The Irish will lose a number of defensive ends at the end of the 2006 football season including probable starters Victor Abiamiri and Chris Frome. Travis Leitko, if reinstated to the team, will also leave at the end of the 2006 season.
The Irish will have only sophomores Ronald Talley and Justin Brown, and freshmen Kallen Wade and John Ryan to turn to in 2007 unless someone on the Irish roster changes positions. Defensive end is a huge priority for Notre Dame this recruiting season, and we expect the Irish to sign as many as three defensive ends this recruiting season. North Carolina native Kerry Neal appears to be one of the three.
Another player the Irish are targeting for the 2007 recruiting season is D'Angelo McCray. McCray is listed at 6-5, 265 pounds, but I'd say he's probably closer to 6-4. He's got a thick lower body, and broad shoulders, which tells me he'll likely add more weight rather easily. The only question with McCray in my mind is where do you play him? Regardless, he's got plenty of potential on both sides of the ball.
McCray lines up at tight end on the offensive side of the ball and shows considerable athleticism and soft hands as a receiver. He's not overly fast as a tight end, and won't be a guy who stretches a defense, but he's got plenty of size, good athleticism and good hands in the highlights I watched.
He runs effortlessly, but again, doesn't have good foot speed. He catches the ball well in traffic and gets the extra yards one would like to see. He also shows fairly good blocking technique as a blocker and stays low out of his stance.
I could see Weis using McCray in a similar role as he used Mike Vrabel with the Patriots. He'll certainly catch anything thrown his way, has pretty good blocking technique, and would be an intriguing threat because he is a really good athlete. He's just not quite athletic enough to play tight end full time in the Charlie Weis system in my eyes.
McCray has ability as an offensive player, but I think his best position will be on the defensive side of the ball. The only question will be where…inside or outside.
As a pass rusher, McCray shows the ability to get to the quarterback and to get into the backfield. He's pretty quick off the ball and uses his hands well to fight off blockers. He uses his quickness to get by defenders and shoots gaps rather easily. I'm just not sure he's a pass-rushing specialist you would see in a Kerry Neal, but he's also 40 pounds heavier than Neal at this point. Having said that, he did record 13 sacks last season so he obviously can get to the quarterback.
I didn't get to see a lot of clips of McCray as a run defender. The clips I did see showed a guy who wanted to get to the ball carrier. He even fought off some double and triple teams to eventually get to a running back.. He chased down running backs from the other side of the field so he showed good pursuit as well. I didn't have enough evidence to say, but he appears to be a guy who has that nasty streak to go toe-to-toe with anyone.
With McCray's frame, I see him eventually growing into an inside player and becoming a very dominating inside defensive lineman. He looks to be at least 260 pounds now, so he'll likely easily add another 30 pounds of muscle in college. He's a very athletic 260 pounds right now so I don't think the extra weight would slow him down in the slightest.
No matter where McCray plays in the future, he's definitely a good enough athlete to shine on either side of the ball. I wouldn't call him Jeremy Shockey as a tight end, but he has enough athletic ability to make plays on offense. But it's defense where I think he'll really become a force.
The bad news is McCray is likely to stay close to home. The Irish are recruiting him heavily, but he's said he'd like to stay close to home with Florida State and Florida being his top two teams. However, there's plenty of time for the Irish coaching staff to make an impression with McCray.