June 04, 2010

White Kinda Guys: A concerning early trend for Brian Kelly's recruiting at Notre Dame?? Are we becoming the rich man's Stanford???

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. What about nine pictures??

I don't want to raise any red flags here, but is that a collage of our current lacrosse recruits or the football recruits?? I know every team is going to have some white guys, but even BYU would be impressed with our early returns.

I realize it's very early in the recruiting game of course (and we could be hearing from some "athletes" in the very near future who could change the face (literally) of this recruiting class), but it almost feels like the elephant in the room right now regarding Coach Kelly's recruits is that we are loading up on white guys by the truckload. 7 out of 8 from last year and 8 out of 9 so far this year.

Some things to keep in mind though. Seems like the guys who commit early to a place like ND tend to be more self-selector types who know they fit in academically and culturally, and that leads to....well....more white guys. For the most part, our early commits are guys who "get" ND so to speak, and several probably always dreamed of going to ND. Guys like Carrico and Grace and Springmann don't really need a coach to talk to them about the weather in South Bend. They already know what it's like to live in the Midwest.

So in some sense, it's probably unfair to judge Brian Kelly at this point because we're mainly judging him on the sure thing types who might not be the big fish that Kelly is targeting later in this class (guys like Lynch and French, etc). I actually like how Brian Kelly approaches recruiting, so I don't want to minimize the work he's already done on the trail. I have mentioned on this blog several times since he was hired that Coach Kelly would prove to be a more effective recruiter than Charlie Weis. Kelly is targeting specific body types, skill sets, and character traits to find guys he can mold into good football players instead of going after guys who peak in their junior year of high school.

Just looking at the guys we have brought in thus far in terms of size:

Brad Carrico - 6'6", 255
Jarrett Grace - 6'4, 235
Conor Hanratty - 6'4, 305
Matthew Hegarty - 6'5", 265
Ben Koyack - 6'5", 230
Jordan Prestwood - 6'6", 280
Tony Springmann - 6'6", 257"
Mathias Farley - 6'2", 197
Kyle Brindza - 6'2", 195 (he's a kicker....what do you expect?)

That's a bunch of big rangy guys. Maybe not the most athletic group right there, but quality size and depth is something that we need going forward. I watched Ohio State go 9-10 deep last year on the defensive line, and it made a dramatic difference in their defense. And not every guy in that rotation was some stud. They had a few Tony Springmann types in there, but those guys came in for short stints and contributed.

The other obstacle that Brian Kelly is facing is what I've been calling "Rich Man's Stanford syndrome." If you think of Stanford football, what do you think of?? Offensive players, cerebral guys, good QB, good TE, a bunch of a smart, hardnosed white guys on the OL, 1-2 quality pass catching options, but not a ton of athleticism or nasty defensive players. Stanford trots out like 8 white starters on defense (or so it seems). Add it all up, and it translates to decent teams that win a lot of shootouts.

Isn't that kind of what we have been trending towards on the recruiting trail in the last decade or so?? We still get elite players at the following positions:


Why?? It's tough to say, but two theories:

1) It seems like the more cerebral types tend to come from the offensive side of the ball.

2) We still have the national cache of being Notre Dame, so offensive recruits are still attracted to the idea of putting up numbers on national tv every week. Plus, having Willingham (people forget that everyone was excited about the west coast offense at first) and Weis as head coaches helped us with offensive recruits.

If you look back at those five positions, it seems like we attract elite talent for the most part. We get a top QB recruit about three out of every five years (e.g. Crist, Clausen, Quinn from 2003-2008) and a top TE recruit virtually every year (Koyack, Rudolph, Ragone, Reuland, Fauria, etc). We typically get a good OL recruiting haul (generally 4 stars and up for everyone), and always get 1-2 blockbuster WR/RB recruits every year (Floyd, Julius Jones, Golden Tate, etc).

For the most part, the success we've had recruiting those positions has shown up on NFL Draft day. Our last two starting QBs (Quinn and Clausen) were both 1st and 2nd rounders. Fasano and Carlson were 2nd rounders, and Rudolph will probably be a 1st or 2nd rounder. Tate was a 2nd rounder. Floyd will be a 1st or 2nd round guy.

Add up our strength at those positions, and it's a borderline top 10 recruiting class just about every year for us. But look between the lines for a bit, and it's easy to wonder if our recruiting classes are really producing the balance and depth that you need to be a great football team. As important as it is to recruit QBs, only one guy is playing. Bringing in a 4/5 star QB every year and having two on the bench with another one transferring doesn't really do much for the football team. Same with TE. We bring in a top 5 TE every year, but the majority of these guys transfer. So looking back at our classes from the past few years, they are littered with high-profile QB and TE recruits who never sniffed the field (Demetrius Jones, Reuland, Frazer, Fauria, etc).

I am all for getting o-line recruits, but OL recruiting seems like a giant crapshoot unless you are a talking about the elite of the elites like a Seantrel Henderson/Michael Oher type. You see a lot of OL who were 2 star TEs who suddenly fill out and turn into All-Americans in college. And you see an equal number of 4 stars who never blocked a guy their size until they got to college and couldn't handle it.

So our natural strengths at certain positions on the recruiting trail sort of works against us in terms of producing quality football teams. Kelly would probably gladly trade our strengths at OL and TE to grab up 6 super stud defensive players, but right now he's gotta take what he can get. And that typically means highly-ranked OL/QB/TE/WR/RB recruits, white guys, and kids with 3.8 grade point averages.

Let's start looking at some other positions on the football field. How many times have we had a player from the following positions drafted in the first couple rounds in recent history??

Off the top of my head:

DL - Abiamiri, Weaver, Tuck
DT - Laws
LB - Courtney Watson?
C - Jeff Burris? (yikes)
S - (crickets chirping)

I mean, that's going back 10-15 years there, and the list is pretty paltry. We haven't had an elite corner or safety or linebacker on our roster in almost two decades (Te'o is probably the first since....well....Demetrius Dubose?). I don't care what the recruiting rankings say. I'm judging it by what we see on the field. We don't have a ton of athleticism on our roster and haven't in a long time. If you think we have big time athleticism, turn on an SEC game. The difference is noticeable. Or watch Texas' defensive players. It's jawdropping. We all love Te'o (and rightfully so), but all the players on Texas' defense are Te'o types. The kinda guys who can get sideline to sideline and make big sticks and super athletic plays.

Hence the rich man's Stanford comparisons. We might get more higher-caliber guys than Stanford and a few athletes that they wouldn't get, but it's hard to be an elite team when the only real elite guys we have on the roster are offensive skill guys and the occasional offensive linemen.

Brian Kelly has to fight that perception for now. He has an easy sell for QBs, WRs, TE, OL, but the only way to start pulling in Texas type depth and talent on defense is for Kelly to win. Big. And get some help from admissions. If Kelly does that, he has the type of personality to really get something going at ND. But it's an uphill battle on the trail right now.

Recruiting rankings can't be taken at face value sometimes. Lots of these stud SEC players were non-qualifiers or hidden gems because of a lack of exposure in high school. Doesn't mean they can't play. If you watched us play LSU in the Sugar Bowl or USC during these last eight years, you can see that coaching was not the only problem. To play with the big boys, we need more big time athletes.

The good news is that Brian Kelly seems like one of those coaches who can win with anyone's players. Cincinnati was not exctly stacked with talent, and he found a way to go 34-6 in three years. He took 2 stars and moved them around and coached them up, and it worked. He might be able to take ND's roster strengths to produce great offensive teams and coach up defense and special teams with projects and overachievers.

In fact, that's probably a model for success at ND these days. Score a lot of points with great offensive recruits and then take a chance on big rangy guys who could grow into productive defensive players and linemen with proper coaching. Sound familiar to what a certain coach is already doing??

And the recruiting season is far from over. We have 9 commits, and I would expect to add another 10-11 more guys (maybe more with Spencer Boyd transferring). Plenty of time to reel in some highly-regarded guys. Heck, Michigan only has 4 recruits right now. If Kelly can start out the 2010 season strong, that might give us a big boost on the trail going into the homestretch for the 2011 class.

Just a guess, but I'd say we add 1 QB, 3 RB/WR athletes, 1 OL, 3-4 DL/DE/OLB types, and 3-4 DBs. Really need DBs, and hopefully one of them breaks that streak of seasons since we've had a corner/safety go in the first two rounds of the NFL Draft. And hopefully we get at least one stud athlete in the front seven like a Justin Tuck type.

Add it all up, and it's probably a top 10-15 class on paper. Looks like the makings of a rich man's Stanford class if I've ever seen one, but hopefully we have the right coach now to get the most out of that roster.


Anonymous said...

well kelly did say he wanted to return the fighting irish to their roots. Maybe he meant it literally

Anonymous said...

I agree with what you're saying, but I think there is enough non-white talent on the defense right now. Even if Kelly coaches them up, will they still not be elite? Probably, but we have the ability to be very good. This inability to recruit top defenders has been more recent (since 2000-ish), whereas before then it always seemed like ND could field great defenses and run the ball well, but no big passing game or elite qb's and wr's.

I think we're better off where we are now (definitely an "offense" school) where we can put together amazing offenses. Do we really want to go into a BCS game against a team like Florida with a weak offense? I don't think there's many college champions who are completely dominant defenses and okay offenses. It's mostly super talented offenses.

It's not like we're Texas Tech either, we've got some great players on defense. Our defensive line and linebackers are pretty strong right now. Johnson, KLM, Williams, Stockton, Nwankwo, Nix, Hafis, Cwynar and Newman. Only one white guy...and he could be good.

Te'o, Filer, Fleming, Smith with a few solid athletic linebacker/edge rushers coming in as freshman...pretty nice.

The biggest problem has probably been safety and less so, corner. ND desperately needs at least one elite safety. McCarthy, Zibby, Bruton...all decent guys back there but not game-changers at all. The Irish need a ball hawking safety who can stop the run yet break up passes at a top level. The run defense got beat up last year, but just about every team could throw the ball on us. Way too many 3rd and longs given up. With good safetys that doesn't happen.

That's going to be Kelly's main problem next year I think. We'll tackle better, we get more sacks and toughen up against the run. But good teams will still probably move the ball through the air.

I think about a team like Iowa and I know Notre Dame can field a very good defense. We have to, the talent is there. Maybe we'll look back at Davie/Willingham/Weis and it will all seem so simple...they weren't good coaches who inspired confidence and winning. Brian Kelly does exactly that. He's got to love the talent he's dealing with now. Depth is obviously a huge concern, you're spot on, and the secondary is the biggest issue right now. He's gotta get two or three really fast and hard hitting recruits back there.

On paper we're much more talented defensively than everyone on our schedule, except USC and possibly Pitt. Out of the top 25, there's probably 12 that are more talented. ND should be favored against 9 or 10 teams. Kelly just went 34-6 or whatever it is, favored in how many games? 9-3 shouldn't even be a surprise next year as far as I'm concerned. We're much closer to winning big BCS games than most realize. Steele's 16th ranking might be perfect this season. ND could go 10-3, maybe lose against a team like Miami in a bowl, but that might bring a top 10 ranking in 2011...it could happen.

Rob RVC said...

Really well said, the recruiting season is young so no need to stress at this point. But I couldn't agree more about how we only have one ELITE player on D (T'eo).
The best example I have of our D not being close to elite was just watching Taylor Mays Live. This guy FLEW around the field. Oh yea he was the size of a Linebacker. The fact that he was a 2nd rounder amazed me.
We need to get those sideline to sideline players. I like what BK is doing getting the "RKG" but nonetheless we need ELITE players on D. Im all for getting the "RKG" they provide a very strong nucleus for a team. But do those guys go to BCS games consistently. No. So Kelly have to find the median between his type of players and the big studs who cover tons of ground.

Also I have to say you guys do an excellent job with the site. I enjoy the posts and the passion for ND.
Keep up the good work!

Jimmy said...

Great post Doug. Have to play the accuracy police on you though. I know you're asking for 1st and 2nd round pro talent in the NFL, but we've had more NFL depth than you're admitting.

Bruton - 4th
Zbikowski - 3rd (and contributing to a top defense in the Ravens)
Tuck - 3rd (how'd he slip that far??)
Glenn Earl - 4th (the best safety we've had in the last 6 years)
Vontez Duff - 6th (solid CB who was also the last great kick returner)
Shane Walton - 5th (the last good cover corner)
Gerome Sapp - 6th (solid run stopping safety)
Rocky Boiman - 4th (decent contributor in the pros)
Tyreo Harrison - 6th (underrated at ND, but steady)
Brock Williams - 3rd
Allen Rossum - 3rd
Bert Berry - 3rd (and he's blossomed into a great pro)
Kinnon Tatum - 3rd (name was always better than his play, but still a high pick)
Paul Grasmanis - 4th
Bobby Taylor - 2nd (the last stalwart DB who was equally great in the NFL)

That's as far back as I'll go before getting into the heyday of Holtz' classes. You're absolutely right that there haven't been All-Americans lining up every year on the other side of the ball. But you can't make it seem like Abiamiri, Weaver, Tuck, Laws and Watson have been the only productive players to come through the pipe.

Kelly has his work cut out for him molding this defensive unit into a sum greater than its parts. But there are some good parts in the mix.

Anonymous said...

Kelly Is offering a Good mix of black and white players ... He cant control for the most part who commits . He isnt just offering the black super athletes and then calling it a Day . He is recruiting them just as hard as he has recruited the white guys that have all ready committed . If He can start off strong in the beginning of the season ( and I think he will and am very happy with The coach we got ) We are going to see a huge in fusion of great black and white players wanted to come to ND The guy has had LITTLE Time relative to what it takes to build strong relationships with kids he is recruiting and has done a DAMN Good JOB .. I dont Think there is another coach out there I want at ND ( That would actually take the JOB )...... Tommy From cocoa beach Florida GOOO IRISH