In the Film Room

Bryan Driskell is a former college quarterback and former college coach. He also served as his teams' recruiting coordinator during his college coaching career. We've asked him to take a look at all of Notre Dame's commitments to give his opinion on their strengths and weaknesses as a player. Here are his thoughts on Notre Dame's defensive commitments.

Kerry Neal, DE, 6-3, 230, ****, Bunn(HS)NC
As I mentioned earlier, Kerry Neal is one of the two players I'm most excited about in this class. I thought Kerry had a chance to be a really good defensive end. If the Irish in fact play the style of 3-4 that I anticipate, Kerry has a chance to be all-world. My first thought when the news came out was Kerry Neal is going to absolutely dominate. In every scouting report you read about Kerry you hear about his great motor and speed. There is much more to his game than that.

We will, however, start off with those two traits. I have watched a lot of film of this year's class, Notre Dame signees and others. There aren't many players, if any, who possess a better first step than Kerry. He really has tremendous speed coming off the edge, whether it is with his hand on the ground or from a two-point stance. He has very long arms and does a tremendous job using them to keep offensive players away. If ND decides to play Kerry as a true defensive end he has the frame to gain the necessary weight. But with this switch I don't think you'll see him get much bigger than 245-250 pounds at the most.

This is a player who gives everything he's got every snap. He is a true "whistle to whistle" player. His motor never stops. Usually when you talk about a kids motor you are referring to a kid who isn't a great athlete, but rather someone who has to play that hard in order to be effective. Kerry has the motor and great speed and athleticism.

When you watch Kerry play you see tremendous football instincts. He reacts very well to screens, adjusts to the football very well, and is able to be engaged with a player while keep his eyes on the football. The game of football seems to come naturally too him. This will serve him quite well if he is indeed going to play the OLB/DE position in a 3-4 style defense. His agility, instincts, and speed should make him perform well in coverage as well. I was only able to see Kerry in coverage a couple of snaps, but in those snaps he looked natural at it. I won't go as far as to say he'll be great at it simply because I haven't seen it enough. Kerry also has great ball skills, which you see when he's playing tight end.

Neal is going to have to play with more power at the point of attack against bigger, stronger, and faster edge players in college. He'll have to be able to hold up against the run. I wouldn't call it a weakness, but it is certainly an area where he will need to gain strength and develop. As great as Kerry is as just blowing by offensive players, he will eventually have to develop a more advanced pass rushing repertoire. He has the speed, agility, and skill to change direction but he doesn't possess it quite yet. There really isn't much to not like or pick apart about Kerry. If ND were still playing the 4-3 I would spend more time talking about his need to get bigger and stronger. With the move to the 3-4 he'll need to add strength, as all freshmen must do, but his need to gain weight isn't as great. I now think Kerry will have the chance to physically come in and compete immediately.

Emeka Nwankwo, DT, 6-5, 270, ****, Hollywood(Chaminade-Madonna)FL

My evaluation of Emeka Nwankwo is unique. I'm still not sure which position he is going to play. I'll try to talk about his skills as a guard and as a defensive tackle. Many of his physical skills can be tied into both positions. Others require separate evaluations.

Emeka is pretty athletic kid. He has very good quickness and is very effective in space. When you watch him pull you see a burst coming through that you don't see when you watch Notre Dame football in 2006. He's isn't afraid to mix it up either. He does a good job of staying within himself and not playing out of control.

There is a bunch of room for improvement for Emeka. First thing is first he needs to fall in love with the Notre Dame weight room. He looks pudgy. At between 270-280 pounds already, that means he has the potential to actually gain weight and get quicker! Emeka does a nice job of delivering a blow but doesn't have the strength yet to really finish people off.

Emeka's technique also needs work. Whether he is playing offensive guard or defensive tackle he needs to play with better leverage. He has a bad habit of coming off the ball fast but high. Other times he simply raises up without bringing his feet. A kid with his height needs to play with better leverage, stay low, and create havoc. Emeka also hits with his body way too much. He needs to learn to use his hands. Nwankwo at times has trouble really staying engaged with people. He'll come off quick, give a good blow, but then lose his guy.

I personally think his skill set is better suited for the defensive tackle position. As he improves his technique, with that increased size and strength, he'll create real good match-up problems for interior offensive lineman. I think he could potentially be a solid guard, but I honestly feel his highest ceiling is on the defensive side of the football.

Ian Williams, DT, 6-1, 290, ***, Longwood(Lyman)FL
Ian is in the same boat as Emeka Nwankwo from the standpoint of needing to reshape his body a bit, but Ian is a much stronger player right now than Emeka. If Ian commits himself to really working in the gym and on his conditioning I think he could come in and contribute from day one.

For a player his size Ian is extremely quick and does a great job of anticipating the snap. He is a very disruptive defensive lineman. He seems to have very good instincts. Ian plays with a great motor, but tends to take a play off here and there. It doesn't seem to be a lack of effort, like I saw with Joseph Barksdale. I just think he needs to get in a little better shape. Williams is already a very strong football player. There is additional strength required, but he is going to come in strong enough to play.

One thing you'll notice about Ian is he has more than one move. He has a nice assortment of moves and gives linemen fits. Even when he is blocked it's usually in the backfield. He's able to dictate the line of scrimmage, which as we all know is a win for the defense. I don't see Williams putting up the sack numbers of Derek Landri, but I do think his ability to create penetration is going to create more sacks for the outside rushers.

For a kid with his height, or lack there of, he tends to lose leverage at times. He must be more consistent here and never allow this. As with most young defensive linemen he'll need to become a more consistent player with both his technique and effort. Ian tends to get sloppy at times with his hands. This didn't really hurt him in high school but could cause problems against bigger, stronger, and quicker players in college. His height will give him the same problems it does Trevor Laws. He'll have trouble, at times, with really big guards like LSU and USC tend to have. Quarterbacks will also have an easier time throwing over him than they would a taller player. Williams has a really nice frame, as stated before, and if he's willing to work could grow into something special. With his size, quickness, and natural strength he possesses all the characteristics and tools required of the 3-4 two-gap nose guard. I think his size would have limited him somewhat in the 4-3 defense.

Andrew Nuss, DT, 6-5, 285, ***, Ashburn(Stone Bridge)VA
As a Virginia native and having coached in that state I always like seeing Virginia boys go to Notre Dame. I have also coached a couple of Stone Bridge players. Kids from that school are well coached and tough kids. I will, however, attempt to remain objective with Andrew.

For starters Andrew has a great frame. He will naturally fill out at ND and be at least 300 pounds. If you look at Andrew right now in the face he looks like a little kid. He is going to be huge! He is also a pretty quick player for his size. Andrew is very aggressive and simply overwhelms the smaller competition. As a defensive tackle he showed an ability to find the running back while battling with the offensive lineman. Andrew has relatively quick hands, although he needs a lot of work on the technique. Andrew has upside to really be a mauler inside.

Playing with leverage is something Andrew is really going to struggle with early on. He plays very high. He can't play that high and be effective. It doesn't really hurt him in high school but he'll get blown up on the inside by the interior linemen Notre Dame plays. When he does it right he brings some punch, but he is too high more often than not. He'll also have to work on getting more penetration with his initial step and use his hands and feet together more effectively. Andrew also needs to continue to get stronger.

Nuss brings a different dimension to the defensive line at Notre Dame. Derek Landri is able to dominate with his quickness, and Trevor Laws with his strength and leverage, Andrew will bring great size to the table. He brings height and the frame to be well over 300 pounds. I'm not saying he is a future All-American, but I am saying he has the size potential, quickness, and aggressiveness to potentially be a solid football player on the defensive side of the ball.

Aaron Nagel, LB, 6-1, 215, ***, Lemont(HS)IL
Notre Dame and their short linebackers. One thing I like about this years recruiting class is the "athletes" they are bringing in. The Irish didn't land a ton of "pure" position players but they recruited a bunch of really good football players. Aaron is one of those football players.

Nagel brings some really good tools to the table as a defensive player. He is much faster than he is often given credit for. He's a very solid athlete and plays extremely hard. He has good straight line and quickness. He reported times of 4.52 in the forty and a 4.15 shuttle. He had a 4.20 shuttle officially in San Antonio last year. All are outstanding times for a linebacker. I often wonder how a kid with those times and who plays as fast as he does gets labeled as he does as some kind of "over-achiever". He has, as you've seen me use often with kids in this class, a great motor. He's also a very physical kid and will bring it. He is not shy of contact. As a running back he is very explosive and powerful. He brings the same attitude to defense.

As a blitzer Aaron caused a lot of problems. He has a knack for finding the crease in the line as well as good timing/anticipation of the snap. He's great in pursuit and really flies to the football. That is one attribute that will serve him well in a 3-4 defense.

I wonder how much room Aaron has for physical growth. Obviously at 215 pounds he isn't big enough yet to play linebacker in the 3-4. I'm not saying he has to weigh 250 pounds but he'll need to get bigger. Aaron will have to improve at the point of attack in two areas. One is he needs to learn to take on and shed blocks better. He tends to let guys get into him. He must also get better at delivering a blow when he isn't able to run downhill. When he is involved in short-area contact he doesn't bring the same hip explosion and power as he does when he's able to pick up a little bit of steam. Aaron isn't lacking the ability to do this; he just needs learn to play that way. Those are two areas where you see him needing to adjust as he goes from safety to linebacker.

One thing I see in Nagel that I've seen at times with Tom Zbikowski is he will take some bad angles to the ball carrier. There were a few plays where he showed really good speed in chasing a guy from behind; however, if he had taken a better angle to the ball carrier he wouldn't have had to chase him. He also tends to play high at times. Yet another technique that is a result of him shifting from the secondary to linebacker. Aaron doesn't have great hips either. He's not stiff; he just isn't real fluid when changing directions. That to me is my biggest concern with him in coverage.

I don't see Nagel possessing the All-American potential that other players in this class have, but he does bring some skills to the table. As stated before my real big concern with him is how much bigger can he get? I also wonder where he will play in the 3-4. I don't see naturally fitting into either the inside or outside position. If I were to make a prediction I would say at the very least Aaron is going to be a fan favorite as a special team's warrior. At best he has a chance to be a solid starting inside linebacker at Notre Dame. He has more speed, agility, and power than a number of linebackers who have started at Notre Dame the last seven or eight years.

Steve Paskorz, LB, 6-2, 220, ***, Allison Park(Hampton)PA
Steve is another one of the "athletes" in this year's recruiting class. He's not a pure linebacker but he is a heck of a football player. He has a really nice frame and I wouldn't be surprised to see him fill out to at least 235 pounds. He's another kid who I think will be a beneficiary of Notre Dame moving to the 3-4. I'm not sure how sold I was on him as a mike in the 4-3. As an inside backer in the 3-4 I think he could really shine and be a solid linebacker.

I didn't have a ton of film available of Steve as a linebacker, which is unfortunate, but I had plenty of him running with the football. Steve is very fast for a kid his size. I absolutely buy the 4.55-4.6 speed he is reported to have. He brings real good straight line speed to the table but also has very good agility. As a ball carrier he shows very good instincts and vision. Once he sees an opening he really explodes downhill through the hole. Those skills translate very well to the linebacker position. He also plays with great leverage and has very good balance. He runs through contact without losing his stride. Once he's in the open he is a long strider and doesn't get caught, although he doesn't appear to be playing against great speed.

Paskorz brings some of those same skill sets to the linebacker position. He gets downhill well and has a read good initial step. What I would like to see is for him to bring the same power he possesses as a running back to the linebacker position. It is going to take time for him to grow physically and technically into the linebacker position. He also needs to be more compact as a linebacker and stay within himself.

To me Steve is more of a question at linebacker than is Aaron Nagel. He doesn't have the defensive background and experience. Having said that, I do feel that his upside as a linebacker is greater. Not only does he have more growth potential, but I think his physical skills really translate well to the inside linebacker position. I'm sure Steve is going to need a lot of work from a technical standpoint at the linebacker position, but I think he has all the physical tools to really be a solid player at Notre Dame.

Brian Smith, LB, 6-2.5, 230, ***, Overland Park(St. Thomas Aquinas)KS
The first thing I noticed about Brian Smith was his great frame. He is a kid whose game might dictate a move to either OLB or possibly even defensive end. If the latter is the case I see Brian having no problem making the necessary gains without losing speed or quickness.

Smith is a very physical and powerful football player. He doesn't shy away from contact and delivers a pretty nice punch at the point of attack. When it comes to bringing down ball carriers he really explodes through them. He seems to really have a knack for diagnosing what is happening in from of him. He sniffs things out and does a good job of attacking downhill and making a play. He is very good at fighting through traffic and shedding blocks to get to the ball carrier.

Brian is a good athlete, but not a great athlete. He isn't the fastest kid in the world, but he makes up for it by being able to use every ounce of speed he does have. It doesn't take him any time to get going. He's full speed from step one. I'm not saying he can't play inside linebacker, I'm just saying I don't see him having the same speed that kids like Steve Paskorz, Aaron Nagel, and Toryan Smith bring. He can, however, make up for it with the ability to read and react well. Again, I'm not sure what kind of coverage skills he has.

I like the late pickup of Brian Smith. He's a hard-nosed kid, he has a great motor, and is a pretty solid athlete. Brian has a nice quick burst coming off of the edge. He is a pretty versatile kid. I can see him playing inside in the 3-4, but I also think he has the ability to get bigger and stronger and put his hand down. He could also play on the outside standing up, but I don't know if he'll be able to beat out guys like Morrice Richardson and Kerry Neal out there. As far as where he'll have a chance to earn time I see it either being inside or as an end.

Harrison Smith, S, 6-2, 205, ****, Knoxville(Catholic)TN
I have actually spent more time watching Harrison Smith trying to find a flaw rather than looking for his strengths. His strengths jump off the screen at you. He has plenty of them. You really have to dig deep and nit pick to find something wrong with this kid's game. When you watch his film and compare it to the other top safeties Harrison is just as good, with just as much upside, if not more than any safety in the country. I mean that.

The first thing I ever noticed about Harrison Smith was the fact he was reported to have ran a 4.38 forty and a 3.94 shuttle. Those are unbelievable numbers. I've read places where he doesn't play like he's a 4.38 kid. Well, perhaps that's true, but Harrison still plays very fast. He has great closing speed. On top of that he is a very smooth and extremely fluid athlete. You really notice that when he is on offense. I actually think Harrison would make a pretty good wide receiver at Notre Dame. He has great speed, athleticism, ball skills, and can go up and get it. His hands are outstanding. Defensively he is great at going up high and snatching the ball at its highest point.

Harrison is a very long kid. He has a great frame, which is why I think a lot of people talked about him being a linebacker. Harrison Smith's game, however, screams free safety. Harrison is very rangy. You hear that word used a lot with safeties, and it applies here. It simply means that Harrison is able to cover a lot of area and make up a lot of ground on the football field with his speed, range, and instincts. That is something ND has been severely lacking from the safety position the last couple of seasons. Finally, although he doesn't have the same power as say Major Wright, Harrison will stick his nose into traffic and deliver a blow. He does, however, need to be more consistent with his tackling technique.

I really see tons of talent and potential in Harrison Smith. ND has really done a great job recruiting for the secondary the last two years. I've already talked about the cornerback position, but safety has been great as well. In addition to Harrison I really liked Sergio Brown last year. Sergio might have a little bit more strong safety to his game than Harrison does, which means the two could play together in the same backfield. Also, Jashaad Gaines has a nice upside. I don't know if it's quite as high as Sergio or Harrison, but he has some potential. Jashaad brings more thunder, and is a really nice compliment. What is encouraging with the young safeties is they are somewhat interchangeable. All of them have the ability come up and hit and support in the run game, but they also bring flexibility to the table in that they also have good range and coverage ability. The future of the secondary at Notre Dame appears very bright.

#72 Gray Gray, CB, 5-11, 165, ****, Columbia(Richland Northeast)SC
If I had to compare the three cornerbacks that ND has signed the last two years I would put Darrin Walls at the top. When you look at his speed, quickness, coverage skills, and explosiveness as a football player he has a chance to be special. I would put Gary Gray and Raeshon McNeil as 2A and 2B. Raeshon has the edge over Gary in size and pure speed. Gary has the edge over Raeshon in quickness and coverage ability. All in all it's a tremendous trio unrivaled over the last two years.

The cornerback position appears to come very naturally to Gary. That or he has been blessed with tremendous coaching. Gary was also blessed with some God-given abilities that allow him to excel in coverage. Gary is a very quick football player with great footwork. There is little wasted motion on his part in coverage. He has an early knack for running the receivers route with him. Gary is also able to make up for his lack of burner speed with tremendous hips as well as outstanding turn and run ability. When people talk about great hips in a corner they are simply talking about how smooth and quickly a player is able to open and run, and also the ability to stop your peddle and jump a route. He gives great effort and plays with outstanding technique in the run game, but must get stronger in order to hold up for sixty snaps at the collegiate level. Despite showing outstanding coverage ability in the Army game, it appeared he had a little trouble finding the football. I didn't notice that much in his school film, but it is something to keep an eye on in the future.

In high school film it can be difficult to breakdown a cornerback's agility, footwork, and speed. Often times you are able to get a better feel for that player's talent on offense and special teams. That is true of Gary Gray. He is a very smooth and quick offensive player. He is able to cut on a dime and change directions quickly without losing any speed or coming out of his running form. Gary has very nice hands and catches the ball well. The fact he is able to get to top speed from step one could help him become an effective punt returner.

There are three aspects of Gray's game in which he'll need to improve. The first is a tendency at times to be a little wide when he plants to break on an underneath move, which causes him to lose his footing. It's not often, but it happens enough to focus on it and correct it. He needs to always keep his balance and stay within himself. As we've seen the last couple of years it takes just one time for a kid to slip and lose his footing for an opponents wide receiver to be seen streaking down the sideline for another long touchdown pass. Gary also must learn to be more physical against bigger receivers, as well as use his hands better. There is certain technique required but the majority of the improvement here will come through work in the weight room.

I've noticed that with Gary scouts tend to focus on what he doesn't have. He isn't short, but at around 5-10 or 5-11 he doesn't have great height. He also is a pretty thin kid. He has a decent frame to add strength but not a ton of mass. Gary also isn't the fastest kid in the world, although running a 4.5 doesn't exactly make you a liability. What he does, however, as I have discussed before, is maximize every ounce of ability he has, combined with a natural feel for the corner position. I don't see the All-American potential in Gary Gray that I see in Darrin Walls. At worst I see him with added strength excelling in the slot as a nickel back. But if he is able to max out his ability and potential he is a young man with the athleticism and natural ability to be a very effective starting college cornerback. Think about the career Vontez Duff had as a cornerback and a return man. Then imagine Vontez with more speed, better quickness, and a natural feel for the corner position. That's Gray Gray. Top Stories