The Big Board: Back to D?

The conclusion of this week's Big Board update focuses on the defensive side of scrimmage, including the program's newest pledge and the need for more front seven options for the 2014 recruiting cycle. O'Malley breaks down each defensive position inside...

Of Notre Dame's 13 pledges to date, just four reside on the defensive side of scrimmage: a pair of four-star defensive line prospects, Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti, their fellow four-star, linebacker Greer Martini, and the staff's newest addition, OLB/DE prospect Jonathan Bonner, who pledged Irish last week.

Each fills a position of need for future rosters, but more developable talent is needed at crucial defensive positions.

Below is a look at the program's defensive needs by position to fill out the 2014 class. The number in parenthesis denotes baseline need, not necessarily the projected final total.

Defensive Line (4)

Four-star Brooklyn (Poly Prep) OT/DE Jay Hayes announced his pledge to Notre Dame in November 2012. Fellow four-star Andrew Trumbetti (Northern Valley Regional, DeMarest, N.J.) did the same in March 2013.

O'Malley's Analysis: I felt Notre Dame needed four defensive line prospects to join this class prior to the defection of 2013 five-star Eddie Vanderdoes. While that number hasn't changed since, its now true a potential fourth DL is no longer a luxury, but a necessity.

In fact, considering the state of the roster and its guaranteed losses over the next two seasons including Kona Schwenke, Louis Nix, and Stephon Tuitt, plus uncertainty regarding the thrice-injured shoulder of junior Chase Hounshell), Notre Dame will need another four defensive line prospects in 2015 as well.

A stout, interior prospect absolutely must be added to the 2014 class (if not two). Its essential to the process of building future lines at the program reminiscent of the 2012 group that led the Irish to a BCS Championship berth.

The aforementioned Bonner could grow from his current "Cat 'backer" size, 6'3" 249, to a defensive end's frame. (Bonner's room for bulk and strength is reminiscent of current Irish sophomore outside 'backer Romeo Okwara, who at 6'4" 258 pounds, could become a defensive end later in his college career.)

Inside linebacker (2/3)

Three-star Woodberry Forest School (Woodberry, Va) star LB Greer Martini became the staff's first pledge back in July, 2012.

O'Malley's Analysis: I feel the Irish need three total inside 'backer prospects to augment a 2015 roster that will include Jarrett Grace, Michael Deeb, and former walk-on Joe Schmidt. Martini plus one would suffice, except the position would continue to be one of great need entering the 2015 cycle as well.

Incoming 2013 freshman Doug Randolph will likely receive his initial evaluation inside, but moving a pass-rushing athlete inside doesn't' solve a program need for the future, it merely gives him valuable practice time in the present and a more uniform depth chart for game weeks.

Notre Dame cannot conclude its 2014 class with Martini as its only inside linebacker prospect.

Outside Linebacker (1)

Bonner's pledge fills the need, even if he's moved to defensive end, as five current outside 'backers are eligible through 2014; four of those through 2015 or beyond. Pending the growth of Okwara, two outside 'backer prospects could be desired for this cycle, though not necessary.

The addition of Bonner keeps the position healthy heading into the next cycle. If he's the lone OLB recruit, two would then be necessary for '15.

O'Malley Expects: Bonner to play defensive end beginning with his redshirt-freshman season of 2015. The Irish thus need more OLB or Big Skill players to augment this position group in the distant future. OLB is however in good hands for 2014-15 with Okwara, Randolph, Jaylon Smith, Ishaq Williams (2014 eligibility clock) and Ben Councell.

Cornerback (1)

Notre Dame will likely return seven cornerbacks to its 2014 roster, with five from that group eligible through 2015 or beyond. Adding one in 2014, then two, potentially three more in 2015, would keep the position group well-stocked for the modern era.

O'Malley's Analysis: With a projected 23 scholarships available for 2014, adding the luxury of second cornerback to the total wouldn't hurt, as the position's performance historically varies greatly and has a high volatility rate for transfer. (The list of underperforming, previously highly-touted cornerbacks at Notre Dame -- and likely elsewhere -- is long and distinguished.)

Despite more pressing needs up front, top talents, especially players capable of multiple positions (S, CB, RB, WR) will not be turned down -- but marginal 2014 prospects should be.

Safety (0/1)

Each of the team's eight current safeties are eligible through 2014. Any safety pegged to join the Irish program will be of great potential, an athlete capable of multiple positions, or ultra-competitive in nature.

O'Malley Expects: Top talent will always be welcomed, but the Irish can take a one cycle pass on the position without damaging the unit in future seasons. Promising safeties already on campus include Max Redfield, Elijah Shumate, Nicky Baratti, and returning starter Matthias Farley, all of whom are eligible through 2015; Redfield 2016.

Notre Dame will either ink a top tier safety such as Juju Smith, or a safety-LB hybrid that fits in the Big Skill category discussed below.

Big Skill/Athletes (3+)

Kelly's preferred recruiting profile (Big Skill, Skill, and Power) offers possibilities that include a second outside linebacker prospect (in addition to Bonner), a second cornerback (the first still pending), a second tight end (Nic Weishar is the first) or a tight end that could play linebacker, a second running back to augment Elijah Hood (especially one that could project to the defensive backfield), or a high school quarterback that projects elsewhere in college.

O'Malley Expects: Including Bonner, expect the 2014 class to have at least three of its pledges evaluated at multiple positions over their first two seasons with the program, thus, the inclusion of "Big Skill" in our updates.

According to Kelly, 2013 Big Skill signees included Mike Heuerman, Durham Smythe, Jaylon Smith, Doug Randolph, Michael Deeb, Greg Bryant, and Tarean Folston.


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