We think it's important to look at two recruiting classes together to get an idea of how the Irish filled their needs. Judging by the results, Willingham and his staff have filled some needs, but still have some work to do.
The idea in recruiting is to find a true starter that can match up with anything the opposition will have, and find a talented backup that can hold things together in case of injury when looking at two years of recruiting. One would hope the back up is at least talented enough to create some competition for the starter and keep the starting working hard to earn the job every day.
The Irish can't sign a player at each position on the team every year so there will be some gaps. The simple math proves that can't be done. 22 players on offense and defense. Two years would be 44—four years would be 88—that doesn't include kicker, punter or players returning for a fifth year. Still combing two classes should give you an idea of where the Irish have had success, and where they need to improve.
Let's take a look at the last two classes and see how they stack up.
The Irish clearly have a starter in Brady Quinn. Quinn had a lot of success in his first year, but he also had many moments when he struggled. It's obvious he's a talented quarterback. Is he talented enough to lead this team to a National Championship? We don't know the answer to that yet. We do believe his stats prove he does have a ways to go to even be considered a good quarterback at this point, but that's understandable considering he was a true freshman.
The Irish signed David Wolke and Darrin Bragg in this class. Unfortunately, these two were not 1A and 1B on their list. Still, that doesn't mean they can't be successful or earn the starting position. Irish fans have to hope that both Wolke and Bragg have the talent to push Quinn for the starting position. They both appear to have the confidence, we'll have to wait and see what happens.
The Irish signed Travis Thomas last year and Darius Walker and Justin Hoskins this year. Thomas is a hard-charger type of back. He runs with power, but has quickness, feet and top end speed to finish runs. Walker is a similar type of back with great vision and feet. Hoskins brings more elusiveness, quickness, hands out of the backfield and overall speed.
There should be plenty of competition in fall. We don't think the Irish could've done any better than signing these three players. All three will push for playing time.
The Irish have only signed Ashley McConnell. They could've used another this year. I do think they had a good plan here, however. It appears they targeted just a few. They didn't just take a guy because they needed one. The idea should be to only take guys who can help you. They will need one next year.
This is an interesting position because of the recent information we've heard. We've heard the Irish have moved Ambrose Wooden and Chinedum Ndukwe to defense. If true, that helps with depth on defense but hurts at wide receiver. The Irish signed Jeff Samardzija and Chase Anastasio last year and Christopher Vaughn this year. The move (if true) hurts depth here, but the Irish have Stovall and McKnight already making an impact so this move isn't as big if a problem.
Like fullback, the Irish have only one tight end in John Carlson in the last two classes. To be fair they signed Chris Olsen last year who later transferred. I applaud the staff again for being smart here. They only recruited a few they thought could help. When those went elsewhere they didn't look for a body.
The Irish have signed Ryan Harris, John Sullivan, Chauncey Incarnato and John Kadous. That simply is not enough offensive linemen for two years worth of recruiting regardless of what your needs are. I don't buy Willingham's quote that they only wanted two, maybe three offensive linemen in this class. Sorry, it doesn't make sense.
The Irish currently have just 12 scholarship offensive linemen on the roster now. That is barely enough to fill out a two-deep. The Irish needed at least two more offensive linemen to be added to this mix and probably four.
Considering Jeff Thompson, Zach Giles, Darrin Mitchell, Dan Stevenson and Mark LeVoir will all be seniors next season, the Irish certainly needed more than four players in two years. The Irish will need to sign at least five next year to put a band aide on this failure.
The Irish signed Trevor Laws and Victor Abiamiri last season. They've added Brandon Nicolas, Justin Brown, Ronald Talley and maybe Ryan Baker to the list this season. We've been very impressed with Laws and Abiamiri so far. We don't know as much about those signed this year. I like the fact that Kent Baer recently told Irish Eyes he believes Talley will remain at defensive end throughout his career. That is a good sign to his athleticism. Baer also compared Brown to current star Justin Tuck. We'll see how this all pans out, but the Irish probably needed another interior player to go along with Laws. Baker could move inside if he signs, and we like his tenacity on the field. Overall, with Baker's signature, the overall two-year looks pretty solid.
We've heard good things about Stephenson and Thomas so far. Brockington showed good speed on film. Vernaglia was highly recruited, and we like the fact that Crum was on the initial offer list for this year. Overall, the Irish appear to have talent at linebacker. We have no idea yet if any can play. The Irish have some good linebackers starting already, but we'd like to see some of these young guys start to push for playing time. If we don't see that soon, they might be in trouble here.
If what we hear is true, the Irish are certainly not hurting for numbers at defensive back. The Irish signed Freddie Parish, Tom Zbikowski, Isaiah Gardner and LaBrose Hedgemon last year. It appears they've added Wooden and Ndukwe to the mix here.
If true, the Irish have 10 players to play four positions. They Irish should be able to find two players who can play corner out of these 10 players or they haven't done a good job of recruiting. They really need three true corners that can start considering how often the Irish are in the nickel or dime package on defense.
The real problem is they need these corners to surface this year. Preston Jackson and Dwight Ellick will be gone next year. Someone will have to step up this year and push for playing time.
Overall the Irish filled some needs. It's one thing to fill needs with bodies. The great teams fill needs with great players. Time to get out your pen and paper and write your own depth chart. Do you see a clear starter at each position? Do you see a potential superstar? Do you see a solid back up that will push the starter for playing time?
As for next year, we think the Irish will need to sign a great quarterback, running back, fullback, tight end, two wide receivers, five top offensive linemen, two interior defensive linemen, on great speed rushing defensive end, three linebackers with middle linebacker being a priority, three corners and one safety.
The most important will be finding five of the very best offensive linemen and one of their very top quarterbacks on the wish list.
The Irish will have plenty of bodies to field a team. The real question is if they are getting enough of the very best players available to compete with the very best team. Have they done that with the last two classes?