The 2014 recruiting class has been signed, we are continuing to post reviews of the Notre Dame haul, and soon we'll be pumping out more regular Big Board updates on the rising seniors in the class of 2015. But first, let's take a look at the roster and give you a very early look at the scholarship numbers and roster depth for the new 2015 cycle.
Here are the scholarships per class if we fast forward to the end of the 2014 season:
Rising Sophomores: 23
Rising Juniors: 23
Rising Seniors: 13
5th-Year Options: 15
Total Scholarships: 74
RB Cam McDaniel, TE Ben Koyack, OLB Ishaq Williams, CB Josh Atkinson, and K/P Kyle Brindza are the only seniors who will be out of eligibility following the upcoming season.
As you can see we're starting out with a small class. If every fifth-year player returns--which they won't--the 2015 class would only consist of 11 players. The players with fifth-year options include:
- QB Everett Golson
- RB Amir Carlisle
- WR DaVaris Daniels
- OC Matt Hegarty
- OC Nick Martin
- OG Connor Hanratty
- DE Chase Hounshell
- DE Tony Springmann
- LB Jarrett Grace
- LB Joe Schmidt
- LB Anthony Rabasa
- LB Ben Councell
- CB Jalen Brown
- S Eilar Hardy
- S Matthias Farley
We have an entire year to discuss who should come back but an early estimate has 9 or 10 seniors returning to South Bend. That would increase the size of the 2015 class to 16 or 17 players. If you recall, we started out the 2014 cycle with a number around this neighborhood but ultimately ended up having room for many, many more recruits.
As a reminder, Notre Dame had 2 players enroll early (Justin Brent and Andrew Trumbetti) for the 2014 cycle which will back-count them to the 2013 cycle reducing the most recent signing class to 21 bodies. This will allow the Irish to welcome up to 4 players in January 2015 which is good because all three current verbals plan on enrolling early.
Jim and I will now ask each other some questions on roster depth with an eye towards the 2015 cycle:
Roster (3): Golson, Zaire, Kizer
Seniors (1): Golson
Q: Brian Kelly recently mentioned during National Signing Day that the quarterback position would be one of the focuses for 2015. Given that he already has possible 5-star Blake Barnett already in the class was that just a canned response or do you think there's a real likelihood that the staff is targeting 2 quarterbacks this year?
Jim: CBK also took a preferred walk-on in the 2014 class, so I think they are done with Barnett. Golson could potentially head to the NFL after this season--something that wouldn't surprise me. Kelly is on record being okay with 3 scholarship QBs and taking one per year should be the target.
Roster (5): McDaniel, Carlisle, Mahone, Folston, Bryant
Seniors (2): McDaniel, Carlisle
Q: Running back was another position of focus for the staff for the 2015 class. It would appear that they are poised to take two here. Who do you think are on the top of Notre Dame's wish list?
Eric: They are poised to take two, but I think they can get away with just one IF that player is someone close to elite status. That would also mean Carlisle has to come back for a fifth year and show himself to be a playmaker in 2014.
At the top of Notre Dame's wish list have to be Nick Brossette and Soso Jamabo. It's nice to set your goals high but I don't see the Irish pulling Brossette away from LSU or Jamabo from under several schools in the Texas region. If either visit, then let's talk.
I think more realistic options include Josh Adams (Warrington, PA), T.J. Simmons (Lakeland, FL), or Andre Robinson (Harrisburg, PA).
Roster (9): Daniels, Brown, Prosise, Onwualu, Robinson, Fuller, Hunter, Brent, Holmes
Seniors (1): Daniels
Q: Even if Daniels enters the NFL after 2014 the numbers here are still quite strong. Do you think this is a cycle to get a little more detailed in the type of athlete to add to the roster, particularly a smaller slot receiver and return man since the Irish have missed out on the position in recent years?
Jim: I would really like to see a slot receiver get incorporated into the offense before seeing the staff focus on one in recruiting. I think the last time we saw a slot guy get serious reps, it was 2011 (Theo Riddick). I would like to see the staff add some size at the receiver position. With the exception of Corey Robinson, most of the receivers are in the 6'0" to 6'1" range. There are several tall receiver prospects from the Midwest region in 2015, so it won't surprise me when ND lands a commitment from one of them.
The top WR target looks to be former Michigan commit 6'3" George Campbell (Tarpon Springs, FL)--but he is likely the top target for every elite program in the country. If the staff gets him to campus, they have a chance.
Roster (5): Koyack, Heuerman, Smythe, Luatua, Weishar
Seniors (1): Koyack
Q: With four tight ends on the roster with multiple years of eligibility and their top target (Aliz'e Jones) off the board, does Kelly bring a tight end in the 2015 class?
Eric: You would think the easy answer is yes. The pipeline at tight end has always been bountiful and kind to Notre Dame so targeting at least one body shouldn't be too difficult. That said, there's an option to move someone like Grant Blankenship to this position and go into 2015 with 5 tight ends with a ton of eligibility left.
So, I think there's some flexibility here right now. We'll probably take one but depending on how the roster (and class size) shakes out over the next 10 months it might not be absolutely necessary.
Roster (6): Stanley, Elmer, Bivin, McGlinchey, Nelson, Bars
Q: Again, Kelly mentioned offensive tackle would be a focus for 2015 even though the roster is almost comically stocked with great talent and depth at this position. With the highly rated Jerry Tillery already a member of the #ShamrockSoldiers15 do you think a second tackle prospect is still necessary?
Jim: The biggest thing we have seen in offensive line recruiting since the arrival of Harry Hiestand on the coaching staff is flexibility. A second pure tackle isn't necessary at this point, so I think the focus will more likely be on a guy like Hunter Bivin who could easily play guard or tackle.
Roster (6): Hanratty, Harrell, McGovern, Montelus, Mustipher, Byrne
Seniors (1): Hanratty
Q: The 2015 class should only end up with three offensive linemen total. With two on board, who are the top targets left? Can they play guard if needed?
Eric: With so much time to add a third lineman I doubt they'll pigeon hole themselves into looking at a true guard and thus severely limit their options. Right now there are so many names to consider that it's not even worth mentioning them all.
They'll aim high for Top 100 players like Martez Ivey (Apopka, FL), Jake Fruhmorgen (Tampa, FL), or Matthew Burrell (Woodbridge, VA). Then work their way down to solid 4-star guys like Zack Okun (Newbury Park, CA) or Reno Rosene (Thousand Oaks, CA) before taking a very hard look at 3-star Evan Mallory (Brownsbury, IN) who will be at the upcoming Junior Day and camped last summer.
I think the interesting note here is not necessarily who the third lineman will be but when they commit. Does the staff string this process out in order to sign an elite prospect knowing Tillery and Hoge are already on board? Or do they get comfortable with someone like Okun, get him on board before August, and focus on other pressing needs on the roster?
Roster (2): Martin, Hegarty
Seniors (2): Martin, Hegarty
Q: Barring a disaster or major injury we are likely to see both seniors returning for 2015, plus the highly touted Tristen Hoge is committed as a center for the current cycle. I had Byrne working at center for the recent Depth Chart Engineering post to balance the numbers out, however, do you think a more veteran player will get moved there first?
Jim: Looking back at the 2012 recruiting class, the staff was discussing the possibility of Mark Harrell playing center. I believe he was even working out with a coach before enrolling at Notre Dame on learning the position. Another possibility would be John Montelus. Either way, I don't think Byrne's first look would be at center and given Hoge's talent level (and enrolling early), it wouldn't be a shock to see the staff keep everyone else where they are.
Roster (7): Day, Rochell, Trumbetti, Hounshell, Matuska, Bonner, Blankenship
Seniors (1): Hounshell
Q: With the arrival of new DC Brian VanGorder, it appears that the staff's strict adhesion to the positional profile took a back seat to evaluating players on an individual basis. Given the change in recruiting philosophy, do you see targets at defensive end that the staff may have passed on in years past being high on the board for the Irish?
Eric: It's tough to say. It appears BVG has a more open policy towards size, length, and all those physical attributes. The one thing that jumps out to me with the early 2015 offers is the weights of players more so than height. Just about every defensive end is 250 pounds or lighter which seems to be a change from recent years. Then again that could just mean that the top national players--who make up the bulk of the early offers--just happen to be smaller this year.
One guy who sticks out is Keisean Lucier-South at 6-5 and 215 pounds. Would we have offered him under Diaco? I don't know, but he is almost a 5-star prospect so it's possible.
Roster (5): Jones, Springmann, Hayes, Cage, Mokwuah
Seniors (1): Springmann
Q: Even with 3 freshmen in the 2014 class working inside from day one and several others with flexibility this looks like a position that needs to be a focus for 2015. Do you agree? Is there one prospect you'd like to see part of the class as a defensive tackle?
Jim: Absolutely, especially given the unknowns around Springmann's health. I realize the overall class size won't quite be as large as the previous two classes, but the staff probably needs to take two guys here plus another combo DT/DE. Two names to keep tabs on are Elijah Taylor (Cincinnati, OH) and Darrion Daniels (Dallas, TX), both of whom attend schools who have sent football players to ND during Brian Kelly's tenure.
Roster (5): I. Williams, Okwara, Rabasa, Hill, J. Williams
Seniors (2): I. Williams, Rabasa
Q: All we have in terms of defensive philosophy right now is speculation. Do you think the hybrid DE/OLB remains a priority in recruiting or does the staff switch to more traditional 4-3 DE prospects?
Eric: I wish I had the answers! Part of me wants to say that the differences between a hybrid player and a more traditional really aren't all that extreme. I think we became a little obsessed with all our linemen being 300-pounders under Diaco but that's never been the case for the rush linebacker spot, of course.
I don't think it's all that hard to go out and recruit guys who could play either position. With a switch to a 4-3 they'll probably put more emphasis on pass rushing ability and raw speed off the edge versus being able to set the edge and eat blocks. Everyone wants the height and length that Ishaq brings but someone a little quicker and explosive might be targeted in the future. I'm completely fine with that--Notre Dame has to have led the nation in near sacks over the past couple years.
Roster (6): Grace, Schmidt, Deeb, Morgan, Sykes, Martini
Seniors (2): Grace, Schmidt
Q: Here's a position where the coaching staff recruited really well last cycle. Yet, there are still injury concerns with Grace and Schmidt is probably low on the list of 5th-year eligible players as a former walk-on. For now would you target just one inside linebacker or would you be looking for two from the outset?
Jim: Grace is a near certain 5th year, but a lot depends on the base defense for the Irish moving forward. Nile Sykes and Greer Martini are guys who could play outside if needed. Inside or outside, the Irish need athletes at the linebacker position. They are probably looking at three total linebackers, so I think they focus on one true inside linebacker and one guy who could play either.
I think it is really important for the staff to land one of the talented in-state linebacker prospects (yes, in Indiana). Asmar Bilal from Indianapolis is drawing some comparisons to Jaylon Smith and has interest in the Irish. The two other Hoosier state linebackers are Darrin Kirkland (Indianapolis) and Josh Barajas (Merriville) who both are drawing plenty of interest from Big Ten programs.
Roster (3): Smith, Councell, Randolph
Seniors (1): Councell
Q: This position is one of the toughest (along with defensive tackle) for the Irish to recruit. Does Brian Kelly need to rethink his philosophy here? Who are the realistic targets for Notre Dame here in 2015?
Eric: I hate to sound like a broken record but this position isn't all that different than your typical outside linebacker in a 4-3. At every level all linebackers have to stop the run and be athletic enough to drop back into coverage. So, I don't think the philosophy really needs to change all that much. The lone exception would be in targeting high school players who are 200 to 215 pounds and being content to use their speed on the outside after modest weight gains in college. A good example would be 2014 freshman Drue Tranquill.
Two guys with offers right now that fit the profile are Malik Jefferson (Mesquite, TX) and Justin Hilliard (Cincinnati, OH). I'm not sure Jefferson is all that realistic but there have been more than enough good vibes from Hilliard and the staff has been focusing on him for months.
Roster (7): Russell, Luke, Butler, Kinlaw, Atkinson, Brown, Watkins
Seniors (2): Atkinson, Brown
Q: You could make the case that corner is the biggest need in the 2015 cycle. Atkinson is out of eligibility, Brown might not come back for a fifth-year, and there's a possibility of Russell turning pro after his junior season. Two bodies looks like the absolute minimum here, but would you look for a third or fourth player as well?
Jim: I think two will be sufficient. It wasn't that long ago (2011) that Notre Dame really only had two options at cornerback. Worst case, there are four options at corner in 2015 if Russell does leave early for the NFL. The other thing that might limit the staff is the number of options available. Early lists from the experts aren't that long. It would be phenomenal if the Irish could somehow break the USC lock on Long Beach Poly prospects by landing Iman Marshall, one of the top corners in 2015 who has already visited South Bend.
Roster (7): Farley, Shumate, Hardy, Redfield, Baratti, Turner, Tranquill
Seniors (2): Farley, Hardy
Q: The staff has really only taken one safety in each of the last two classes (Redfield and Tranquill). How big of a concern is this? How does the staff remedy this in 2015?
Eric: Safety is currently one of those tricky positions because they hit the position hard in the 2011 and 2012 cycles and created this bubble where not many bodies were needed over the past couple cycles. I don't think the answer is to go out and sign 3 safeties for 2015 because you're creating another bubble that will pop up in 2017 or 2018.
Even working under the assumption that Tranquill out-grows this position I think grabbing just 2 safeties for 2015 is fine. At least one of Farley/Hardy are likely to return for a fifth-year and adding 2 freshmen next fall would give the Irish at least 6 players to work with. I'm not going to lose sleep with a roster that is 3-deep at safety.
Roster (3): Brindza, Daly, Newsome
Seniors (1): Brindza
Q: Notre Dame will lose Kyle Brindza after 2014 in what is shaping up to be a tremendous career as a kicker, punter, and kickoff specialist. Newsome offers flexibility to kick field goals and might be the next coming of Brindza. Do you target a kicker for 2015?
Jim: Brian Kelly brought in two preferred walk-on kickers in 2013 and then scholarship kicker Tyler Newsome in 2014. Given the relatively small class size, a kicker might be a bit of a luxury. If another scholarship or two open up through attrition, then I can see the possibility of looking at scholarship specialists. As of today, I think Kelly and his staff pass until 2016.