The Irish have a number of needs on defense. We expect the Irish to issue at least nine scholarships on defense. We think they will end up landing three defensive line (two as defensive ends), three linebackers and three, if not four defensive backs in the 2005 recruiting class. Let's take a look at how they've set themselves up on the defensive side of the ball.
Defensive LineCommitments: None
Offers: Lawrence Wilson, Will Powers, Kyle Moore, Raymond Henderson, James McKinney, Eric Lorig
Targets: Derrell Hand, Kyle Newell, Ekom Udofia, Patrick Kuntz, Terrance Jamison, James McGillicuddy, Walker Ashley, Andrew McCain, J.B. Paxson
The Irish coaches would probably feel a lot better if they had at least one commitment before the season started at defensive end. Lawrence Wilson looks to be the only player likely to make an early decision at this point. We think the Irish have a very good shot to land Wilson in the next couple of days.
After Wilson, we can't see many players on the list that currently name the Irish as their leader. Many expect Powers and Lorig to stay out west and Moore to stay in the south. McKinney had committed to Michigan earlier this spring before changing his mind, and Taylor has the Wolverines as his top school since the beginning.
Raymond Henderson could be a good bet for the Irish and we expect the Irish to be high on his final list of schools. He's a top target and we think the Irish are at least in his top three schools. McGillicuddy has shown a strong interest in Notre Dame despite not having an offer from the Irish.
Hand recently visited Notre Dame and should be a target. Newell is a guy to keep an eye on as well.
If the Irish can land Wilson before the season, they would be on the right path. We do think the Irish will try to land two defensive ends and one defensive tackle type of player. We cannot identify a defensive tackle at this point that lists the Irish as his favorite—that could change soon once we speak to Hand.
Grade B with the commitment of Wilson
LinebackerCommitments: Scott Smith, Kevin Washington
Offers: Rey Maualuga, Anthony Felder, Brian Cushing, Derek Nicholson, Eugene Hayes, Demetri Stewart, Ryan Reynolds, Neefy Moffett
> Targets: Eric Small
The Irish landed their true middle linebacker in Scott Smith. Smith is a big kid who can really run and impressed the Irish staff this summer at the Notre Dame camp. They also landed their weakside linebacker with the commitment of Kevin Washington, who also impressed the Irish staff at camp.
The Irish will now try to land one great linebacker out of the many offers left on the table. Rey Maualuga already has a visit schedule for Notre Dame. We expect Felder and Stewart to also visit Notre Dame before deciding.
The other prospects on the list are less likely to sign with Notre Dame, but we expect the Irish staff to recruit all them this fall. Don't be surprised if Eric Small is the sleeper at this position. We've heard he really impressed at Notre Dame's camp in June.
The Irish could really use one truly great linebacker to go with the two they already have. We expect they'll land one of their top targets. The only question remains, did Notre Dame take two too early?
We think Washington answered that question when he told us that coach Preston e-mailed him and told him the Irish already had one linebacker commit, and they wanted him to be the second. That tells us both Smith and Washington were very high on the wish list.
In the end, the Irish can now sit back and really work on their top targets at linebacker. They can afford to be picky and to play the waiting game with their very top remaining targets.
Defensive BackCommitments: David Bruton, Brandon Harrison
Offers: Brent Nickerson, Derek Pegues, Reggie Smith, Cary Harris, Ray Herring, Shawn Oatis, Will Harris
The Irish landed two top prospects in both Harrison and Bruton. Bruton ran a 4.4 at Michigan's camp, and at 6-3, he should make a very athletic and rangy free safety. Harrison is a cover specialist and an impressive one at that according to many. Both players were big commitments and we can't remember the Irish having this much success at defensive back this early, ever.
The Irish could land a third commitment before the season in Brent Nickerson. The 6-1, 185-pound Nickerson would give the Irish a tall corner prospect that would fit in nicely with Harrison. The Irish lead for his signature and he should be announcing this week.
If the Irish don't land Nickerson, there is plenty of other targets on the list. Oatis and Herring are likely as both list the Irish high on their list, but we're not sure how many safety prospects the Irish will take this year. We have to think the Irish will take Reggie Smith regardless of how many defensive backs they have. Smith can play a number of positions and seems to have a strong interest in Notre Dame.
The rest of the players on the list have all mentioned Notre Dame as a school they're interested in, but we feel they are less likely to sign with Notre Dame than those mentioned above.
It will be interesting to see what the Irish do if they do land Nickerson. Will they be done at defensive back before the season even starts? We wouldn't bet on it, and if the top targets remain interested, we expect the Irish to make room because defensive back has always been a difficult position for the Irish to land top targets.
Grade A (if they land Nickerson)
The Early returns have been impressive so far. The Irish have addressed a number of needs with the eight verbal commitments they already have. If they land Wilson and Nickerson, that would address even more needs with quality players.
The Irish would have the luxury of focusing on the very top targets on their list for the remainder of the season. We will say that the organization and effort during this early recruiting season has been impressive so far. There is always room for improvement, but the Irish have certainly improved a great deal in organization in one short year. Will that amount to a top-ranked class? Stay tuned…