A year ago the Notre Dame staff identified the defensive end position as priority for the 2011 recruiting class. As signing day came and went, there's no doubt that they were able to not only meet, but exceed their goals. The Irish signed six players that will start their Notre Dame careers at defensive end. Throughout the spring, summer and fall the coaches will evaluate the group and more players accordingly.
Stephon Tuitt is a kid that will thrive at Notre Dame academically, socially and athletically. He really is a very good fit for what Notre Dame asks from its student-athletes. Tuitt grew up playing basketball, and eventually made his way to the gridiron his freshman year of high school. After a year of learning the game, Stephon blossomed into a force on the defensive side of the ball and a prospect everyone wanted to sign.
Kelly on Tuitt : "We're excited about what his upside is. He's a young man that's only going to get better and better and better as he develops physically. He's all of 6-foot-5, and I don't know if he's done growing. He moves extremely well at left defensive end coming off the edge. He has the ability to close. He's a pretty unique player. He's a young man that's going to get coached and he's going to develop once he steps on campus here. He's just learning how to play the game."
Brad Carrico was the first commitment of this recruiting class. He comes from Dublin Coffman High School, the same school that produced Brady Quinn and Chinedum Ndukwe. Carrico is a motor guy. He plays whistle to whistle. He's the type of player that you don't like to play against, because he'll battle you all day long. He could play multiple positions on offense or defense. Being an early enrollee, it won't be long until we find out where the staff sees him fitting best.
Kelly on Carrico: "Great young man. He's a power player for us. He's somebody that can play on either side of the ball and has been recruited as such. He comes from a great high school. He's a good, physical player at the power position for us gives us great flexibility."
Chase Hounshell is very similar to Carrico in the sense that he could play multiple positions on offense and defense. Chase is a player that could stay on defense and develop into a player similar to Sean Cwyanr… a player that can play both defensive end and nose tackle. He's got a great attitude and he's the type of player you need in a program to be successful.
Kelly on Hounshell: "He's somebody that gives us great versatility, great motor. Continues to play right to the whistle. He's a very tough and aggressive kid. He takes great care of himself. He's physically in great shape. He just has all those components that we're looking for in our defensive linemen. Very conscious of his body and taking care of himself and plays the game from sideline to sideline and never takes a play off."
Bishop Dwenger continues to add to the Notre Dame roster with Tony Springmann. Tony was initially recruited as an offensive tackle, but the staff altered their plan for Tony and offered him a spot as a defensive end. He's a big, long rangy player in the mold of former Irish great Jeff Alm. Tony is a high-character kid that embodies what Notre Dame is all about.
Kelly on Springmann: "He's Power guy for us, 6-foot-6, 275-pounds, and he's all of that. He's another young man who will fit in here very well at Notre Dame. He gives us great versatility. He's one big, young man… great size. I think that's a pretty common theme across the board that we've increased our size immediately on the defensive line."
Troy Niklas was the cherry on top of an already very good defensive line haul. Niklas committed to Notre Dame over the USC Trojans on signing day. Niklas might be the best athlete of all the defensive linemen. He is versatile enough that he could play even play tight end.
Kelly on Niklas: "A big skill player for us. The L.A. Times Lineman of the Year in 2010. He's just a really physical specimen relative to what he can be and where he is right now. He can just do all the jobs at a number of positions for us. He loves to play. A big physical presence, a guy that can run and get to the quarterback. With that size, you can chase down the quarterback."
Aaron Lynch is probably the player in this group that is most likely to stay on the defensive side of the ball. He's a big, powerful athletic player that is ideal for the ‘3-4' defense that Notre Dame runs. Tony Alford did a tremendous job of staying on top of his recruitment and eventually flipping him back to the Irish. Lynch is already on campus and my pick as the defensive play most likely to make an impact as a freshman.
Kelly on Lynch: "I think what you'll find about Aaron is just plays relentless. I mean, he keeps coming. There will be a lot of things that we'll be able to develop. He's not even hit where he can be as a defensive lineman. He's just playing with raw athletic ability, being tenacious all the time, and he's always getting after it. We'll be able to develop him in his skill at that position as well."
Ishaq Williams was a huge commitment for the Irish. His commitment took the defensive unit from very good to outstanding. Like Lynch, Williams is already on campus and he has the ability to make an impact early. Ishaq is an intelligent, thoughtful, dedicated young man. He as goals and is focused. Expect this player to be on the field early. Ishaq will likely start out at the "Dog" outside linebacker spot.
Kelly on Williams: "A young man that has great versatility, played in the Army All American game. Just a great young man. He's just so quick. He can obviously do a lot of things for us. Not only is he 242-pounds, but he can run very, very well. You're not going to run boot on him. Pretty athletic player that he's going to be able to redirect and make the play."
Anthony Rabasa is a hard-working, physical, punishing player that will get after it, play after play. Rabasa's best work is done coming off the edge and getting after the quarterback. He played his football in Miami against top athletes and he dominated. Anthony will likely fit into the "Dog" outside linebacker position.
Kelly on Rabasa: "Another young man that we believe, when you look at his film, his motor, his ability to go every snap really was what we loved about him. His first step quickness is pretty apparent as he comes off the edge against pretty good competition. You see him with his hand down quite a bit. He's a guy that can obviously stand up for us as well and gives us great flexibility. He's going to get bigger, he's going to get stronger."
Ben Councell is a player that is just starting to tap into his potential. He didn't play football early in his life and then once he did it was evident that he had a lot of potential. Councell has good speed, and he'll pursue the ball all over the field. Councell will likely settle in at the "Cat" linebacker position in Notre Dame's "3-4" defense.
Kelly on Councell: "Another one of those players that we felt was under the radar, and then he had an opportunity to play with some all stars in an All Star game, and I think at that point he got everybody's attention. He had our attention from the very beginning. We felt like he fit exactly what we're looking for. If you look at our board, he was at the top of our board from the very beginning of the recruiting process. This is a young man that we felt was going to be a great fit for us. "
Jarrett Grace is a guy that seemed to be forgotten by many of the Notre Dame recruiting fans, but this kid might be as good as any of the linebackers in this class. Grace is the player that completes the linebacker unit. He is big, physical, disciplined player that will play on the inside of the defense. He get Notre Dame and is a perfect fit for the university.
Kelly on Grace: "I think he's a combination of things we were looking for. He really understands Notre Dame. He understands the academics. He wants to be here, to be part of a championship program, and he's a big, physical presence inside in our ‘3-4' defense."
Notre Dame is fortunate to have Eilar Hardy in this recruiting class. When he made his initial visit, he didn't walk away feeling connected to the school. His parents encouraged his to take one more visit. He did that, and this time he left wanting to be a part of the university. Hardy is a versatile player that could play either cornerback or safety for the Irish.
Kelly on Hardy: He doesn't just wait for something to happen, he goes and makes it happen. We love the way he goes and gets the ball. He's going to go make a play. He's not waiting for a play to happen. He's physical. He sticks his nose in there. He brings all the qualities necessary for very good defensive back. A young man that we loved his character and the way he handled himself from the very beginning.
Josh Atkinson didn't have any interceptions his senior season, but he also didn't have one pass completed against him. He's a ballhawk. He's a physical player on the corner that has the ability to turn and run with receivers. He'll get a look at cornerback, but he could also get a look at safety.
Kelly on Atkinson: "Great speed. 10.6 100 guy. He plays very physical…great tackler. You can see here in the open field, very sure tackler. Plays very, very aggressively. He plays very physical on the defensive side of the ball and has great speed."
Matthias Farley is another player that is just scratching the surface when it comes to his football potential. Farley is likely the fastest player in the class, but he's only play two years of football. Farley understands that he'll need time to develop in a college football program. Matthias will likely start out or cornerback, but can also play safety.
Kelly on Farley: "If there's one guy in the skill group that physically, when he walks in here, he looks like a college football player. He has that presence about him. A great young man, with great speed. He's a young man that can be extremely versatile. He can play at the corner position, the safety position, or he can play wide receiver. We'll kind of sort that out as we move forward."
Like all the other defensive backs in this class, Jalen Brown will start out at cornerback and then could slide back to safety if the coaches see that as a better fit for him. Brown committed to Notre Dame without seeing campus, but he said that he already knew plenty about the school. Brown is an outstanding kid that will thrive at Notre Dame.
Kelly on Brown: "We believe that this guy is destined for great things, and if you want to put a tag on anybody in a class, here's a steal in our opinion. He kind of flew under the radar a little bit for us. He has the ability to tackle in space, plays very physical as he gets to the point of contact. Again, he can come up on you. He can shed blocks. He's a young man that will fit very well in our two deep coverage looks."