Brian Kelly and much of his new staff are in place.
National Signing Day is four weeks away.
The Under Armour All-American game was last weekend and the U.S. Army All-American game is set for Saturday in San Antonio.
18 members of the Class of 2010 have given their verbal commitments and the Irish rank in the top 20 for each of the “Big Three” class rankings.
Life doesn’t get anymore interesting for Fighting Irish football recruitniks.
There are a few noted weaknesses in the current Irish class, even if all 18 of the current verbals fax in their National Letters of Intent in the early morning hours of Feb. 4.
Christian Lombard from Palatine, Illinois is the only current offensive line prospect on board. Whether he projects out as a guard or tackle is irrelevant if Coach Kelly can’t haul in at least two other solid players. The fear of another “gap year” on the O-line could become a morbid reality and bring back painful memories of the 50-plus sack season of 2007.
The second major area of weakness exists at linebacker. One month ago Irish fans were reveling in two solid verbals from the Tar Heel State. But since the removal of Coach Weis, both Prince Shembo and Kendall Moore have gone soft.
Shembo was caught critiquing the “it’s a business” reality of college football when Coach Kelly bailed on his Cincinnati team just weeks before the Orange Bowl.
Moore recently said that he was still committed but has reportedly taken a long, hard look at North Carolina State and a few other options.
Another key question for Coach Kelly and his staff is whether or not they can hold onto Andrew Hendrix, the four-star quarterback prospect from Cincinnati. The latest reports have him at a 99 percent lock (especially after some reportedly lengthy conversations with current QB-in waiting Dayne Crist and new assistant coach Charley Molnar) but his cool reaction to the firing of Charlie Weis and assistant coach Ron Powlus has had Notre Dame fans quaking in their green shoes.
The Potential Answers
I hear the Raleigh-Durham Airport is a nice hub. Coach Kelly better get his butt to the Triangle, and fast.
Shembo was a rising star this fall that came from late-summer three-star status to become a legitimate four-star linebacker and the seventh ranked player in North Carolina, according to Rivals.com . Rivals’ Barry Every speaks highly of his explosiveness and ability as a potential pass rusher at the next level, something the Irish are in desperate need of.
Moore is pure producer with over 120 tackles in each of his last two high school seasons at linebacker at Southeast Raleigh High School. Like Shembo, he’s a low four-star kid that CBS analyst Tom Lemming sees as one of the top six or seven players in his home state.
Beyond keeping the Carolina connection, Kelly must simply add depth to the O-line. Notoriously one of the toughest positions to evaluate and predict for 17 and 18-year old kids, it’s tough to argue with Kelly if he can reel in two or three more kids, even if they are not ESPN Top 150 names.
Currently, only six of the Rivals top 52 tackles and two of the top 34 guards are undecided. That is making ND’s job very difficult as they try to recruit the beefeaters needed to protect Dayne Crist and establish a new era of Irish ground gainers.
Ohio four-star lineman Matt James is reportedly moving towards Ohio State. Interest from Nashville’s James Stone has been waning since the late fall. Coach Kelly needs some new names and some new commitments for the future of the Irish offensive line.
The Dream Team
1. Seantrel Henderson, No. 1 overall nationally, the top offensive lineman, and a mountain of a man. Henderson hails from ND pipeline Cretin Durham in St. Paul, Minnesota and still has the Irish on his list. It’s a reach, but it would bring Sam Young-like O-line hype to the 2010 class if BK can pull off the coup.
2. Anthony Barr, the 6’4", 230-pound “athlete” from Los Angeles who would bring all the athleticism of Manti Te’o to the linebacker corps and (maybe) more upside with his allegedly freakish athletic abilities. Rivals has compared him to Eddie George and Brandon Jacobs as running back, which is a clear indication of his worldly talents.
3. The other King James form Ohio. As we all know, it all starts up front and this 6'8", 290-pound tackle from Cincinnati could pair with Henderson to make the ND class a top-five contender. It’s a stretch to think of book-end tackles signing in the same class but that’s why this is called the “Dream Team.”
4. J.R. “Ego” Ferguson is a man of mystery. Scout has him at No. 12 for defensive ends while Rivals places him at No. 3 for strongside ends. Notre Dame is one of ten major schools vying for his services and one of the schools he visited this fall. The Chatham Hargrave Military Product would come in as an athletic rush end with potential to play all over the field.
5. Finally, Mr. X. This class needs a shocker, and with all due respect to Austin Collinsworth and Henry Anderson, a few three-star add-ins won’t get it done. Each of the four names above are technically unlikely (with Barr probably having the highest probability of ending up in South Bend) but the modern recruiting world is full of surprises. Let’s be honest, who thought the best linebacker in the country would travel from Hawaii to northern Indiana last year to become Irish?
One thing we know is that Brian Kelly’s first class will surpass that of Charlie Weis. In 2005 Joey Hiben and D.J. Hord were the two highest rated recruits in Weis’ 14-man haul. Hiben and Hord went MIA very early in their careers and the most celebrated names from that class became David Bruten and Kyle McCarthy.
A solid 2010 with a few dramatic surprises on signing day could jumpstart the Kelly era and stabilize the future of the Irish talent pool, one thing Weis failed to do early in his career.
Kelly’s time is now. This recruiting class will define his first month on the job.
Of course, it’s success or failure may also show a glimpse of his future as well.
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