Recruiting is the lifeblood of college football. With that in mind, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly is quietly pumping strength into the veins of his program by addressing specific needs in the 2014 cycle. Although the class has not drawn the accolades of places like Ohio State or Alabama, the Fighting Irish are putting a winner together heading toward signing day.
The Irish stand at No. 9 in the 247Sports composite rankings with 22 players committed, including two early enrollees. The class is heavy on substance and short on flash—just what the Irish need to build on the foundation Kelly already has in place.
There are only three players at the glamour positions of the recruiting world in Kelly's 22-man class: two wide receivers and a quarterback. The receivers, Corey Holmes and early enrollee Justin Brent, join an already talent-laden group that Kelly brought in over the last two seasons. At quarterback, DeShone Kizer joins the mix with Malik Zaire, who did not play in 2013, and a returning Everett Golson.
Receivers, running backs and quarterbacks are the flash that fans get excited about heading into signing day. Notre Dame falls short in that department, and with reason. The Irish have plenty of playmakers waiting in the wings in South Bend. Instead, this Irish class is about continuing to build the rock on which championships are made: defense and the trenches.
Up front, the Irish are packing in four offensive linemen, giving them nine players along the front taken in the last two cycles. That means offensive-line depth and shows Kelly is dedicated to creating a unit that can protect the passer, move bodies to run the ball and, ultimately, absorb graduations, injuries and possible NFL departures.
He is packing the front as well as anyone in the nation and that cannot be understated. It is addressing a team need, a team must, to reach the elite level that Kelly is pushing the program toward. The coach has his quarterbacks, he has a bevy of weapons and he is taking care to make sure they have the time and opportunity to be successful with the offensive line.
Kelly also mixes in a pair of tight ends, adding more depth to a position that he has used heavily in his time at Notre Dame. The tight end is a mismatch creator for the Irish, in addition to being a blocker in the run game. The Irish like to run double tight end sets and getting more players capable of lining up on the line, moving bodies in the run game and stretching linebackers in the pass game, helps the cause.
On the defensive side, Notre Dame is rushing to restock the cupboard. The Irish added new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, while losing Stephon Tuitt and Louis Nix on the defensive line. The team will also miss hybrid linebacker Prince Shembo, who played both defensive end and stand-up backer at Notre Dame. The team also loses its top two tacklers, linebackers Dan Fox and Carlo Calabrese.
The pressing issues in the front seven necessitate the Irish adding bodies that can both grow into VanGorder's scheme, and contribute immediately. Heading into signing day, the Irish have 10 players committed, including one enrolled, who will bring front-seven help. Seven along the defensive line, two defensive tackles and five defensive ends, plus three linebackers, including the very highly touted Nyles Morgan.
With Notre Dame hoping to stay multiple on the defensive side of the ball, mixing 4-3 with 3-4 looks, the bevy of bodies is a welcome addition. Especially to a linebacking corp that needs an infusion of talent. Morgan is looking to step in and play alongside 2013's standout newcomer, Jaylon Smith, giving Notre Dame a pair of tremendous linebackers if Morgan can catch on as quickly as Smith.
This is not the class that fans of flash and highlight reels want, but this is the class that Notre Dame needs, right now. The Irish will not win the recruiting national championship, but with this class in the fold, Notre Dame is taking the right steps toward building a College Football Playoff contender.
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