The same can't be said for the Class of 2008. This year's signing class matches the 2007 group in premier talent but also has the depth across the board the Irish missed out on last season. For the second year in a row the Irish landed arguably the nation's top signal caller in Dayne Crist. Crist, as well as 2007 signee Jimmy Clausen, will have plenty of brand new weapons to throw to. Michael Floyd dominated the Army All-American game and is one of, if not the best wide receiver prospect in the nation. In what was somewhat of a surprise, the Irish also signed Deion Walker out of Virginia. Rounding out the receiving corp is Fort Wayne, Ind. native John Goodman. Goodman surprised people during the week of preparation for the Army game. He topped that week off with a touchdown reception for the winning East team. Ohio native Kyle Rudolph is the nation's premier tight end and is another big time weapon for the Irish signal callers. If it weren't for Rudolph the excitement over the signing of Joseph Fauria would be greater. Fauria is a big, smooth, and athletic pass catcher with good bloodlines. To round out a tremendous class of skill players the Irish also brought in Detroit Country Day star Jonas Gray. Gray was also named an Army All-American but missed most of the week of practice.
The 2007 class had three potential tackle prospects. The 2008 class countered with three interior prospects. Trevor Robinson is arguably the best guard prospect in the country. Anytime the Irish are able to land an elite lineman from Nebraska you have to be excited. Braxston Cave is a big, physical, and aggressive player who could play center or guard for the Irish. Michael Golic is undersized but athletic and plays with very good technique. After a couple of years in the weight room and cafeteria, he will have a shot to earn a spot at either center or guard. Lane Clelland is another player who will need to spend considerable time in the weight room and eating but has a nice blend of athleticism, natural power, and frame to be a dominating offensive lineman.
As good as the Irish offensive haul is the defensive haul was just as impressive. It's not very often the Irish are able to go to the West coast and land rival Southern Cal's top defensive prospect. They did just that when Lincoln High star Ethan Johnson signed on the dotted line. Johnson is one of the nation's premier defensive ends. A knee injury shortened his senior year but shouldn't diminish the excitement over his signing with the Irish. Marian Central Catholic star Sean Cwynar is already on campus and working with the Irish football team. Cwynar was a First-Team, All-Illinois pick and an Army All-American. Potential signing day surprise Kapron Lewis-Moore was recruited to play outside linebacker for the Irish. But with his skill set and great frame I think he could grow into a solid defensive end at Notre Dame. When Brandon Newman committed to the Irish I felt he would be no more than a limited snaps plugger. After watching him during the week of the Army game I became a believer in Newman. He's a short, stout, and very strong interior player who is a perfect fit for the nose guard position in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense. Hafis Williams is raw but provides the Irish with another big and strong nose guard candidate.
The Irish followed up a strong 2007 outside linebacker class with another standout edge player in Chicago St. Rita star Darius Fleming. Fleming has a great motor and dominated the week of practice leading up to the Army game. Fellow Chicago native Steve Filer is another Army All-American. Filer is a big and rangy player who adds much needed size, strength, and athleticism to a position lacking players that fit that description. Another big, strong, and athletic inside linebacker is Notre Dame High standout Anthony McDonald. McDonald doesn't have the athletic ability of Filer but is powerful and instinctive. Irish fans should recognize the name Posluszny. Aliquippa star David Posluszny brings more than just a pedigree to the game. He needs to fill out but is athletic and isn't afraid to hit people.
This class is rounded out by a solid secondary class. If he is healthy Cardinal Mooney star Dan McCarthy is one of the better athletes around. McCarthy was a dynamic offensive player at Mooney but projects as a safety for the Irish. Tucker standout Jamoris Slaughter is one of the faster players in this class. He also likes to fly around the field and hit people. Slaughter likely will be moved to cornerback for the Irish, which will require new techniques, but he has the athletic ability to play any position in the secondary. Robert Blanton is the type of player that fits the Irish's new defense to a T. Blanton is a tall and rangy cover corner. But his ability to come up and wreak havoc in the run game will be a very nice addition to the Irish cornerback position.
#45 Dayne Crist, QB, 6-5, 225, *****, Sherman Oaks (Notre Dame) CA
Crist already has big-time size and arm strength. The Notre Dame High standout has as good of an arm as any quarterback in the country. Crist also throws a great deep ball. Unlike other big-armed quarterbacks, Crist has a good understanding of how to make every throw. You will see Crist let it rip when throwing deep or threading the needle and then showing good touch on shorter throws. He also throws one of the best deep balls around. His long delivery is made up for in how fast and hard the ball comes off his hand. You won't see Crist winding up to make the tougher throws on the field. He is able to effortlessly throw the deep out, the deep post, and the deep in routes. I would like to see him shorten up his deliver a bit, but if he doesn't it won't be something that drastically affects his game. Over the past two seasons Crist has only thrown only four interceptions along with 33 touchdowns. This shows that the young signal caller makes good decisions and doesn't force a lot of throws.
For such a big quarterback Crist also has outstanding athletic ability. In ten games this season the Sherman Oaks native rushed for 454 yards at a 5.6 average. He isn't a scrambler but is athletic enough and fast enough to hurt the defense if they force him from the pocket or give him room to run. He also has shown great leadership. Not only as a quarterback on the field but also off the field. Almost every recruit mentions Crist as a guy who they speak with frequently. No one I have spoken with has ever said anything negative about Dayne Crist the individual. In my conversations with him I found him to quite personable and engaging.
Crist is far from a finished product. His footwork can be spotty at best, which causes him to sail out routes. He is inconsistent with his release point, and as I mentioned earlier, has a longer throwing motion. His completion percentage over the last two seasons is only 56.1 percent. As he improves his footwork and becomes more consistent with his release point he should become more accurate. Crist also will need time to learn how to run a college style offense and go through progressions. With Jimmy Clausen on campus there is no rush for Crist. He will be able to refine his game and learn the offense. When his time comes he has all the physical tools and leadership abilities to be a dominant college quarterback. While Crist is still somewhat raw and unpolished he has tremendous talent and potential.
#182 Jonas Gray, RB, 5-11, 214, ****, Beverly Hills (Detroit Country Day) MI
A year after landing an outstanding one-two punch at running back, the Irish came back and signed another highly regarded running back. Detroit Country Day standout Jonas Gray is a combination of Robert Hughes and Armando Allen. Gray's running style is all about power and patience. You won't see the 5-11, 214-pound Gray shy away from contact. It's not often you see Gray brought down by a single tackler and arm tackles will never work on him. Gray uses his strength and thick lower body to drive through defenders. There are times when Gray gets a bit high, but most of the time he keeps a good pad level and has a knack for lowering his shoulder and delivering a blow to wanna-be tacklers. His patience might be my favorite attribute. Gray knows how to let his blocking develop and doesn't rush his reads. Once he sees the hole open up he will explode through.
I wouldn't classify Gray as a cut-back runner but he does show good vision. When you combine that with his power and patience you have a very good running back. Gray also has good speed. While at times it takes him awhile to really get in gear once he gets in the open field he doesn't get caught. He wasn't asked to catch the ball much in high school. During summer 7-on-7 sessions he showed natural hands and catches the ball away from his body, which I like. Gray is also a fundamentally sound running back with good footwork.
#16 Michael Floyd, WR, 6'3, 200, *****, St. Paul (Cretin-Durham Hall) MN
After the Army All-American game the rest of the recruiting nation realized what I've been saying for over a year. Michael Floyd is one of the nation's premier wide receivers. After posting a 118 yard and two touchdown performance Floyd showed he is a big-ttime playmaker as well.
The Cretin-Durham Hall star has very good size and strength. His game is centered on using his size and strength to out-muscle and run through defenders. He will continue to get bigger and stronger which will only enhance his abilities. Floyd also showed during the Army game that his speed, which has been a knock on him, is better than advertised. During the game Floyd showed the kind of speed that allowed him to dominate the entire week of practice. Floyd ran by Boubacar Cissoko, who is one of the nation's premier cornerbacks, for a 56 yard touchdown showing he has the speed to beat the fastest cornerbacks around.
Floyd has remarkable playmaking ability. His unorthodox running style can be deceiving. But his production is unquestioned. Floyd is a threat to beat people deep, but his best work is done after the ball is in his hands. He uses his strength to run through people, as mentioned earlier. But what makes Floyd truly special with the ball in his hands is his field awareness and vision. Floyd has a tremendous feel for where defenders are coming from and cutting away from them. There are several clips in his film where he cuts back on a defender that I didn't think he could see. It's the kind of playmaking ability that the Irish lacked last season.
The 6-3, 200-pound receiver also has tremendous hands. Floyd attacks the football when it's in the air and has very strong hands. Floyd also is very advanced at this stage in his career. He comes from a well coached high school football program. He needs work as a route runner and there are aspects of his game that need improvement of course, but his talent and potential are tremendous.
#58 Deion Walker, WR, 6-3, 185, ****, Christchurch (HS) VA
Some of the nation's premier offenses went very hard after Christchurch, Va. native Deion Walker. Anytime you can beat Southern Cal, Florida, LSU, Florida State, Tennessee, and Penn State for a wide receiver you are getting yourselves a very good talent. That's quite an impressive offer list. At this stage in his career Walker is more about skill and potential. He is far from a finished product. That is a good thing.
Walker has good height but is thin at this point. He will need quite a bit of work in the weight room. But his physical skills are outstanding. Walker has very good speed and is a long-strider. He needs to learn to come fast off the ball on a more consistent basis, but when he is right he blows by defenders. Walker is also very agile. It should allow him to eventually become a very good route runner. The 6-3, 185-pound Walker also has very quick feet and outstanding balance.
Floyd and Walker both possess great hands and ball skills. When the ball is in the air Walker tracks it well and has very smooth hands. He also possesses very good field awareness. When you combine his athletic ability, field awareness, and ball skills Walker has all the tools to be another big playmaker. What is nice about Floyd and Walker is they can hurt you in a variety of ways. He can beat you deep with his size, speed, leaping ability, and ball skills. He can also hurt you by catching a short pass or screen, making people miss, and turning it into a big play. The Irish right now don't have a player on their roster who has shown that ability.
Right now Walker is more about potential than anything. He has the athletic ability and skills to play as a freshman. But he will need to get bigger, stronger, and learn the nuances of route running before he will realize his potential. If he is works at his game he has a chance to be a dynamic wide receiver by the time he leaves South Bend.
#133 John Goodman, WR, 6-3, 186, ****, Fort Wayne (Bishop Dwenger) IN
The least regarded and well known wide receiver recruit is John Goodman. Goodman, however, might be the fastest of all the wide receiver recruits. Heading into the Army All-American game felt that Goodman was one of the Notre Dame players who many felt didn't deserve to be in the game. Not many people felt that way at the end of the week. Goodman capped off a great week of practice with a touchdown catch in the game.
Like Walker, right now Goodman is more about upside and potential. Also like Walker, the Fort Wayne, Ind. native needs to get bigger and stronger. He is very thin at this point which might keep him from rising above other players his freshman year. But once his size catches up to his athletic ability he will be a very pleasant surprise for the Irish. He also has good agility and explosiveness to go with his good speed. He's a player who can beat you deep, catch a short throw and make a big play, as well as get the ball in the backfield.
Goodman and Walker both have a lot to learn about the wide receiver position. Once Goodman is able to add good technique to his athletic ability the Irish will have themselves a player.
#21 Kyle Rudolph, TE, 6-7, 235, *****, Cincinnati (Elder) OH
It's rare you will find tight ends who are 6-7" and 235 pounds that can run, are agile, and are able to leap over defenders. Kyle Rudolph can do all those things. The Cincinnati, Ohio native is the nation's premier tight end and one of the best football players in the nation. Notre Dame fans have become accustomed to seeing productive tight ends in the Charlie Weis era and Kyle Rudolph should help continue the dominance from the position.
Unlike John Carlson, who came into college at around 210 pounds, the 6-7 Rudolph already weighs about 230 pounds. Rudolph has broad shoulders and a nice frame to be able to add plenty of weight and strength to his great frame. Once he gets bigger and stronger he will be hard for any opponent to stop. Right now his won't be the reason he doesn't play as a freshman.
Rudolph has very good speed for a player with his size. But more impressive is the Elder high school star's agility. He's got tremendous feet and is a very smooth athlete. As a pass catcher he has wide receiver hands and ball skills. Rudolph lines up a great deal at the tight end position but also spends plenty of time outside as a wide receiver. He can stretch the field in the seams, on the outside, and also has shown the ability to dominate on the underneath routes. He's got the speed to outrun linebackers and safeties and he knows how to use his size as well.
#187 Joseph Fauria, TE, 6-7, 250, ****, Encino (Crespi) CA
If it weren't for the signing of Kyle Rudolph many Notre Dame fans would be buzzing much more about Joseph Fauria. Fauria is a very solid tight end prospect. He is a massive prospect at 6-7" and 250 pounds. I'm not sure how much bigger he will get but there is plenty of room for Fauria to redefine his body.
Fauria's game doesn't match his body. While he gives very good effort in the run game he is not a dominator. He plays with solid technique and leverage but doesn't have great power at this point. While he isn't the fastest guy he is a very smooth athlete. The Crespi high school standout has good footwork for such a big guy. He gets off the ball well and knows how to use his big frame to get open. Even when he doesn't beat a defender he uses his great size to position himself to make the play. Fauria also shows a good understanding on how to work the zone defense.
#110 Trevor Robinson, OL, 6- 5, 304, ****, Elkhorn (HS) NE
It's always great to go into the state of Nebraska and snatch up an offensive lineman the caliber of Trevor Robinson. Robinson is exactly what the state is known for. He's big, physical, aggressive, and a dominating run blocker. He'll infuse an attitude and strength quotient the Irish line has lacked on the interior in the Charlie Weis era.
Robinson is arguably the nation's top guard prospect. He will need a lot of technique work in both the run and pass game. He tends to lean into defenders at times and has very little pass blocking experience. The fact he is enrolling early gives him a great jump on fixing those issues. Once he does he has a chance to be a special interior player. Robinson is a very strong young man. He is, to borrow an overused expression, "country strong." When he gets a body on a defender they have no chance. He just eats people up. When he's allowed to just come off the ball and hit people he flat dominates. Robinson dominated the West defensive linemen all week at the Army All-American game.
The Elkhorn high school star also works well in space. He looked good on his high school film and at the Army game when asked to pull, trap, or work on the perimeter. At times he gets a bit high when working up to the second level but it isn't something that can't be fixed with work. Robinson fits in well to the Notre Dame system which bodes well for him having the opportunity to earn early playing time.
#140 Braxston Cave, OL, 6'3, 292, ****, Mishawaka (Penn) IN
Braxston Cave opened up some eyes during the week of the Under Armor game. Cave, like Robinson, is a very strong high school football player. He also has the ability to play both center and guard at the collegiate level.
Cave is all about attitude and strength. While he tends to be a leaner at times when he gets into a player, he still dominates. Cave gives great effort and never quits. He also plays with good technique and leverage. He is at his best when coming off the ball and mauling his opponents. He also has good footwork and plays with good leverage.
As I mentioned before, I really like Cave's versatility. He is a center in high school but also has the size, strength, and style of play to play guard as well. Players like him are always nice to have on your roster.
Lane Clelland, OL, 6-5, 265, ***, Owings Mills (McDonough) MD
I always like to hear that an offensive lineman has a wrestling background. Lane Clelland has that kind of background and is considered a top-notch wrestler. He also has top-notch potential as an offensive tackle. After seeing him during the week of the Army All-American game I realized that Clelland has a lot of work to do. But his potential is still very high.
First things first, Clelland must get bigger and stronger. He is also very raw from a technique standpoint. One thing that hurt him during the Army game is he was on his heels to much. Defensive players were able to get into his chest and drive him back. It didn't have anything to do with a lack of strength. It had everything to do with him being light but more importantly it was about poor technique. Once those issues get worked out Clelland should take off as a football player.
Clelland is naturally very strong. The strength he showed on film is even more impressive when you see him up close and realize how much bigger he will get. Clelland also has very good agility and speed. He moves well in space and looks really good working up to the second level. When he is able to build up steam and get momentum he is very good. Clelland also has good arm length and a nice punch. Again, he will need to refine his technique, but the skills are there. Irish fans who are looking for a "true" left tackle might have found their man. With his combination of size potential, strength, agility, and effort Clelland has the potential to make it at the left tackle position.