There was some talent there (Kerry Neal, Ian Williams) but the two previous classes hadn't provided any depth and little star power (Neal being the one exception). As the season wore on Brian Smith emerged and made us feel a little bit better. But there were still serious talent issues and depth issues along the front seven. A little over a year has gone by and I have to admit I'm ecstatic about the recruiting along the front seven. In that time the Irish have signed star caliber players on the line and at linebacker. They have also amassed serious depth along the front seven.
The newest addition to the Irish fold is Dan Fox of Ohio powerhouse St. Ignatius. At this point Fox is a bit of a project. He has a lot of tools but physically he needs work. Fox has good height and is listed anywhere from 6-foot-3 to 6-foot-4. While he has a good frame at this point, he is very thin for a linebacker. From what I can see on film, I'm not overly concerned about his ability to add weight. But with a player this thin it will likely take him some time to add to proper weight. Fox also isn't an overly powerful or strong player at this point in his career. As I mentioned, he will need to fill out and get stronger before he sees the field at Notre Dame.
Fox plays a unique position for his high school team. It appears that he's a hybrid linebacker who plays safety at times. Perhaps he's a safety who plays linebacker at times, but you get my point. For St. Ignatius, Fox appears to play on the perimeter much more than inside. This gives him a lot of freedom and makes him quite versatile. You will see Fox playing the run, rushing the passer, covering the flats, covering the hook to curl zones, and also playing deep zone coverage.
I wanted to get the negatives out of the way at the beginning so we can focus on all the good things regarding Dan Fox. While he lacks great size and strength, Fox is a hard-nosed football player who doesn't back down from anyone. The St. Ignatius standout is also a smooth athlete. Fox isn't a burner from the linebacker position but he is athletic and has solid speed. He has quick feet and gets in and out of his cuts very well. Fox also has very fluid hips. He also has very good leaping ability, which I will discuss a bit further.
Fox is a very solid tackler at this point in his career. Despite constantly flying up hard from a deeper position, he does a very good job coming to balance and breaking down on ball carriers. He also wraps up well, and once he gets his mits on ball carriers, they are tackled. When he has a full head of steam he can really lay wood on people. At the times when he is having to play in a small area or isn't able to get a running start Fox will need to learn to drive more from his hips. As I said, when he is running full steam the fact he doesn't drive through with his hips doesn't hurt him. But in college he'll likely be playing close to the line of scrimmage and this could be a problem. As he develops his strength and fills out he should have the necessary physical skills to be a very good tackler. He will have to learn, however, to really drive through ball carriers.
As I watched the first few pictures and then clips of Dan Fox I just assumed that he wouldn't be a very good run player. I was wrong. Again, in college he'll have to get much stronger and fill out, but Fox is a hard-nosed and aggressive football player. He flies around the field and doesn't back down from anyone. He takes good angles in the run game and engages blockers well. He also knows how to anchor when going against bigger defenders. I'd like to see him use his hands more and give a better blow at times, but the young man has an idea of what he is doing out there. That's not surprising considering the program he is coming from.
One aspect of his game that will need to seriously develop at the next level is playing at the line of scrimmage. As an outside linebacker at Notre Dame Fox will play up on the line far more than he did in high school. In some ways many of the techniques will be new and there will certainly be an adjustment. I'm not saying Fox can't do this. I'm simply saying in high school he wasn't asked to play the run from the line of scrimmage all that often.
I like Fox as a pass rusher as well. He's still a bit raw in this regard but he shows potential. In college I'd like to see him develop a wider array of moves. At this point he really just uses his speed and athletic ability to beat people. Fox has very good timing coming off the edge and anticipates the snap well. Combine that with the fact he is able to get full speed from his initial step and you have a player who will be disruptive coming off the edge. Fox also closes well on the quarterback and ball carriers off the edge and is able to redirect well.
The one aspect of his game that separates him from every other Notre Dame linebacker recruit is his ability in coverage. It is rare to see a high school linebacker with Fox's length who is so good in coverage. To begin with he plays every zone possible. He plays the hook/curl and the flats quite often. But he also is asked to play over the middle and does a great job getting underneath the deep routes. I've also seen some clips where he will drop back a bit and play deep. When in zone Fox does a great job reading the quarterback and breaking on the football. He uses his length and leaping ability to make a ton of plays on the football. He not only picks passes off but he bats down a ton of footballs. The 6-foot-3, 215-pound standout also has very good ball skills to go along with soft hands.
None of the Notre Dame linebacker recruits last year were guys I would consider strong cover guys. Brian Smith and Kerry Neal showed good coverage ability in high school as well. Neal used his great athletic ability and instincts while Smith showed very good awareness in zone. But Fox shows much more range as a cover player. Not only does he have a good understanding of the zone, like Smith, but Fox can also play man-to-man. I don't see him having any trouble covering tight ends or running backs in college. With his fluid hips and quick feet he is able to run with offensive players.
With his athletic ability and instincts Fox has the tools to be a three down player at Notre Dame. He can play the run, he can rush the passer, and he excels in coverage. I don't believe there is a weakness in his game. Right now he has some physical limitations (lack of size, strength) and he doesn't have any attributes that are elite, but he is solid in every aspect of the game. Combine that with his toughness and effort and you have the makings of a good football player.
In The Film Room: Dan Fox
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