The Opening Preview: Defense

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Who is Notre Dame’s best bet for a defensive commitment? Who are the names to know at The Opening Finals on that side? Who do we want to see most? Irish Illustrated previews the defense from Oregon.

BEAVERTON, Ore. – Notre Dame could land as many as two more commitments during the 2016 The Opening finals. Those prospects—C.J. Holmes and Robert Hainsey—both play on the offensive side of the ball.

The Irish have targeted nearly two dozen of the defensive players who will compete in Beaverton this weekend. Some of the more intriguing prospects include four-star safety Jaylen Kelly-Powell, four-star defensive end Hunter Echols, five-star linebacker Baron Browning, four-star defensive end Josh Paschal and four-star linebacker Justin Foster.

Kelly-Powell has visited South Bend several times, most recently for the Irish Invasion. Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska and Ohio State appear to be the Irish’s top competition for the talented defensive back. A return visit to South Bend is in the works.

Echols committed to UCLA back in February but he continues to flirt with the Irish and several other schools. Echols plans to take official visits to UCLA, Notre Dame and Nebraska and hasn’t ruled out using all five of his available trips.

Browning and Foster both attended the Irish Invasion and Notre Dame would love to add both to its recruiting class.

Notre Dame is in a heavyweight battle to land Browning’s services. Alabama, Michigan, Ohio State, Oklahoma and USC all have legitimate shots to land the nation’s top linebacker.

Foster named a top seven of Alabama, Clemson, Georgia, Kentucky, Notre Dame, Stanford and Tennessee back in May.

Paschal visited Notre Dame last month and left very impressed with what the Irish have to offer. Notre Dame could have the edge in this race over Maryland, Michigan State, Oklahoma and Virginia Tech.

Other prospects with mutual interest in Notre Dame to follow during The Opening are defensive backs Salvon Ahmed, Grant Delpit, Thomas Graham, Jeffrey Okudah and Ambry Thomas, linebacker Drew Singleton and defensive linemen K’lavon Chaisson, LaBryan Ray, Jay Tufele and Chase Young.

Five Questions on the defense:

1. Which defensive player are you most excited to see and why?

Jake Brown: Baron Browning is probably the guy. Had hoped to see him in action at Irish Invasion, but also understand why he didn't see the need to work out. What does he do best? Where could he fill the greatest need? Is he really in the same stratosphere as Jaylon Smith during his time as a recruit? Competing against similar talent at The Opening will help reveal answers to those questions.

Steve Hare: Hunter Echols. Notre Dame needs an elite defensive end prospect and Echols could be the guy. He committed to UCLA but the Irish remain in play.

2. This player is going to have a breakout performance:

JB: Let's go with Ambry Thomas. Maybe it wouldn't be a breakout performance per se, especially since he turned in a dominant showing at one of the regional camps. But he has the skills to be a difficult corner to play against. I'd be willing to bet he shows that off on this stage.

SH: Jaylen Kelly-Powell. I saw him in action earlier this spring and he has the physical ability and the confidence to shut down the nation’s best pass catchers.

3. Which position group is the most talented:

JB: Probably just a matter of personal preference, but I'd say cornerback. Really like guys I've seen before in person like Ambry Thomas and Amir Riep. Darnay Holmes, Deommodore Lenoir, Elijah Molden, Patrick Surtain, Lamont Wade and Shaun Wade are some of my favorite prospects in the Class of 2017 in terms of skill set. It's a nice group that could have big weeks as a whole.

SH: There is a ton of talent in the defensive backfield and those prospects are usually the most athletically gifted in any camp setting. They’re also some of the most confident, which lends itself to some pretty good matchups in the one-on-ones and seven-on-sevens.

4. The player that is most likely to commit to Notre Dame is:

JB: Eventually...Hunter Echols. Seemed to understand what Notre Dame brings to the table at Irish Invasion and is already looking to return. That bodes well.

SH: Joshua Paschal. He loved his visit last month and the Irish are in good shape heading into the fall.

5. Best players at each position (DB, DL, LB):

JB: Defensive back: Patrick Surtain (Only a 2018 and I already think he's that type of talent); linebacker: Baron Browning; defensive line: Marvin Wilson.  

SH: Defensive Back: Greg Johnson; Linebacker: Baron Browning; Defensive Line: Haskell Garrett.


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