In Jimmy Clausen, Notre Dame landed the nation's premier quarterback. Armando Allen is the versatile home run threat the Irish have been lacking for a number of seasons. Robert Hughes' game fits perfectly into the Charlie Weis offense. Duval Kamara has a tremendous size/speed combination and is a natural wide receiver. Although he needs refinement, Golden Tate brings a big play potential to the wide receiver position. He's the one guy who I can see turning short passes into touchdowns with his great quickness and speed. Mike Ragone has as much talent as any tight end who has donned the blue and gold in recent years. That's quite a statement.
The offensive line class isn't as talented or as deep as last year's class, but it's a tremendous compliment. Matt Romine is outstanding, and with some work Taylor Devercould have bright futures. When you combine the two classes together you have depth, size, speed, and premier talent. Charlie Weis and company have not only reloaded, they have brought in more, bigger, and better weapons. If you are one of those "games are won and lost in the trenches" people, well, Notre Dame has brought in nine offensive linemen in the last two years. As a group these kids are bigger, stronger, and more agile than the older kids whom they are replacing. This class has several players who are absolutely dynamic with the ball in their hands. If they progress and develop ND won't have to worry about always have to out-scheme their opponents.
Defensively we have discussed the losses, so there is no need to go any further there. It is what it is. Despite the lack of numbers this class has great talent at the top. Gary Gray is the big name and it's justified. He is as good of a cover corner as there is. Despite his lack of ideal size he isn't just a cover guy and is very aggressive in the run game. Kerry Neal might have the most talent, speed, and ability of any recruit in this class. Harrison Smith is another kid that just oozes talent. He brings size, range, and play-making ability to the free safety position. Steve Paskorz is another kid with a great frame, a high motor, and very good athleticism for the inside linebacker position in the 3-4 defense. If he plays on defense with the same power he played with as a running back he has a chance to be very good. Aaron Nagel is a very good athlete, and if he is able to get bigger he's another kid who could be very solid at linebacker for the Irish. Brian Smith brings versatility and power to the defense. He could play a number of positions for the Irish. Ian Williams has a very bright future at the nose guard position. Andrew Nuss will need some work, but he has a great frame, good quickness, and an aggressiveness that give him potential up front. Emeka Nwankwo is another guy who needs work but has outstanding quickness and instincts for his size.
We all had such high hopes for this recruiting season. Early on it looked as if Notre Dame had a great chance to land guys like Arrelious Benn, Martez Wilson, Ben Martin, Lorenzo Edwards, and Chris Donald. When things went south and the Irish missed on those kids it cast a very negative shadow over this class. But if it's at all possible to look at this class for what it actually is, I think Notre Dame fans should be excited. Despite the need to continue to improve the overall talent on defense, this current staff is destroying the myth that Notre Dame can't compete with the elite programs on the recruiting trail. ND has gone against the nation's premier programs in their back yards and beaten them. Two years ago Jimmy Clausen is a Trojan or a Gamecock, Armando Allen is a Gator, Duval Kamara is playing somewhere warm, Greg Little would be a Tar Heel, Harrison Smith is a Volunteer, Gary Gray is a Gamecock, and Matt Romine is a Sooner. I think Charlie Weis and his staff would tell you that they aren't where they planned or want to be, but they are absolutely light years ahead of where they were only two short years ago. It's a work in progress for sure, but the picture is becoming very clear, and it looks very nice!
#4 Jimmy Clausen, QB, 6-3, 195, *****, Westlake Village (Oaks Christian) CA
Believe the hype. Jimmy is an unbelievable football player. The thing with kids like him, who are so advanced at such an early stage in their career, is that there is little room for improvement. But one look at Jimmy's thin frame and you realize he is going to get much stronger. His best football is still ahead of him.
During the week of the Army All-American game we heard about his accuracy and how he is so good at hitting his receivers in stride. After watching his film and seeing him play a few times you realize there is more to his tremendous accuracy than just that. He knows how and where to throw the football. The how is his uncanny ability to know whether to gun it, float it, or hit the in between velocity. The where refers to knowing when to throw the ball low, on a guys back hip, away from a defender, on the back shoulder, etc. He does a great job at putting the football where only his guy has a chance at the catch. That is something that you can rarely teach, a guy either has it or he doesn't. You can refine it, but it's extremely difficult to create it if it isn't already there in some capacity.
Mechanically Jimmy is very sound. He has impeccable footwork for a high school quarterback. You can see him going through progressions. In the three-step game his decision making is tremendous. There isn't much post snap reading in the three step game. Your biggest decisions are usually made pre-snap. Then you basically have a one man read post snap. Rarely does Jimmy make a mistake here. His pocket presence is very good, and natural. He does a good job of feeling pressure, buying time, and getting rid of the football. He throws the football very well on the run. His mechanics in this area are outstanding; he consistently keeps his feet underneath him and gets his hips involved in the throw.
I love watching him during a game. When you watch him play live you see the intangibles that make him truly special. He just has a presence about him, very similar to what you see out of Brady Quinn, although I see Jimmy showing more emotion than Brady. He's in charge out on the field, and everyone knows it.
Jimmy isn't perfect, however, and has a couple of issues mechanically that need to be ironed out. The first thing I noticed was his first step from center seemed slow. Then I saw some film of him going through his pre-game routine. As I taught my quarterbacks, Jimmy has a staggered stance under center. The issue is he drops with his back foot, which is backwards. The problem with this is his front foot doesn't move as he takes his initial drop. It's basically a wasted step that doesn't get him any depth. Also at times Jimmy tends to throw too much with his arm. This causes him to lose a little bit of zip on his fastball. He either just throws with his arm or fades a bit on his back foot. That is something that can be corrected relatively easily with work. He also tends to release the ball a bit low, which at times causes the ball to take a little bit of an arch. There isn't anything you can do about that, it is what it is. It won't hurt him. Scout.com listed speed as one of his weaknesses, as people often do with Brady Quinn. He has quick feet and good mobility, which is all a QB in the ND offense needs. If he was playing at Florida this would be an issue but it won't be one at ND.
The sky is the limit for Jimmy Clausen. If he is able to humble himself, deal with the pressure, and stay within himself he'll have great success. Coach Weis has surrounded Jimmy with tremendous skill players and offensive linemen. Barring injury I'd expect him to be a four-year starter, put up great numbers, and lead Notre Dame to a ton of wins. I won't pull a Beano Cook and go any further than that.
#71 Robert Hughes, RB, 5-11, 228, ****, Chicago(Hubbard)IL
Usually I like to focus on a player's strengths first, and then I get into his weaknesses or areas where he needs to improve. But with Robert Hughes I want to get the weaknesses out of the way first. Speed, or lack thereof, is a "weakness" of Robert Hughes. He won't take any toss sweeps and out run the defense to the edge. He will never be confused with Tatum Bell or Clinton Portis. Having said that there is much to like about Robert's game. He is one of those kids who you have to watch his film a few times to really appreciate what he brings to the table. If you watch his film once you'll walk away thinking that he doesn't have the speed to be an every down back. He doesn't wow you with his skills, but the more I watched him the more impressed I became.
When I started watching his film I was expecting to see a guy who just plows over people. Robert does that, sure, but there is much more to his game than sheer power. But let's talk about his power. Robert has great leg drive. He rarely braces for contact or looks for contact. He simply just runs through it. As defenders come at him he explodes through them with great power, leverage, and leg drive. He is a very heavy runner, which makes him hard to bring down, and allows him to brush off arm tackles with ease. Robert also gets downhill very quickly and uses every ounce of speed he has. He is a very smooth runner. It's quite a unique combination. He gets in and out of his cuts well. If you read his combine numbers from San Antonio last winter you saw the 4.89 forty yard dash, but also notice he ran a 4.15 shuttle. That is the same time that Armando Allen ran. Robert is a relative quick kid for someone who weighs 228 pounds.
Robert also catches the ball very naturally with his hands away from his body. There is another attributes he possesses that I didn't really notice until the second time I ran through his tape. Robert wastes very little motion. This is where all his strengths as a runner come from. It's why he is able to be so smooth, get downhill so fast, and is able to weave like he does.
Robert fits into ND's offense quite well. For all those fans who were disappointed with ND's ability run between the tackles, you have your man. No, he doesn't possess blazing speed, but he is able to overcome that with great vision, quickness, and power. There won't be too many complaints about him missing a read, not getting through the hole fast enough, or being too patient. He could excel in ND's offense. You know, I would be willing to bet that Robert Hughes is faster than Ron Dayne…..he had a pretty good college career didn't he?
Armando Allen, RB, 5-10, 185, ****, Hialeah(Miami Lakes)FL
Armando's tape is fun to watch. I always go into a film with certain assumptions. You see a guy listed at 5-9 and weighing 186 pounds and you expect to see a million jukes. Don't get me wrong, you'll see the jukes, and they are fun to watch. but Armando Allen is more than just speed. I think speed is where we should start. Armando has plenty of it. He brings an explosive ability to the table that the Notre Dame offense has sorely lacked. He is at full speed from step one. Often times you'll see smaller kids over do it when it comes to faking and juking. Armando gets down hill, explodes through the hole, and doesn't waste a lot of motion. He is very hard to bring down in the open field. He gets in and out of his cuts effortlessly and doesn't lose speed. Think Reggie Bush. No, I'm not saying Armando Allen is the next Reggie Bush, but he brings that kind of excitement and skill set to the game.
Armando also brings great balance and vision to the table. He's a one-cut-and-go runner through the line. One thing that was surprising when I watched his film was the power with which he runs. He has great leg drive. He doesn't always do it, so the more consistently he develops this ability the harder he will be to tackle. For a smaller back Armando isn't afraid of contact. I think of Warrick Dunn when I watch him. He has the same power and speed as Julius Jones but brings more wiggle to the table. Will he be able to carry the ball 25 times a game as a freshman? No, of course not, he never even did it in high school. But he has the frame and running style to develop into an every down back. He must fill out and get stronger, but he has the game to do it. Another adjustment he'll need to make is running more from the I formation. He did it at times in high school, but not as often as I would have liked.
I've already talked about his need to gain some more upper body strength and fill out more. Armando also has a tendency at times to lean or lunge forward if he is expecting contact. This throws him off balance. He also has a tendency to let the ball get away from him. Usually he is okay here and secures the football, but there are times, especially if he is catching the football where he gets sloppy. He'll learn very early on not to do that.
Overall I see great potential. If you think Armando Allen is just a scat back or a change of pace back, you are mistaken. He is the complete package. I would venture to guess that had he not been hurt his senior year he would have ranked very high. There aren't too many players in this class with more ability and potential.
#62 Duval Kamara, WR, 6-3, 190, ****, Hoboken(HS)NJ
Think how good Maurice Stovall would have been had he been able to play four years under Charlie Weis. That was the first thing I thought of when I watched Duval Kamara. Duval has great size. Scout.com lists him at 6-3 and 190 pounds. He was measured at a New Jersey combine at 6-5 and 209 pounds. He was noticeably taller than Greg Little and Justin Trattou at the Army game. He's a very long football player. Not only does he have great height but has very long arms and is able to simply go higher than everyone else without getting very high on his jump. Duval is also a physical football player. He'll block, he'll fight for the football, and he isn't afraid to lower his shoulder.
I see much more than just size. There are four kids in this class at receiver who I think have "special" ability. They are Terrance Toliver, Dwight Jones, Arrelious Benn, and Duval Kamara. I read all the time that Duval is going to need time to develop based on his high school offense. I couldn't disagree more. Will there be an adjustment period for Duval? Sure, there always is with high school kids. But Duval is a natural at receiver.
Let's start with his speed. While he wouldn't be classified as a "burner," he does bring very good speed to the table when you combine it with his 6-5 frame. Like all high school receivers he'll need work in the route running department. But Duval has tremendous potential as a route runner. When I evaluate a high school receiver I don't look at what kind of route runner he is at that time. It would be pointless since I'm going to change it all when he gets on campus. What I look for is the "ability" to run great routes. Duval has that. He gets off the line quickly with a great first step and is on the defender in a hurry. The faster you eat up a defenders cushion the more uncomfortable he gets. As noted with Robert Hughes and Armando Allen, Duval has little wasted motion. He is also very smooth and has very good quickness for a 6-5 kid. All these traits tell me he has the potential to be a great route runner, and relatively early in his career.
Duval catches the ball naturally. He catches the ball away from his body, catches the ball high, and has an uncanny ability to adjust to the football while it's in the air. I always talked to my receivers about "zoning" everything out when the ball was in the air. I think that is an attribute great receivers have. When the ball is in flight they see nothing else but the football. That is what I see when I watch Duval go after the football. He sees nothing else but the football and attacks it.
One area where Duval will have to improve is against press coverage. He has the ability, but most high school kids need an adjustment period. With his quickness and hand speed he'll be able to do it, but it will take time. Getting pressed by a high school cornerback in New Jersey is quite different from getting pressed by Terrell Thomas. Duval also is a bit stiff in the hips. This will affect him in two ways. The first is if a ball is thrown behind him he'll have trouble really ripping back for it. Also he won't be as fluid running speed outs as he will with every other route. I'd also like to see Duval get off the ground a little bit more. Again, out jumping kids in Jersey is quite different than going against Terrell Thomas for a fade route in the end zone. Duval will also have to fill out his frame a little bit and get stronger.
Like Maurice Stovall, he'll be able to line up all over the field, which is something Rhema McKnight could not do. As stated previously, Duval has good quickness for such a long kid. He isn't the type of guy who is going to juke much, but he will be very effective after the catch with his size, strength, and quickness. I've also read too often the phrase "possession receiver" used with him. Sure, he'll be able to move the chains and will be a great red zone weapon, but don't believe for a second that he won't be a big play receiver. Pure speed isn't the only thing that makes a big play receiver. With Duval's size/speed combination, and his quickness with which he'll run routes, makes him a threat to make a ton of big plays for Notre Dame. Not to mention the fact you can just throw it up to him down the field. He's going to be a very tough match-up for ND opponents. Duval and Kerry Neal are the two players in this class I am most excited about.
Golden Tate, WR, 6-0, 180, ****, Hendersonville(Pope John Paul II)TN
Golden Tate, what a great name for a Notre Dame football player. Sorry, but I had to get that out of the way. I really like this kid on film. He's another kid who is great with the football in his hands. Once Golden gets the rock he is a threat to take it to the house. He's a very dynamic football player. The problem with Golden is he needs to refine a great deal of the skills needed to actually get the football.
Golden has a lot of speed. He plays very fast, but he is more than just pure speed. Golden is a very smooth football player. He is able to cut, twist, and turn without losing speed. His vision and cut-back ability are top notch. He also seems to have the uncanny ability to see guys out of the corner of his eye and make them miss.
As a wide receiver Golden needs work but has plenty of tools to work with. Right now he is more of an athlete than he is a receiver. Golden possesses outstanding hands. He is very natural catching the football. In his film he makes some sick catches. He does tend to get a bit cute at times, but that will get changed relatively early on. He is very aggressive going after the football and has tremendous leaping ability. He made some very nice catches over the middle and in the seam where he exploded up to the football with little regard for who might be coming in for a rib shot. For a little guy Golden has outstanding ups. He explodes to the football and catches it high.
There is work to be done with Golden Tate. He has to fill out and get stronger, and I don't think he is the 6-0 that Scout.com lists him as. He's got a nice frame but needs to fill it out a bit before he'll be able to go sixty snaps a game. As a receiver he needs refinement. He's got all the natural tools, he just needs to apply them to the receiver position. When he lines up at receiver he doesn't have a great burst off the ball. It's as if he is feeling his way through traffic. He doesn't run with great speed all the time, as if he isn't quite sure what to do or where to go. That is to be expected from a kid who plays more tailback than receiver. It can definitely be corrected. When he lines up and has a straight go route he is gone, he explodes off the ball and is by his man right now. so he has the ability to do it. It also isn't out of fear of being hit, it's just he's not comfortable doing it. He'll get there. He just needs to become a more polished receiver. He has very good ball control when he gets a hand off or a pitch, but at times, when he catches the ball out of the backfield, he lets it hang out a bit. Br>
Overall, I really like Golden. He should be able to come in right away and compete in the return game. He's an explosive kid, and ND doesn't have too many players on their roster like that. As I stated before, once Golden gets the football in his hands he is fun to watch. As he grows as a player and as a receiver he'll really be a big threat for ND. Not just with his pure downfield speed but also with his ability to catch a quick pass, make people miss, and take it to the house. What I love about this class of receivers is they are so different, yet they compliment each other so well. Duval Kamara is the tall, smooth, natural receiver. Greg Little is strong, agile, explosive guy who'll physically beat you up. Golden is the quick and fast kid who can catch a hitch and shake a defender. All of them have big play potential but get there in very different ways. With ND the past couple of years all their receivers were basically the same kind of player. In the future you have more of a mix, which is hard to prepare for.
#55 Mike Ragone, TE, 6-5, 230, ****, Cherry Hill(Camden Catholic)NJ
I am not sure how early he'll play, but his upside is tremendous. The first thing you notice about Mike is his tremendous frame. I saw him listed at 225 and wondered would he be able to fill out enough to be an every down tight end. Then you watch him play and see his frame and there is no doubt he can fill out like John Carlson.
The next thing that jumps out at you is how natural he is as a pass catcher. He has great hands. Mike also has great ball skills and seems to have a knack for getting open. It is so nice to have a kid come in and already have a natural skill for that. Okay, okay, so maybe you noticed his speed before you noticed his hands. How can you not notice his speed? This kid can absolutely fly for a tight end. If he has a step on you he is gone, and how many tight ends can outrun safeties and corners? Mike is also a pretty smooth football player. The trend that coach Weis has going of lining the tight ends in the slot or out wide will continue with Mike. He absolutely has the ability to line up as a receiver in passing situations. I like Notre Dame's chances every time in that match up. He is also hard to bring down and keeps his legs moving once he feels contact.
As a blocker I see more potential than actual production right now. Mike does a good job of blocking at the high school level but might struggle early on in the college game. It has nothing to do with desire. Mike really fights at the point of attack. His weaknesses are more about size and technique. As he does with the ball in his hands, Mike tends to absorb the initial blow rather than delivering it. Once you hit him then he'll fight his butt off, but he needs to be better at actually delivering and initiating the contact. He is inconsistent with his hands when blocking.
Mike is more fast than quick. But as a tight end that won't really affect him much, he'll get quicker. No way does a kid that fast not have the potential with work to improve his feet quickness. As a receiver he has two areas where he needs some work. One is coming off the ball from the tight end position. He's not bad; he just needs some consistency with his get off. Mike's biggest weakness as a receiver is he doesn't use his hands well during routes. He allows the defender to get into his body, and at times throw him off course. The good thing is this is a technique thing and is something that can be worked on and improved.
Mike, Konrad Reuland, and Will Yeatman are all three very different players. This is great for Notre Dame. Of the three, Mike possesses the big play potential. He is the most natural pass catcher of the three. He will bring a home run hitting ability to the tight end position. Mike comes from the Todd Heap and John Carlson family of tight ends. His speed is superior to John and his ball skills are just as good. Whoever is the starting quarterback at Notre Dame the next four years will be throwing to an outstanding set of tight ends. Mike will need some time to fill out, develop his game a bit, but when it's all said and done he has a world of talent and potential to continue the trend of big time Notre Dame tight ends. Without putting too much pressure on him, he might actually have the most upside of any of them.
Matt Romine, OL, 6-6, 285, ****, Tulsa(Union)OK
Matt is extremely versatile. Although he could play and excel at guard, I think his natural ability will keep him at tackle. The only way I see him playing guard is if the coaching staff decides in order to get the five best players on the field Matt must move inside. Of all the tackles coming in and currently on the roster he has the best potential at guard. This is a tremendous asset to the coaching staff. Matt also has a very nice frame and could naturally reach the 300 pound mark.
Matt has a number of tools as an offensive lineman. Athletically and from a footwork standpoint, he is the best offensive lineman in this class. With a lot of high school linemen great footwork is the last thing they master. That's not the case with Matt. He has great agility and quickness. It's a thing of beauty watching him in space. He's very fast for a lineman. He'll be very effective in coach Weis' screen game. Another thing you can't help but notice in his film is how quickly he gets to the edge. That's rare for a high school offensive tackle that is as big as he is. Matt also has a great motor. He never stops working. You'll see young lineman miss their guy, or go to the next level and there is no one there, so they turn and look. Matt keeps working, looking for someone to block.
Matt has a tendency to lean back way too much when pass protecting. You can see he has a pretty good idea of what he is doing, he just over does it a bit. He gets on his heels and his head is actually leaning back and he absorbs too much from the defender. When he goes against bigger kids they'll blow him up. He needs to do a better job of keeping his feet underneath him, being more solid/firm, and maintaining better balance. This is very correctable. There are also times when Matt gets a bit high coming off the ball.
Matt will have to get better and more consistent with his hands, especially in the run game. In protection he tends to catch and needs to deliver more of a blow. As with most high school linemen; Matt tends to use too much of his body when he's down or drive blocking. On the stretch he's fine, but when he is trying to down block or drive block he has to get better at coming off hard and delivering a blow.
I am not sure how early Matt will play at Notre Dame. I think he has the ability and technique to play as a freshman, but I don't think he is as physically ready as Sam Young. His potential is quite high, but he might need a little bit more time gaining strength in order to give the number of reps each week that Sam was able to provide. How he develops physically from now until fall camp will go a long way in determining this. I think his game as a tackle is nicely suited for the Notre Dame offense. Matt's best football is ahead of him.
Taylor Dever, OL, 6-6, 300, ****, Grass Valley(Nevada Union)CA Taylor Dever came out of nowhere. I remember when I first read about him I thought to myself, how does a kid that big go unnoticed. Then I watched his senior film. Then I was really shocked. What were all the California schools doing? This kid is really good. Well then I watched some of his junior film. Okay, now it's all clear. The Taylor Dever from 2005 is not the same Taylor Dever in 2006. In 2005, Taylor was not a major college football prospect. He was a late bloomer. In fact, he didn't even look like the same player. If he would have changed his number his senior year you would not have been able to convince me it was the same kid. His body and his game changed dramatically.
Taylor is nasty and powerful. He needs a lot of work on some technical issues but he is nasty! He comes off the ball very hard and just mauls people. He plays to the whistle. If you are lining up across from Taylor Dever, you better come ready to battle. The kid plays with passion when he engages a player that guy is done, he has no chance.
Taylor is not a stiff. He's pretty fast for his size. Taylor also has quick feet. He has all the tools you look for in a big time tackle prospect. His overall game isn't ready just yet, but his natural skills should help him really develop at the position. As with Matt Romine, he is going to be really tough in the screen game, he is good in space, and as mentioned before, he's a very quick kid for his size.
Taylor is sometimes too aggressive. If a kid is going to have a weakness this is one you want him to have. He'll have to learn to play under more control. He'll have to learn to stay within himself. If you've ever heard the expression "controlled rage", that is where Taylor needs to take his game. Often Taylor delivers a nasty blow, engages his defender, and then stops his feet. This is something he's going to have to work on. Over-aggressiveness and stopping your feet are a very bad combination. When you are playing against a college defensive end that usually means you are going to get tossed to the side and he's going to the quarterback.
,br> Taylor is really going to have to refine his technique, both lower body and upper body (hands). He needs work, and I seriously doubt he'll be ready to play early on. Having said that; once Taylor Dever gets coached up he has a chance to be a pretty good football player.