State of the Union: Defensive Recruiting

Notre Dame has already received pledges from seven recruits for the class of 2006. But only one member of that group, Kallen Wade, will play defense for the Irish. Here is a look at the top targets coach Charlie Weis and his assistant coaching staff are pursuing heading into the summer camp.

Notre Dame certainly has some defensive talent looking forward to the 2005 season, but depth is practically non-existent at a couple of positions, and a lack of playmakers at cornerback are the question marks that need to be addressed with this recruiting class.

Cornerback - This is not a position where mere warm bodies are needed, but rather playmakers. Anything less than two cornerback recruits that can come in and play from day one will be unacceptable. That is simply the way it is after last year's disaster at the cornerback position. What's worse, three seniors departed from last year's team meaning experience is at a minimum and Notre Dame did not sign a single pure cornerback in this past recruiting class.

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis will be able to tell recruits they can play early, and it will certainly have merit.

Top Targets - There are four names that appear to be at or near the top of Notre Dame's wish list: Asher Allen CB/WR, 5-10, 180-pounds, Tucker, Ga., Raeshon McNeil, CB, 6-0, 175-pounds, Mocksville, N.C., (Davie County), Laron Moore, CB, 5-9, 179-pounds, Midwest City, Okla. and Darrin Walls, CB, 6-1, 175-pounds, Pittsburgh, Pa., (Woodland Hills).

McNeil and Walls both took unofficial visits to Notre Dame this past weekend and everything went well with both recruits.

McNeil is high on Notre Dame along with Virginia Tech, Virginia, Miami and Ohio State. Walls is high on Notre Dame and Michigan, with Florida rounding out his top three.

Notre Dame has more ground to make up with Asher Allen, who many believe will stay down South. He is considering taking an unofficial visit to Notre Dame this summer so Notre Dame could become a serious player for his services if that happens.

Notre Dame recently entered the race for Moore, and it has ground to make up. Louisiana State, Oklahoma State, Stanford, Kansas State and Tennessee are all schools currently ahead of the Irish. Moore also took in a camp at Oklahoma so the Sooners are also in the picture as well. Like with most recruits outside of the Midwest that are unfamiliar with Notre Dame before the recruiting process began, the key for Notre Dame will be luring Moore to campus this summer for an unofficial visit.

A handful of other cornerbacks are also in the picture. Devin Ross, CB, 5-10, 165-pounds, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif., Phillip Strozier, CB, 6-0, 185-pounds, Kansas City, Mo., (Rockhurst) and Robert Williams, CB, 5-11, 160-pounds, Cincinnati, Ohio, (Withrow) are a few other names to remember.

Also, keep in the mind that often times tailbacks and wide receiver recruits end up playing cornerback. But before anyone jumps to conclusions, Notre Dame commitment Munir Prince will be staying on offense. He's too explosive with the ball in his hands not to stay on that side of the football.

Safety - This is not a huge position of need this year, but at least one is likely to be brought in this recruiting class.

Top Targets - Notre Dame can be selective this year and that's why Steve Brown, S, 6-1, 200-pounds, Columbus, Ind., (East) and Taylor Mays, S, 6-3, 220-pounds, Seattle, Wash., (Bishop O'Dea) are probably the only two pure safety recruits that Notre Dame is both going after and have a real shot at right now. New names could emerge, but these are the two best bets.

Mays will be difficult to lure away from Southern California if you listen to all the recruiting banter, but he will be making a Midwest swing to see the Irish and the Wolverines later this month or in July. Everything depends on that unofficial visit for the Irish.

Brown is harder to gauge as he grew up a Michigan fan, but Notre Dame has been recruiting him hard for quite some time. Ohio State and Purdue are also in the mix with Brown.

This is another position where a tailback or wide receiver could end up moving too, so keep that in the back of your head.

Linebacker - Middle linebacker is the key position to watch with this recruiting class. Notre Dame will be losing Corey Mays after the 2005 season so the middle linebacker position is wide open. No other middle linebacker on the current Notre Dame roster has logged significant playing time at the position.

Top Targets - At middle linebacker there are simply two names to know: Brandon Graham, LB, 6-2, 235-pounds, Detroit, Mich., (Crockett) and Toryan Smith, LB, 6-1, 230-pounds, Rome, Ga.

Both recruits have an interest in Notre Dame, although Graham is a soft commitment to Michigan. He is expected to visit Notre Dame unofficially as well as some other schools as well. Time will tell how interested Graham is in backing out of his Michigan commitment.

Smith is one of the nation's most highly recruited players regardless of position. Notre Dame defensive backs coach Bill Lewis is recruiting Smith for the Irish. He has a connection with Smith because he coached his father while serving as an assistant coach at Georgia in the early 1980s. Smith is set to take an official visit to Notre Dame on Oct. 15 when the Irish host the Trojans in their annual clash.

There are other names to watch at WILL linebacker and SAM linebacker including Allen Bradford, 6-0, 222-pounds, Colten, Calif., Travis Goethel, LB, 6-3, 215-pounds, Vista, Calif., Kevin Green, LB, 6-2, 213-pounds, North Chicago, Ill., Tom Hansen, LB, 6-2, 218-pounds, Rancho Murieta, Calif., (Sheldon), Jeremiha Hunter, LB, 6-1, 200-pounds, Manheim, Pa., (Central) and Matt Wright, LB, 6-2, 215-pounds, Hampton, Va., (Phoebus).

Hunter's is one to watch. Notre Dame has made up some ground with him, but Michigan is certainly the team to watch. If Notre Dame can ink his signature, it would be quite a coup.

Defensive End - Finding a pass rusher was the key for defensive end recruiting this year and Notre Dame did that already with the commitment of Kallen Wade, DE, 6-5, 215-pounds, Cincinnati, Ohio, (Withrow) earlier this spring. If Notre Dame lands another defensive end, especially one that could potentially play defensive tackle or offensive line as well, it will be a big bonus to this recruiting class.

Top Targets - There is a fierce battle for John Ryan, DE, 6-5, 240-pounds, Cleveland, Ohio, (St. Ignatius) going on right now between Notre Dame and Boston College. Ryan really likes both schools and both coaching staffs. Ryan has family in Boston so that does help out the Eagles. He could be making a decision at any time.

Four more names to remember are Jerry Brown, 6-4, 262-pounds, St. Louis, Mo., (Vashon), Maurice Evans, DE, 6-3, 245-pounds, Middle Village, N.Y., (Christ the King), Micah Johnson, DE, 6-2, 267-pounds, Fort Campbell, Ky. and Lawrence Marsh, DE, 6-5, 260-pounds, Augusta, Ga., (Josey).

Brown is a recruit coach Weis stopped by to see late in the month of May, but Notre Dame probably has some ground to make up with Oklahoma and Nebraska.

Evans is intrigued by several schools including the Irish.

Johnson is one of the nation's elite players and some schools are even considering giving him a look at running back due to his athleticism. He would be a major catch for the Irish.

Marsh could play several positions but prefers defensive end. Luring him away from the likes of Georgia, Tennessee, Clemson and Maryland will be a challenge.

Defensive Tackle - This is truly a position of need as Notre Dame has practically no depth right now. At least two, if not three defensive tackles are needed this year.

Top Targets - The best bet right now to end up playing for the Irish is Jason Kates, DT, 6-3, 291-pounds, Harrisburg, Pa., (Bishop McDevitt). Kates is in the process of setting up an unofficial visit to Notre Dame for later this month. It would not be a surprise if he walked away from coach Weis' office after giving his pledge.

Notre Dame is also in the mix with Adrian Clayborn, DT, 6-3, 260-pounds, Webster Groves, Mo., who might come to camp this summer, Butch Lewis, DT, 6-6, 280-pounds, Aurora, Col., (Regis Jesuit), Gerald McCoy, DT, 6-4, 280-pounds, Oklahoma City, Okla., (Southeast), Jared Odrick, DT, 6-6, 297-pounds, Lebanon, Pa. and Phillip Taylor, DT, 6-4, 345-pounds, Clinton, Md., (Gwynn Park).

Lewis is probably the best bet of the group right now, but the competition will be stiff with Georgia and Miami probably being the biggest competition.

McCoy will be difficult lure away from Oklahoma, but Notre Dame has a shot.

It's probably too early to tell with Odrick and Taylor, while the wild card is Clayborn.

SMITTY'S TAKE - Notre Dame is in fantastic position to have a great haul on the defensive side of the ball. It's a matter of reeling in the big-time recruits.

I personally like Notre Dame's chances with McNeil, Walls and Smith, which I can assure you would make coach Weis a very happy man.

There is a long way to go with this recruiting class, but Notre Dame is in good shape right on the defensive side of the football. Look for new names to emerge later this summer after the football camp concludes in late June.


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