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2011 National Signing Day Defense Report

I’ve taken a look at the offensive recruits that are coming to South Bend, but now it’s time to focus on the collection of talent Bob Diaco will get to play with for the next half decade.

There are a lot of bodies here, so let’s get right to it.

Brad Carrico (DE/OT)

6’6" 270 from Dublin, Ohio

Ranking: 3-star

BK’s Take:

"From Ohio, Dublin, Ohio, Dublin, Coffman High School, pretty good success here at the University of Notre Dame with players from Dublin Coffman. I think you know who they are. This is Brad Carrico. Brad was one of our first commits. Set the recruiting in motion for us. He's been committed to Notre Dame for a long time.

Great young man. He's already here as an early enrollee, as is Kyle Brindza, both those guys were early enrollees for us. They're roommates as well, I believe. Isn't that correct? They're roommates. I think we've a quad, four of those guys rooming together.

So, again, setting the class in motion. Brad was an early enrollee for us. He's a power player for us. He's somebody that can play on either side of the ball and has been recruited as such.

He's 6'5" and a half, 287 pounds. And again comes from a great high school and great legacy there for Notre Dame. You see a lot of his clips here. Playing on the defensive side of the ball. He's got the right color jerseys on. Green. Moves well for 6'5", 287. Good, physical player. Again at the power position for us gives us great flexibility."

OFD Grade: 79

Eric’s Take:

Carrico is towards the bottom of the class in terms of raw talent and skill, but he is a high character kid with enormous size, two attributes you love to see from a 3-star prospect.

The betting odds are that he switches to the offensive line at some point in the future, although he moves well enough for someone so big that he could provide quality depth on defense as well. The thing to watch for will be his weight as he is already close to 300 pounds and trending toward the offensive tackle position.

Tony Springmann (DE/OT)

6’6" 257 from Fort Wayne, Indiana

Ranking: 3-star

BK’s Take:

"Tony Springmann. Tony is out of Bishop Dwenger High School, Fort Wayne, Indiana. Power guy for us. 6'6", 275. And he's all of that. He's one big young man. We have done very good at Bishop Dwenger High School. To have now our third player in the program from that high school, I think, says a lot about the high school and the type of kid.

He's another young man who will fit in here very well at Notre Dame. But he's a power player for us. Again, gives us great versatility. You can see him here, the end position. Playing the defensive end position. Get off block and he can run.

Again, he's one big, young man. Great size. And I think that's a pretty common theme across the board that we've increased our size immediately on the defensive line. 6'5", 6'6" range for a number of defensive linemen.

Standing up here, plays off the block. Does a nice job here controlling, throwing. And making a play. Left defensive end. Then again at the end position."

OFD Grade: 79

Eric’s Take:

Springmann is a very similar prospect to Carrico, although I think his muscular physique and slightly better instincts and tenacity mean he is a candidate to stay on defense.

He moves pretty well for a bigger guy, but he’s going to have trouble cracking a starting position ahead of his two classmates at defensive end. He may move to offense because of pure numbers on defense, but Springmann could turn into a very solid, big and mean backup on the defensive line.

Aaron Lynch (DE)

6’6" 245 from Cape Coral, Florida

Ranking: 5-star (Scout) and 4-star (Rivals & ESPN)

BK’s Take:

"Aaron Lynch is another one of our early enrollees, participated in the U.S. Army All American game. And, again, as we talked about was the focus of our recruiting efforts was the defensive line position. And I think what you'll find about Aaron is just, plays relentless.

I mean, he keeps coming. There will be a lot of things that we'll be able to develop. He's not even hit where he can be as a defensive lineman. He's just playing with raw athletic ability, being tenacious all the time. And he's always getting after it. And we'll be able to develop him in his skill at that position as well. In the Army All American game against some pretty good competition. We'll work on this a little bit, though. Yeah, I don't know what that is.

He likes to play the game. There's no question about that. He's a very energetic young man. He's already in weight training. He's already been with Coach Longo and done a great job already.

Here he's standing up, quick swim move with his hands. He uses his hands very well. Again, when he finishes you off, he finishes it off. Knocks the pass down, obviously recognizing three steps, hand up, knocks it down. Again from our standpoint he has got great versatility for us. But clearly can get after the quarterback.

Another clip here, standing up. Coming off the edge and finishing it off. Here's some one on one. We put these in. This is against obviously some of the best offensive tackles coming out. We thought this was a good illustration of this young man is a high four star player, and whatever that means, he's quality competition for Aaron is what we were trying to show you. So you can compare apples to apples.

For all you experts on offensive line play, that wouldn't be good offensive line play, if you get thrown into the dummy like that. That wouldn't either. But I think what you see more than anything else is his ability to get off the ball and his ability, really, is such that it's going to be fun to work with this young man."

OFD Grade: 95

Eric’s Take:

Quite possibly the most athletic defensive end to come to Notre Dame in years, or even decades, Lynch is an enormous signing for the Irish.

His raw athleticism and ability to get off the ball are scary good and since he is an early enrollee, there’s high odds he plays a lot of minutes as a freshman. He still needs to learn a lot and will have to be coached properly in Diaco’s gap-based assignment defense until he’s an every down type of lineman, but he’s going to be a demon speed rusher from the moment he steps on the field.

Stephon Tuitt (DE)

6’5" 260 from Monroe, Georgia

Ranking: 5-star (Rivals & Scout) and 4-star (ESPN)

BK’s Take:

"Stephon Tuitt. Stephon out of Monroe, Georgia. Again, another power player for us, 6'5", 270 pounds, played in the All American game, is playing today in the U.S.A. versus the World. Here's a young man that's beginning to scratch the surface of what he can be as a defensive player. We're excited about what his upside is. He's a young man that's only going to get better and better and better as he develops physically.

He's all of 6'5". I don't know if he's done growing. He's 270 pounds right now. Moves extremely well. You'll get a chance to see that in his clips, Stephon Tuitt. Left defensive end here. Coming off the edge.

His ability to close. And pretty unique player. And as we said, you know, here's a young man that's going to get coached and he's going to develop once he steps on campus here.

Just learning how to play the game. He's even better when you don't block him. Like right here. We'll see another clip of Stephon and his athletic ability to chase plays down. I think this is it right here. Watch him chase him down here from the end position, 3 4 look right here, if you look at that, that's essentially the technique he would be playing to our field, and plays off from a 4, sheds a blocker, chases this thing down.

Ability to close. Here's another look at some one on one matchups. Here he's closing. Watch him chase this guy down. Great motor. You can see he's not going half speed here. Love his motor. Watch him finish this off. And this is probably one of the more impressive ones. Obviously he's on the backside of this play. Takes a great angle with pursuit.

Pretty good stuff there."

OFD Grade: 97

Eric’s Take:

With apologies to some of the other great players in this class, Stephon Tuitt is the best recruit the Irish picked up in 2011. His speed might be a hair behind the likes of Lynch, but this kid is already a legitimately sized NFL defensive lineman with a collection of speed, power and agility that is truly frightening.

Maybe other players in this class have a little bit more room for growth, development and potential, but since Brian Kelly is saying Tuitt does as well, I think he has to be the top guy for Notre Dame.

The staff has him at 6’5" 270 right now, but he looks even bigger than that and can move like someone at 220 pounds. Since he’s not an early enrollee there is a tiny chance he redshirts as a freshman, but he’s likely too big and skilled not to fit in perfectly with Diaco’s system. His run stopping ability with his size might also make him the long-term most valuable player as well.

Troy Niklas (DE/TE/OT)

6’7" 243 from Anaheim, California

Ranking: 4-star (Rivals & Scout) and 3-star (ESPN)

BK’s Take:

"And the last of our 23 players, certainly not our least in terms of size, we have him as the biggest player on our roster, 6'7", 240 pounds out of Fullerton, Servite High School, California, Troy Niklas, big skill player for us. LA Times Lineman of the Year in 2010. And just a really physical specimen relative to what he can be and where he is right now. See him right there.

Pretty good hands. Don't throw it to him. Very good foot speed. Can just do all the jobs at a number of positions for us, great competition here against Dade High School. Loves to play. Plays basketball right now. You can see him string this play out and run it down. Another big physical presence, a guy that can run and get to the quarterback.

Playing down inside. Took his team to the finals. State of California. Great ability to shuffle down inside and then redirect out on a naked boot. With that size, you can chase down the quarterback."

OFD Grade: 86

Eric’s Take:

This is the second straight year that Brian Kelly has added the LA Times Lineman of the Year out of southern California in the final days of recruiting (the other being Justin Utupo). The case could be made that Niklas deserves a higher grade, but his 86 is only because no one is sure where he’ll fit in on the field at the college level.

At 6’7" he is lean and very athletic and certainly still looks like he could play at defensive end. I wouldn’t even rule out a look at outside linebacker if his speed is good enough.

With a basketball pedigree and body-type, it’s hard not to see him at tight end or offensive tackle, but I think he’ll get a long look on defense. Wherever he ends up I hope he reaches his potential because he has a ton of it.

Anthony Rabasa (OLB)

6’3" 220 from Miami, Florida

Ranking: 4-star (ESPN) and 3-star (Rivals & Scout)

BK’s Take:

"Anthony Rabasa, big skill player for us, linebacker. Big skill. He's got some flexibility at 6'3" and a half, 233. He's out of Christopher Columbus High School out of Miami, Florida. I think he's playing in the U.S.A. versus the World All Star game here today, I believe. And, again, another young man that we believe, when you look at his film, his motor, his ability to go every snap really was what we loved about him. And his first step quickness here.

You can see it, it's pretty apparent as he comes off the edge against pretty good competition. You see him with his hand down quite a bit. He's a guy that can obviously stand up for us as well and gives us great flexibility. He's going to get bigger, he's going to get stronger.

First step is extremely explosive off the ball. Watch him bend the hoop here, drop the shoulder, can bend very well. Takes this arc nice and tight to the quarterback.

Hard to see him inside here, but you'll see his ability to get to the quarterback. Again, the left defensive end here. Another good illustration of his ability to redirect here and close.

Very gifted athlete. Anthony Rabasa out of Christopher Columbus High School in Miami, Florida."

OFD Grade: 89

Eric’s Take:

If recruiting rankings mean anything to you, Rabasa should have been an easy 4-star prospect across the board. His athleticism, speed and ingrained football smarts are through the roof at such a young age.

Like Kelly said, his first step is super explosive and possibly the best of the entire recruiting class. He has all the makings to be a great Cat linebacker and has the versatility to play the Dog or even slide into the middle with some more maturity and weight gain.

Seeing as how he was only a 3-star recruit in two of the major rankings, Rabasa qualifies as an enormous steal and major sleeper in this class.

Ben Councell (OLB)

6’5" 225 from Asheville, North Carolina

Ranking: 4-star (ESPN & Rivals) and 3-star (Scout)

BK’s Take:

"Our next recruit, Ben Councell, out of Asheville, North Carolina, A.C. Reynolds High School. Ben Councell is another one of those players that we felt was under the radar, and then he had an opportunity to play with some all stars in an All Star game, and I think at that point he got everybody's attention.

He had our attention from the very beginning. We felt like he fit exactly what we're looking for. Again, I know you hear it from a lot of coaches, but if you look at our board, he was at the top of our board from the very beginning of the recruiting process. He didn't all of a sudden show up on our board after he had a great senior year or he played in the All Star game and had great film. This is a young man that we felt was going to be a great fit for us.

He's going to be in the big skill category which gives us a great deal of flexibility, can play at the outside linebacker position for us. 6'5", 220 pounds. From our standpoint, this is a young man, when Coach Longo gets a hold of him in terms of his physical development we're excited where he goes.

Great motor. Here he is, standing up, runs, extremely athletic at 6'5". He's 6'5". You hear about signing day, what's your height and weight. He's all of 6'5". We could probably cheat and get him a little taller for you. But he is what we say he is relative to his size.

Here he is with his hand down. Shows the ability to shed a blocker, and arrives at the play in a bad mood, which we really like. Again, running down on the backside here. Somebody that can play on the edge of our defense and increase our athleticism immediately."

OFD Grade: 91

Eric’s Take:

Councell is the picture perfect Dog linebacker for the 3-4 system and another prospect who was ridiculously underrated by the recruiting services, especially pre-All-Star games a month or two ago.

He is very tall, well built with great instincts for the ball. Most of all, his speed is unbelievable and the best part of his game. He’s rangy and will be the type of linebacker that will be all over the field making plays.

There’s no doubt that Councell was a huge steal in this class and someone who has superstar potential. If he is a fast learner he may be seeing the field often as a freshman.

Jarrett Grace (MLB)

6’4" 240 from Cincinnati, Ohio

Ranking: 4-star (Scout) and 3-star (ESPN & Rivals)

BK’s Take:

"Jarrett Grace, out of Cincinnati, Ohio, Colerain High School. Great high school program in Cincinnati. Skilled player. 6'3", 235, play an inside position for us. I think he's a combination of things we were looking for. Really understands Notre Dame. Understands the academics. Wants to be here, to be part of a championship program, and he's a big, physical presence inside in our 3 4 defense.

Runs downhill. And, again, I think you know our defensive structure. Those guys that play inside for us have to take guards on them. So they've got to be big, strong and physical. Be able to leverage offensive linemen out and cancel out gaps. He's certainly somebody that we see that can do that. Playing against very good competition again, he's been like this kind of player, not just in his senior year, but obviously I was at Cincinnati, got a chance to see him for two years. He played like this for three years at a very good program.

Again, all of his clips are from the inside backer position. Plays with great leverage. Very patient. Very good football player."

OFD Grade: 85

Eric’s Take:

Grace is a quality recruit who may not be a stud but is really a lot closer to a 4-star prospect than the 3-star a couple services had him finish as. He’s got great size and has the luxury of being the only true middle linebacker in this class, which could help with playing time down the road.

Keeping in theme with the majority of the recruits in 2011, Grace has very good speed for a 230-240 pound player and his instincts are also very well developed. On film you will notice that he is quick to attack the line of scrimmage and the backfield, while also very adept at dropping back into coverage and making plays on the ball through the air.

He’ll have a hard time seeing the field for a year or two, but once Te’o graduates he might be able to slip into a starting spot. Grace is a good player and valuable member to this class.

Ishaq Williams (OLB)

6’6" 230 from Brooklyn, New York

Ranking: 5-star (Rivals & Scout) and 4-star (ESPN)

BK’s Take:

"Ishaq Williams out of Brooklyn New York, Lincoln High School. He's our final early enrollee. And a big skill player for us, 6'5", 242 pounds, I think that's what he weighed in the other day at 6'5". A little over 6'5", 242 pounds. Again, a young man that has great versatility, played in the Army All American game. Just a great young man. You see him here. It's not even a competition coming off the ball. He's just so quick. He can obviously do a lot of things for us. He can put his hand down like he is right here. And that's pretty good offensive tackle.

So some of the things you'll see here, not only is he 242 pounds, but he can run very, very well.

Right defensive end position. You're not going to run boot on him. Pretty athletic player that he's going to be able to redirect and make the play. This is Ishaq tracking the play down from behind. Again off the left defensive end position. Again athletic enough to take you down.

Top of the screen, first step, explosiveness. He's five yards in the back field. Almost took the hand off. And he can run when he catches it. You can see his speed for 6'5" and a half, 242 pounds, runs pretty good."

OFD Grade: 95

Eric’s Take:

If Councell is the perfect Dog linebacker, then Williams was born to play the Cat position in Diaco’s 3-4 scheme. His upset signing with Notre Dame adds another elite athlete to a position of need for the Irish.

Williams has the speed to be a terror in the backfield and he’ll also be able to put on some weight and play with more strength with his hand on the ground. What’s more, he has the versatility and playmaking ability to stand up and wreak havoc in coverage or blitzes off the edge.

As an early enrollee he will likely see the field as he’ll have spring and fall practice under him, plus an additional eight months in the Irish strength and conditioning program. Like Lynch, his playing time will likely depend on how well he takes care of his gap responsibilities and stopping the run, but you can bet he will be unleashed on passing downs as a freshman.

Eilar Hardy (S/CB)

6’1" 175 from Pickerton, Ohio

Ranking: 4-star (Rivals & Scout) and 3-star (ESPN)

BK’s Take:

"Next, from the state of Ohio as well, Eilar Hardy. Eilar is from Pickerington High School. Very good program. Here's a young man that, really, when you talk about the skilled position, he arguably helped his football team this year on offense as much, or more, maybe even more, as an offensive player. He's certainly somebody that can play on either side of the ball.

We see him fitting a specific need for us early on, on the defensive side of the ball, but he's played cornerback. He's played a number of different positions. You'll see him at the safety position.

We really think he's a dynamic football player. And, again, good six footer. Good, long player at that position. Those are hard to find. See him at the safety position here. His ability to go and get the football here, turn it around into a score.

Again, you can see with the arrow, flat foot in the middle of the field, attacks the football. Doesn't just wait for something to happen, he goes and makes it happen.

As I said, he was very important to their run in the playoffs. Again, you can see his ability to make an impact on the offensive side of the ball and special teams.

Again, middle of the field, safety. Coming down and attacking the football. We love the way he goes and gets the ball. He's going to go make a play. He's not waiting for a play to happen. He's going to go make a play. See him coming off the edge here. Physical. Stick his nose in there. Brings all the qualities necessary for very good defensive back.

Disciplined off of a reverse. Again coming off the edge again. Getting to the quarterback here. Extremely versatile. Very good program. Again, a young man that we loved his character and the way he handled himself from the very beginning. There he is at the offensive position as well."

OFD Grade: 88

Eric’s Take:

Hardy is the top recruit in the secondary and will push immediately for playing time as a freshman. An Irish assistant said he would get a shot at corner first and he’ll likely play quite a bit if he can adjust to the college game during the summer and fall.

He’s a terrific athlete and probably one of the most naturally gifted runners Notre Dame has welcomed to the defensive backfield in years. His combination of size and speed are hard to find and which had him pegged as a safety by many, but either way he is going to make an impact.

Hardy has the tools to be a No. 1 corner in a year or two, could be a big help on special teams right away, and may even get some looks as a punt and kick returner. He’s a great addition to the class and underrated in my opinion.

Jalen Brown (CB)

6’0" 173 from Irving, Texas

Ranking: 3-star

BK’s Take:

"Our next player, Jalen Brown out of Irving, MacArthur High School. Couple of things to point out here. 6'1". Really long. We love his length at the corner position. Especially at 6'1". We believe he's the guy that's just going to continue to develop and grow and be stronger. He's a 10.8 100 guy right now. And he really has not engaged in the weight room yet.

So a couple of things that are unique. We believe that this guy is destined for great things. And if you want to put a tag on anybody in a class, here's a steal in our opinion. 6'1" out of a great high school in Texas. Great competition. Kind of flew under the radar a little bit for us. Kerry Cooks did a great job recruiting him, getting him to Notre Dame. We're really excited about this young man.

You can see him playing the wide field here. His ability to tackle in space, plays very physical as he gets to the point of contact. Again, he can come up on you. He can shed blocks.

And, again, I'd like to point out again, here's a young man that will fit very well in our two deep coverage looks. And again the things that we're looking for in those two deep coverage looks. He's got to tackle and play physical and certainly a guy that has to have the ability to go get the football. He certainly does that. He's a 10.8 guy. See on the block, scoop and score. And the competition he's playing against is very, very good in Texas."

OFD Grade: 83

Eric’s Take:

It’s good to see that coach Kelly is excited for Brown and whenever you hear someone say "destined for great things," you know there is a lot of potential.

But I think it’s important to remember that a lot of this is potential and not skill that can come in and probably make a big impact like Hardy possibly will. You have to like Brown’s size and speed, as well as his physicality.

With the depth chart dangerously thin and the program needing young corners to step up after 2011, I could see Brown getting in some action this year, but it’s still 50/50 whether he sits out or not. Due to Kelly’s praise for him, he is a definite sleeper in this class.

Josh Atkinson (CB)

6’0" 180 from Livermore, California

Ranking: 3-star

BK’s Take:

"Our second recruit, Josh Atkinson. Josh also from Livermore, you can see him Livermore, California. Brother of George Atkinson. You can see him in press coverage here, plays the ball in the air very well.

Great speed. 10.6 100 guy. He plays very physical. Great tackler. You can see here in the open field, very short tackler. Plays very, very aggressively and obviously one of the things I might point out, George Atkinson, his dad, obviously, was a very prominent player with the Super Bowl teams of the Oakland Raiders. And I think we all know how he played the game. Josh brings that to the table as well. Plays very physical on the defensive side of the ball and has great speed.

Again, you can see very limited time on the offensive side of the ball, but certainly can do that well. Watch his physical presence here. Very strong for his size. And, again, a young man that we think will bolster our defensive back field immediately."

OFD Grade: 85

Eric’s Take:

Josh Atkinson is an interesting prospect because he’s not as skilled coming out of high school as his twin brother George, but he plays the position his father did in the NFL.

I like Atkinson’s speed and pedigree and also that he is very tough like he father. I do think he’s still pretty raw though and will need some teaching at the next level. Still, he has the tools to come in and fight for some playing time and establish himself as one of the starting corners in 2012 and beyond.

Matthias Farley (S/CB)

6’2" 197 from Charlotte, North Carolina

Ranking: 3-star

BK’s Take:

Here's another young man that, Matthias Farley outside of Charlotte Christian High School, small school. They turned out a lot of BCS players. If you go back look at Charlotte Christian in terms of what that program has done relative to turning out BCS players is relatively amazing for such a small school. New school.

Extremely gifted young man. Incredible family. Wonderful family. But, more importantly, he's all of six foot and he's about 195 pounds. I mean, he's put together. He looks like a college football player.

If there's one guy in the skill group that physically, when he walks in here, he looks like a college football player. He has that presence about him. Great young man. With great speed. And, again, he's a young man that can play extremely versatile. Can play at the corner position, the safety position. He can play wide receiver. We'll kind of sort that out as we move forward. See him here on defense. And you can see got great ball skills. Here he's tracking the ball. I think that's after the speed element, which was pretty clear, we loved his ball skills. They're outstanding.

You'll get a chance to see it on both sides as well. Do we have offensive clips on this as well? Again, physical player. You can see him lower his pads. Again, I just would say that physically he's probably in the top percentile relative to his position, relative to his physicalness. Watch him attack this. Good tackler. Again, sets the edge on the defense here. You see how aggressive he is.

I think the thing I'd like to point out is that I believe Mike Elston, are you here, Mike? What, two years, Chuck, two years of playing football. He's been at this two years. So we'll get a young man that is just starting to learn how to play the game.

Again, physical player. Get a couple of clips here from an offensive standpoint. Watch him attack the football. Go up and get it. Get another look here. Soft hands. Very, very nice athlete. One more clip in the slot here. Catching the football in space. And a great burst.

OFD Grade: 81

Eric’s Take:

Farley was a quiet pick up for Notre Dame and someone who doesn’t arrive with any fan fare. Initially there was precious little film on this kid, but after watching him it is striking how physical he is.

As Kelly said, he’s only been playing two years and as a soccer play you wouldn’t really expect a lot of physical play, but he can really lower the boom and hurt some people on the field.

He may be a bit of a project, especially that he could play safety, corner, or even receiver, but he has the looks of someone who just "gets" football and is going to be a fast learner. He’s very smart and knows how to attack when the ball is in the air. I think Farley could be a very pleasant surprise in a couple years.