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Recruiting to 85: Reading the Tea Leaves

With National Signing Day one week away and the 2011 class in the process of being finalized with 23 verbal commitments to the Irish, scholarship options are limited. How many fifth year players will Coach Kelly invite back? Who of the remaining recruits will commit to the Irish? Will we have any transfers?

First, an overall look at the potential roster for 2011. The Irish have 57 current players with eligibility returning, including Michael Floyd and a scholarship given to Lou Groza finalist, David Ruffer. Since our last update, Ishaq Williams, Chase Hounshell and Aaron Lynch committed to the Irish, increasing the 2011 class to 23 commitments. Williams and Lynch have started classes as early entries. Five scholarships remain.

ND Roster Breakdown

Nine players have fifth year eligibility left and Dan Wenger is applying to the NCAA for a sixth year of eligibility due to injuries.

CB Gary Gray - Confirmed
SS Harrison Smith - Confirmed
OT Taylor Dever
OT/OG Andrew Nuss
OT Matt Romine
TE Mike Ragone
C Dan Wenger
DE Emeka Nwanko
LB Steve Paskorz
K Brandon Walker

Coach Kelly announced Harrison Smith will be a captain next year and some decisions that have filtered out through the Internet. Gary Gray tweeted he is returning. Emeka Nwanko tweeted he is moving on to the next phase of his career. ND Nation expects starting right offensive tackle, Taylor Dever, to return, anchoring an offensive line that will lose only one starter. With those three scholarships, only two remain to be given out between Andrew Nuss, Matt Romine, Mike Ragone, Dan Wenger and the three actionable scholarships for the 2011 class - Troy Niklas, Savon Huggins, and Bryce Haynes.

At this point, we have to resort to reading the tea leaves in Brian Kelly's statements: "I have formulated in my mind some real clear guidelines as to how we’re going to move forward there."

"We can’t work with six quarterbacks," Kelly said. "There will be some paring down. There will be some guys that understand if they’re not in that top four, they’re not going to be able to get reps at the position." Getting Tommy Rees to enter last January proved to be one of the keys to success this year after Dayne Crist went down with his season-ending injury. Kelly's Irish went hard after Everitt Golson, who is now enrolled in classes. Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa have had a redshirt year of learning Kelly's offense. Of the six, I have to figure that Crist, Rees, Hendrix and Golson will get the work. Kelly has said Montana will keep his scholarship, but will he want to be a fifth string quarterback. Will Massa leave or move to another position?

Kelly: "What our identity became, compared to what it was at the start of the season, you could make the case now that Theo Riddick should be a running back," Kelly said. With three running backs returning in Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray and Cameron Roberson, Riddick provides depth at RB and opens up space in the slot position for incoming Cam McDaniel. Does it indicate Savon Huggins will choose Rutgers or North Carolina and Kelly will concentrate on running back in 2012?

Kelly: "Or an offensive lineman that played tackle should play guard." Could Andrew Nuss, who backed up Taylor Dever, swing to guard and get a fifth year?

"Or you’ve got three or four tight ends, how are you going to use them all?", Kelly said. Tyler Eifert, Jake Golic, Alex Welch and Ben Koyack comprise four tight ends. Mike Ragone has been rumored to have received a fifth year scholarship. How could Kelly use five?

ND Roster by position, 2010

Wide receiver, even without Riddick, is now as well-stocked as quarterback and tight end. Eight (Floyd, Goodman, TJ Jones, Toma, Jackson, Collinsworth, Daniel Smith, and Deon Walker) scholarship players return with George Atkinson and DaVaris Daniels set to join them in the fall. Does Kelly know that one of them may transfer?

Defensive end was a position of need when Kelly took over and for the class of 2011, which has suddenly become a position of strength with Lynch, Tuitt, Carrico and Springmann committed to the Irish. At this point, we will have four nose tackles and nine defensive ends for 2011. Will a defensive line player like Brandon Newman or Bruce Heggie decide to transfer?

Troy Niklas, whose official visit to Notre Dame is this weekend, is very much a part of Kelly's recruiting push for the final 2011 class. Niklas has the skills to impact either the offensive or defensive side of the ball - a flexibility that is important in Kelly's recruiting plans. Niklas's choice will most affect the decisions on the other fifth years, especially Romine, Ragone and Wenger. While Niklas may well end up on the defensive side, Carrico or Springmann could flip to the offensive side.

"Year 2 for us is less about laying down a system of offense or defense or special teams and more about utilizing the players we have that can help us win football games." Many - including me - were surprised when Bryce Haynes offer became public given the scholarship crunch in reaching the eighty-five total. But, after some thought, a scholarship to the best long snapper in the nation makes some sense. If Cowart is injured, who will snap for the Irish if they need a game-winning field goal? Kelly likes competition and likes to minimize chances for error. Haynes has deferred his decision date. Is he waiting on the Irish to finalize their numbers? If Haynes chooses another school, Wenger's return, if granted, makes sense.

Kelly knows his players and his recruiting priorities. We can only speculate. For the true recrutnik, it's time to think about the needs for the class of 2012. With thirty-seven offers out to the 2012 class already - seven to running backs, Kelly is intent on filling those needs, but will be working with less scholarships and fifteen seniors with fifth year eligibility.

What do you think?