Who's left on the board for the Irish at this point?
Right now the list looks rather thin. Defensive tackle Will Blackwell, linebacker Malcolm Smith, safety Major Wright and running back Robert Hughes are definitely on the list. The Irish are still recruiting defensive end Jason Peters and running back Joe McKnight, but neither have scheduled a visit for the Irish and have indicated recently they likely won't. However, we don't expect the Irish to give up that easily.
Blackwell has a visit lined up for LSU this coming weekend. He's said he'll probably decide in late January. Many feel it's a ND/LSU battle. Will the Sugar Bowl hurt or help the Irish?
Malcolm Smith was rumored to be announcing the day after the Sugar Bowl, and also during the Offense/Defense all-star game. That didn't happen, but if the rumor was true, and he was considering announcing, that sure didn't sound good for the Irish if he was planning to announce the day after the game. However, Notre Dame needs linebackers, and Smith has remained very interested in Notre Dame. Smith has a visit lined up for Jan. 19 at USC. Will the recent rumors of USC head coach Pete Carroll talking with the Dolphins have any impact on Smith? We'll see.
Major Wright has lined up a visit to Notre Dame on Jan. 19th. So far that's the only other visit we know about. He did visit Ohio State already and many consider the Buckeyes his leader. Can the Irish jump in the race? I think they have a lot of ground to make up for this top prospect.
Robert Hughes is said to be announcing Jan. 16th at his school. Hughes was down to Illinois and Notre Dame but has indicated recently he may take other visits. For Hughes it all appears to be about early playing time. I think that has been the one sticking point that has kept him from committing to Notre Dame. Can the Irish convince Hughes he'll get some carriers? I wouldn't be very optimistic at this point, but anything can change as we've seen this year in recruiting.
The Irish appeared to be heavily involved with Jason Peters until just recently when the 6-foot-3, 255-pound Peters decided he only wanted to play defensive end in college. The Irish had been recruiting him as a defensive tackle. Notre Dame has since said they'd let Peters start out at end, but is the damage already done? Peters seems reluctant to visit Notre Dame at this point.
McKnight also recently had the Irish in his top three, but then inexplicably, McKnight wiped the Irish clean off his list and said he wouldn't be visiting Notre Dame. Irish Eyes recruiting expert Jeff Baumhower confirmed with McKnight down at the Army practices that he won't be visiting Notre Dame. We don't expect the Irish to give up the fight.
If the Irish strike out with some of these players can we expect to see new names surface as Irish recruiting targets?
I think that depends on which positions they would strike out at. Right now the Irish need defensive players. They lost some key recruits in San Antonio. They'll most likely need to land another defensive tackle and linebacker for future depth, but you don't want to just take a body. You want to find a guy who can play at this level. It would do the Irish no good to just take a player who will sit on the bench for four years. You only want to take a player that you strongly believe can contribute to the team. I'm not sure there are many players out there that fit that description, but I wouldn't doubt if a new name or two pop up at both linebacker and defensive tackle.
Why did the Irish lose many of their top recruits on defense?
I can't speak for them, but I'm going to guess that many of them don't want to play for a defense that got blown out by the last two top five teams they faced. However, there is plenty of opportunity for any defender to come in and get early playing time. The Irish coaching staff has to present that opportunity and convince players they can be part of the rebuilding process.
How can the Irish convince these players to come to Notre Dame?
At this point I think Irish head coach Charlie Weis has to make a statement to these top defensive players that the Irish are committed to playing good defense. I'm not sure how he will make that statement. Many are speculating some changes in the coaching staff might be forthcoming. If true, that would certainly make a statement. You have to remember that these elite players can go anywhere in the country they want to. Ultimately, you have to convince these top prospects that something will change and they won't be part of 27-point losses in B.C.S. games in the future.
Should we worry about any of Notre Dame's committed players looking at other schools?
I can't answer that, but I'm going to guess that the Irish coaching staff has likely spoken with all of them recently. I'm sure they reminded them of the many reasons they choose Notre Dame initially, and none of those reasons have changed since they made their decision. I'm also going to guess Weis has promised them he's going to fix the problem.
Many answers should be coming in the next few weeks. The annual coaching convention started on Sunday and the Irish will be in a dead period until Saturday, so don't expect a lot of new news coming in the next few days. But once the dead period ends, we should know a lot more about what's going to be happening between now and signing day.
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