and some of the younger studs (Blanton, Slaughter, etc.) may make CB the strongest position on the team.
Scout: 4-star, #10 S
Rivals: 3-star, #32 S
(#9 Player in IL)
Offers: Nebraska, Illinois, Purdue, Iowa
39 tackles (2 TFL), 1 sack, 6 Pass Breakups, 1 Fumble Recovery
Special Teams Stud with several blocked kicks
After spending most of his career on the special teams units, Brown exploded onto the scene in 2008 as the primary nickel back. Continued to make his presence felt on special teams, especially on punt coverage, registering several punt blocks. Brings a swagger and attitude to the defense that's largely been missing since the Shane Walton years.
Bruton's graduation leaves a hole at one of the safety spots, but Brown will have a battle on his hands with Harrison Smith, Danny McCarthy and other to win a starting job. Given his penchant for blitzing, Tenuta may keep him at a nickel spot and move him around in a "rover" type role. In any event, look for Brown to continue his harassing ways this year.
Scout: 4-star, #20 S
Rivals: 3-star, #34 CB
(#6 Player in KY)
Offers: PSU, Louisville, Kentucky, West Virginia
Now listed as CB on depth chart. No meaningful PT on defense.
Special teams player for several years.
Has appeared largely as a ST contributor for the Irish, with very limited time in the secondary thus far. Will provide depth at both S and CB in 2009, but don't expect him to see much time.
Scout: 3-star, #29 S
Rivals: 3-star, #34 S
(#4 Player in NV)
Offers: Oklahoma, Nebraska, Washington
6 tackles in 2007.
No longer enrolled.
No longer listed on the ND roster, Gaines was primarily a ST player as well.
Scout: 2-star, NR
Rivals: 2-star, #14 K
Offers: Illinois, Indiana, Ball St.
Story has it that Weis offered Kai Forbath, the studly UCLA kicker, but wasn't willing to wait for him to make a decision, and opted for the hometown Burkhart instead. Forbath probably wouldn't have come to ND anyway, but Burkhart has been a disappointment thus far, to put it lightly. Passed by the freshman Brandon Walker in 2007, Burkhart was handed the kickoff duties, which he has handled with mixed results the past two years.
Walker appears to have cemented his place as the primary placekicker, and the signing of Nick Tausch in the 2009 class may signal the end of Burkhart's hold on the kickoff duties.
28 recruits. 10 of whom are no longer on the team, including 7 transfers. While this doesn't come close to the attrition seen in some of the Willingham recruiting classes, losing over 35% of the class seems a bit high, especially in a class ranked in the Top 10 to both services.
So what can we say about this class, 4 years into their time under the Dome? Well, its pretty clear that there's plenty of good and bad to take away.
The offensive line and the defensive backfield (particularly the corners) were seen as the strength of the class, and this has held true 4 years later.
4 of the 5 starting offensive linemen in 2008 came from this class (Young, Wenger, Olsen, Stewart), and (barring injury) the same 4 will likely be starting against Nevada in the fall. Although judging high school offensive line talent is something of a crapshoot, the offer lists from this class suggest that there was little or no dispute that this represented one of, if not the, best offensive line hauls in the country. Those that have remained in the program have made significant (albeit often inconsistent) contributions to the team. All will return this year, and Stewart, Wenger and Olsen should be back again in 2010, providing valuable stability and depth to perhaps the most important position on the field.
Similarly, there was no question that Walls and McNeil would become important players for the Irish. It was only a question of when. Walls played as a freshman in 2006, and became the #1 corner as a sophomore. McNeil had to bide his time, but played well in 2008 and should take his place opposite Walls as 1A this year. Sergio Brown first made his presence felt on special teams, but assumed the role as the primary nickel back in 2008 and was often a menace on the blitz, harassing the QB and batting down passes at the line. Brown, Walls and McNeil will help to make the secondary the strongest part of the 2009 Irish.
The transfers were really more aesthetically displeasing than anything else, however plenty of people in the media and elsewhere argued that the "mass defections" signaled that Weis had lost the team during the 2007 season. The bottom line is that the majority of the transfers were purely due to position squeezes. Only Carufel (apparent homesickness) and Demetrius Jones were sacrificing the potential for playing time by leaving South Bend.
But upon further reflection, it is clear that Weis whiffed badly in the class at the skill positions. Both QBs are gone, and likely wouldn't have played much anyway after Clausen's arrival. Only one member of the backfield remains (Aldridge) and he's been squeezed out of the rotation for the most part, acquiescing to a move to fullback to get on the field. Parris has played sparingly, and at best is a 3rd WR in 2009. Yeatman played early and often, especially in blocking situations but was recruited almost as an afterthought, and forced to transfer.
Defensive line was also a disappointment, especially with the lack of bodies. The popular rumor among the recruiting gurus was that the Irish had Gerald McCoy, he of Oklahoma Sooner fame, all but locked up until a personal issue "forced" him to stay close to home and commit to the Bob Stoops at the 11th hour. We might never know whether this was the case, but missing out on McCoy was perhaps Weis' biggest miss to date. The failure to consider a Plan B at the DT spot was perhaps Weis' first recruiting lesson. The constant changing philosophies on defense probably contributed to the stunting of development amongst Mo Richardson and Kallen Wade, and now that younger, more talented players have been brought into the fold, we may have seen the last of these two DEs.
Giving Sergio Brown the benefit of the doubt, the class has produced 7 starters. If Alrdridge becomes the starter at FB, the number could bump to 8. Given the lofty recruiting rankings and the disastrous 2007 and 2008 seasons, its difficult to judge the class as anything better than disappointing. Some of the blame for the poor offensive line performance can be placed at the feet of the departed John Latina, but there's really no explanation for how so many huge guys with so much obvious talent can be so mediocre.
However, many of these players (save Young, Walls and I believe Sergio Brown) have the potential for a 5th year in 2010, and will have plenty of opportunities to make their mark in Irish lore. Only Paul Duncan, Scott Smith, Kyle McCarthy and Ray Herring remain from the dark days of Willingham, so the team is now almost exclusively made up of Weis recruits who will need to step up and prove their worth.