Recruiting Heats Up

<P>The Irish have a big game this weekend against USC but recruiting will start to heat up for the Irish as well. We've been following the team and recruiting closely but let's take a look at some needs and also look at some early returns on some current Notre Dame players to see how things are shaping up for the future. </P>

Predicting a future depth chart at Notre Dame is about as worthless as ranking recruiting classes. We have no idea how many players will develop and which highly-regarded recruits will become stars and which will never play a down for Notre Dame. We also don't know which guys will emerge out of nowhere and become solid, if not spectacular players for the Irish.

The future looks bright for the Irish but they do still have some holes to fill. Let's look at the last two classes signed by the Irish.

On offense, the Irish signed 12 players and now have 11 with the departure of quarterback Chris Olsen. James Bonelli, Anthony Fasano, Marcus Freeman, Jeff Jenkins, Rhema McKnight, Brian Mattes, Bob Morton, Scott Raridon, Jamie Ryan, Nate Schiccatano and Maurice Stovall represent the current sophomore offensive players.

Right now, Morton, McKnight, Stovall and Ryan appear to be players that could see a lot of playing time in the future. Anthony Fasano and Brian Mattes also look to have a bright future for Notre Dame. A good class so far but the lack of a solid running back has hurt them and another offensive lineman out of Raridon and Bonelli needs to step up real soon.

On defense, the Irish signed six players. Jake Carney, Chris Frome, Derek Landri, Travis Leitko, Mike Richardson and Dan Santucci.

Landri has been the only player that has seen considerable playing time thus far. Corner Mike Richardson has impressed us in practice but that hasn't translated into minutes on the field. Travis Leitko has been impressive but hasn't seen much of the field. Frome has been injured so we don't know what to expect out of him. Dan Santucci reminds us of a Greg Pauly type of player. It might take him another year but he should add solid depth along the interior.

The Irish are lacking in potential starters here on defense with only six signed and zero linebackers. The only starter we know for sure would be Landri. There are some big holes to fill in the future. This was Willingham's first class and you expect some holes with only one month to recruit. We give Willingham a deserved pass for this class but he must fill the needs in this next class to have the depth he'll need if he wants to compete for the grand prize—the National Championship.

The current freshman class looks to be outstanding. Six players have already played minutes this year and plenty more look to have the potential to be stars.

On offense, the Irish signed 12 players and now have 11 with the transfer of Greg Olsen. Chase Anastasio, John Carlson, Ryan Harris, Ashley McConnell, Chinedum Ndukwe, Geoff Price, Brady Quinn, Jeff Samardzija, John Sullivan, Travis Thomas and Ambrose Wooden are the offensive players in the freshman class.

Quinn, Harris, Ndukwe and Samardzija have already played and shown promise. John Sullivan is close to starting at offensive center right now—he's that good. Wooden and Anastasio really impressed us with their quickness in fall camp and will get on the field soon and probably often. Travis Thomas reminded us of a quicker Ryan Grant. McConnell showed good athletic ability at FB. We didn't see enough of John Carlson to form and opinion but he's probably the most athletic tight end of the roster. We won't comment on Price because we haven't seen much of him yet.

Right now, this freshman offensive class looks outstanding and filled some needs compared to the sophomore class. The jury is still out but this looks to be the best offensive class signed in many years.

On defense, the Irish signed 10 players with two (Victor Abiamiri, Freddie Parish) already seeing playing time. Others have impressed us but the jury is still out on the rest of this class.

Abiamiri, Nick Borseti, Joe Brockington, Isaiah Gardner, LaBrose Hedgemon, Trevor Law, Parish, Dwight Stephenson, Mitchell Thomas and Tom Zbikowski are the 10 signees on defense form the freshman class.

Abiamiri and Parish will be stars at Notre Dame and we firmly believe Trevor Laws will as well. We believe Mitchell Thomas has more physical talent and speed than anyone at linebacker right now so he should be a great one if he can pick up the scheme.

Tom Zbikowski has all the physical tools needed but hasn't played cornerback until this year. Gardner is in a similar position after playing running back most of his career. Stephenson has a lot of physical ability but we aren't sure if he will be a linebacker or defensive end. We haven't seen enough of Brockington, Hedgemon and Borseti to form an opinion yet so we won't comment.

Overall, this freshman defense class has the athletic ability to be a solid class. Abiamiri, Laws and Parish will be stars. The Irish will need at least three more to step up and hopefully two will be linebackers and at least one cornerback.

Now that we've looked at the classes, let's put together a depth chart. Again, this is not an exact science and we're sure we can't predict the future but it is fun to look at the future and exactly why we're doing this.

Offensive Depth Chart

QB: Brady Quinn (no second quarterback and a huge need)

RB: Travis Thomas (need a second back and a speedy back)

FB: We see no clear cut starter here yet but like McConnell

WR 1: Maurice Stovall, Jeff Samardzija, Chase Anastasio

WR 2 : Rhema McKnight, Chinedum Ndukwe, Ambrose Wooden

TE : Anthony Fasano (either Freeman or Carlson needs to be #2 or they need to recruit another tight end)

RT : Ryan Harris (need another for sure)

RG : Bob Morton (need another)

OC : John Sullivan (need another)

LG : Jamie Ryan (need another)

LT : Brian Mattes (we loosely add Mattes based on potential and comments by the staff on his potential, need another for sure.)

Based on this depth chart, the Irish have a lot of holes to fill in recruiting and developing talent with the current players they have. We expect at least one of Bonelli and Raridon to develop into a capable back up or starter.

Defensive Depth Chart

SDE: Travis Leitko (need another)

NG: Derek Landri (need another)

DT: Trevor Laws (we know Laws hasn't played but we think this much of him, need another)

WDE: Victor Abiamiri (need another)

OLB: Mitchell Thomas (need another)

MLB: We see no clear cut starter.

WLB: Joe Brockington could be the guy (need another).

CB: Mike Richardson(need at least one).

FS: Tom Zbikowski (we feel he'll end up at FS, need another).

SS: Freddie Parish (need another)

CB: One of either Hedgemon or Gardner (need another).

The defensive depth chart seems much less predictable but that is because the Irish have depth on defense and some of the freshman and sophomores will have to wait their turn. We make our predictions based on buzz heard from coaches and around campus. Take them for what they are worth.

The next step is to address needs. You have to ask yourself three questions. Do I have a player who is a sure starter and possible superstar? Do I have a capable backup that can give me quality play if my starter goes down? Do I have another guy who has star and starter potential waiting in the wings?

In an ideal world, a coach would want an obvious starter and possible superstar, a capable backup and an emerging star at every position. It would be ideal to have three stars but that is very unlikely to happen anywhere. So let's take a look at that.

We see superstar potential and sure starter in these players.

QB: Brady Quinn
WR: Maurice Stovall
WR: Rhema McKnight
RT: Ryan Harris
RG: Bob Morton (could play LG)
OC: John Sullivan
WDE: Victor Abiamiri
DT: Trevor Laws
NG: Derek Landri
SS: Freddie Parish

We feel real comfortable saying these players should start in the near future if they aren't starting already.

The next group are players we think will eventually develop into starters based on what we hear and have seen at practice.

FB: Ashley McConnell
WR: Jeff Samardzija, Chinedum Ndukwe, Chase Anastasio, Ambrose Wooden
OG: Jamie Ryan
LT: Brian Mattes
LB: Mitchell Thomas
CB: Mike Richardson
SDE: Travis Leitko or Chris Frome

Looking at this list, we can see some holes that need to be filled. There are plenty of other players who have talent and will develop to fill these holes but the Irish staff has to address these holes in recruiting this year in case those players do not develop. They will also need to sign impact players at these positions so they can play early in case the others don't develop into starters. Let's look at it position by position now.

The Irish have a star and starter at quarterback in Brady Quinn. Olsen would've been a great backup but he's gone so the Irish need at least a capable backup and hopefully and possible star. The Irish need to sign at least one QB and hopefully he'll have star potential.

At running back, the jury is out on Travis Thomas. I do believe he's at least a capable backup so the Irish need to sign a star running back and hopefully another guy who can become a star and starter. They'll need a guy to compete for time right away. They need to sign at least two. Jeff Jenkins could be a capable backup but got passed by Thomas rather quickly and we wonder if his best position might be full back

At fullback, the Irish only have Ashley McConnell. He will at least be a capable backup and could be a starter and possible star. We'll have to see. The Irish need to sign one big back and he'll have to have a lot of talent and be a possible starter.

At wide receiver, the Irish have plenty of names and talent. Both Stovall and McKnight show flashes of being superstars but right now they are capable starters. Hopefully they will become more productive as the offense grows.

Both Samardzija and Ndukwe look like players who will be just as good, if not better, than McKnight and Stovall. Both players showed us a lot of athletic ability and are certainly capable backups and future starters. Wooden shows a lot of potential and could be the home run hitter out of the bunch. He has future star potential as does Anastasio. The Irish have a lot of talent but could really use a speedy player in this class. One speed demon is necessary.

Tight end wasn't a great need before Olsen left and I don't see it as a great need now. Fasano is the starter but Freeman could push him for time. Carlson has a lot of athletic ability and could push both. I would save the scholarship if they can't find a difference-maker in a tight end.

Offensive line is the greatest need. If Brian Mattes can't play left tackle, they're going to have to sign a guy that can and can play right away. Scott Raridon is the only backup right now and he hasn't seen the field yet. Incarnato might fit the bill with his strength. They will need to sign three offensive tackles and Incarnato was a great start.

The Irish have at least one starter a possible star in Bob Morton at offensive guard. We believe Jamie Ryan will start the opposite guard of Morton. James Bonelli started making some noise in fall camp so he could be at least a capable backup. One offensive guard who could be a starter is needed.

John Sullivan should be a starter and star at the center position. We believe Morton will move to guard and Sullivan will take over at offensive center. The Irish don't have a backup if Sullivan goes down. Morton could probably play it but they need a center in this class if the future is to move Morton.

The Irish have their future rush end but will need to find another. Abiamiri is so good he likely won't be around for his senior season. Travis Leitko or Chris Frome will be the starter and the other will be a capable backup at SDE. The Irish need to find a quality backup and a future starter at defensive end. They could use two defensive ends in this class.

The Irish have two great players on the interior in Derek Landri and Trevor Laws. We feel Santucci will be a solid backup at nose guard. Two interior guys with star potential would be nice.

Linebacker is probably the cloudiest right now. Talent with current starters has kept this position from becoming clearer. The Irish only have four linebackers in two classes so they need to sign some linebackers. Thomas looks to be sure bet. Brockington looks to be the future at weak-side linebacker. If Thomas can play middle, that would put Stephenson at the Sam position. Borseti is thought to be a middle linebacker. The Irish need to sign three impact players at linebacker. We were thrilled with the tape of Anthony Vernaglia. Abdel Banda is said to be very athletic which is always a plus. They need to find a middle linebacker and maybe take four total.

Cornerback is also very cloudy right now. Mike Richardson shows potential but hasn't seen the field. Zbikowski and Gardner have played little corner in their careers so the jury is still out. We think Zbikowski could move to FS. Hedgemon has played corner so he's at least played the position. With the Irish having only four corners and none really standing out, the Irish need to find two players who can make an impact early.

At safety, the Irish have a future star in Freddie Parish. Jake Carney should be a capable backup. If Zbikowski moves to free safety, he should be at least a capable backup if not starter. At least one player will need to be signed and hopefully he'll have star quality.

Looking at the list, we see needs in various areas. Some are more important than other areas but the less important still need to be addressed. Here are the needs for the Irish in this recruiting class.

Quarterback: At least one great player with star potential

Running back: Need two with both having star potential.

Fullback: One solid player with the emphasis on blocking

Wide Receiver: One player with a lot of speed

Tight End: We don't see the need unless he's a great one

Offensive Tackle: Three with at least one ready to play early.

Offensive Guard: One with the ability to play both OG and OC

Defensive End : Two with an emphasis on speed rushing.

Interior DL: : Two total with at least one being able to pass rush

Linebacker: At least three and one true middle linebacker

Cornerback : Two with at least one ready to play early

Safety: The Irish need one with rangy ability that can cover a lot of ground

The Irish have commitments from offensive tackle Chauncey Incarnato, linebackers Anthony Vernaglia and Abdel Banda, defensive lineman Brandon Nicolas and running back Justin Hoskins. Incarnato could be one answer at offensive tackle. Vernaglia is going to fit in somewhere. Hoskins has a lot of speed and is at least a capable backup if not a starter. We haven't seen film of Banda but we hear he's athletic. We have seen film on Nicolas and he should at least be a solid offensive line candidate and probably a guard candidate.

The Irish will have to fill in their holes with this recruiting class. They can get a good start this weekend with four players coming in and few others that might be coming in. Defensive end Philip Mbakogu, offensive tackle Allen Smith, defensive tackle Darryl Richard are the certain visitors at this point along with Anthony Vernaglia. More could be visiting and we'll keep you informed.


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