Yesterday, we gave a review of the 2015 class and our scores for each player and dove into a little more detail about the offensive backfield. Today, we're looking at the big fellas on the offensive side of the ball - offensive linemen and tight end
The transcript of Coach Brian Kelly's press conference on national signing day can be found here.
|Irish Offensive Line and Tight End Signees|
|.969||Alize Jones||Las Vegas, NV||6'5"/220||Tight End|
|.956||Tristen Hoge||Pocatello, ID||6'4"/290||Center|
|.870||Trevor Ruhland||Cary, IL||6'4"/285||Guard|
This was suggested by OFD commenter averagegatsby on the big signing day review post - the democratic process at work! We'll take a very high-level look at the roster numbers for 2015 so you can have some idea of what the new guys might be faced with to earn some playing time. Players are listed roughly in depth chart order with years of eligibility remaining, including 2015, in parentheses. For the moment we'll assume that anyone eligible to return for a fifth year will, although we know that won't always be true.
Center: Nick Martin (1), Matt Hegarty (1), Hunter Bivin (3), Mark Harrell (2), Tristen Hoge (5)
Guard: Quenton Nelson (4), Steve Elmer (2), Matt Hegarty (1), Colin McGovern (3), John Montelus (3), Jimmy Byrne (4), Sam Mustipher (4), Trevor Ruhland (5)
Tackle: Ronnie Stanley (2), Mike McGlinchey (3), Alex Bars (4), Quenton Nelson (4), Steve Elmer (2)
There are some repeats in there, as you probably noticed - so in total, counting incoming freshman, we'll likely have 15 scholarship offensive linemen next year. Deluxe.
Tight End: Tyler Luatua (3), Durham Smythe (3), Alize Jones (4), Nic Weishar (4), Mike Heuerman (3)
Note that I'm assuming here that Jones won't redshirt and will be no lower than third on the depth chart next year.
Official OFD Recruit Grading Scale:
95-100: Elite impact freshman with All-American potential
90-94: Multi-year starter with All-conference potential
85-89: Eventual starter with chance to play as underclassman
80-84: Raw prospect with decent potential but a couple years away from impact
75-79: Likely a backup
70-74: Reach by the coaching staff
Note: All Height/Weight times as listed on UND.com
(Las Vegas, NV - Bishop Gorman) - 6'5"/220
OFD Average: 95.6
Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:
Aliz'e Jones out of Bishop Gorman, as well. We think he's in our evaluations, we've been recruiting him since his sophomore year. We think he's the finest tight end in the country and we think that we've had some great tight ends here and we think he's going to be another one of the great tight ends that have played here at Notre Dame.
That's not to put any pressure on Aliz'e. That's why he came here. He wants that. He's looking for that challenge, and you know, he's a guy that certainly everybody is going to talk about his ability to catch but he understands the tight end position and knows that he's going to continue to get bigger and stronger and he'll stick his nose in there and he'll be an in line blocker if you need him.
But he will be a threat catching the football. You will not be able to put a linebacker on him. You're going to have to use a safety to cover Jones.
Could well be the most athletically gifted tight end the Irish have ever had, and for a school that produced Dave Casper, Ken MacAfee, Mark Bavaro, Irv Smith, Anthony Fasano, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Tyler Eifert, and Troy Niklas, that's saying an awful lot. He's a matchup nightmare and while he needs some work on blocking - which he seems more than willing to take on - he'll definitely contribute immediately. I could see him ending up with around 30 catches and a few touchdowns as a true freshman.
This is the highest grade I’ve given out since Jaylon Smith (98), Greg Bryant (96), and Eddie Vanderdoes (96) from the 2013 class. I mentioned C.J. Sanders being among the most athletic freaks of this class and Jones might top that list. The only concern I have are injuries because Jones missed bits and pieces of his senior year and was banged up during all-star week, as well. For someone who is expected to compete as a true freshman I hope he’s healthy and ready to go. Everything else that he brings to the table is world-class for his position and age. There’s potential for a 20-catch freshman season and much bigger things as an upperclassman.
Jamie U: 96
This recruiting class is filled with very good prospects, but Jones is the only great one in my opinion. His high school team was considered the best team in the nation and the roster was filled with future college football players. He was clearly the best player on that team. He has special receiver skills for his size in the way he adjusts to the football and the way he can make plays after the catch. There just aren't many tight ends that can do what he does. It's his willingness to improve as a blocker that should help him compete as a freshman to possibly be more than a specific package type of player. If he stays healthy, he could have a very similar type of career to what Tyler Eifert had at Notre Dame under Brian Kelly.
Jim Miesle: 95
Easily one of the most game-ready TEs to step foot on campus, Jones has some competion at the position. He should play from Day 1 and has sky-high potential, but may not see many looks as a true freshman.
One part freak athlete, one part smooth receiver is a nice combination. Unlike a lot of other highly regarded tight end recruits that look like they've outgrown wide receiver, Jones looks like he's been playing the position his entire life. His blocking will need a little bit of work, and I'll be interested to see how his speed translates to the next level, but mostly I just hope he sees enough throws coming his way. Immediate impact player, and while I don't love the goal-line fade, how fun would it be to throw him to one side and Corey Robinson to the other and see how the defense reacts?
(Pocatello, ID - Highland) - 6'4"/290
OFD Average: 91.4
Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:
Tristen Hoge, out of Pocatella, Idaho. A young man we've been recruiting for some time. What separates Tristen for us is a true center. In other words, many times in this recruiting process on the offensive line, you're projecting and moving offensive linemen to centers, to the center position, especially in college, from high school to college.
Because in the college game, you're going a lot more of reading fronts, shotgun snapping, having to really take on much more of the identification of fronts, coverages, and it requires somebody that maybe didn't play that position in high school.
Well, Tristen's already done that. He's already been coached to do that, and he's done it for his entire high school career. So this is a unique player in the sense that he's already been groomed for this position at the offensive center position. Shotgun snapped his entire high school career and really feel like we've got a guy that has got a great upside coming in at the center position.
Speaking of mean offensive lineman... Hoge is the prototypical center, both in skill set and attitude. He's a finisher - he is going to take his man out, period, no matter what else is going on around him. He also already shows some of the leadership qualities you like to see in a center - he committed to the Irish a very long time ago and has worked actively to recruit other players and to build team cohesion with the committed guys. He'll also redshirt as a freshman due to the exceptional depth the staff has built on the offensive line; that will be a big positive for him, as he does have some technical stuff to clean up. It wouldn't be a surprise at all to see him contribute meaningfully in 2016, though.
He reminds me a lot of Matt Hegarty from the 2011 class in the sense of coming from a low population football state but remaining among the elite rankings for the entirety of his junior and senior season. In Hoge’s case I think he has a little bit of a higher ceiling because he’s likely to stick at center and has the prototypical everything you’re looking for at the position, whereas Hegarty was initially a tackle prospect who moved inside and had a hard time adding size following his heart surgery. His level of competition in Idaho is a red flag concern but he held his own during the U.S. Army All-American game so it’s all good.
Jamie U: 90
Hoge is another player who plays mean and that's pretty rare for a center prospect. He is technically sound at this point of his development and dominated at Highland High school in Pocatello, Idaho. When I watched him in person at The Opening, you could tell that the level of competition he was facing was a significant jump up for him and he struggled for most of the week, but kept improving. He was better at the U.S. Amry All-American Bowl, although you could see that he clearly is not on the same level of physical development as players like 5 star Tennessee commit Kahlil McKenzie. My only concern about Hoge is that he sometimes will stop his feet on contact and that's a bad habit to have for an interior lineman. If he can get that corrected and continue to get bigger and stronger under Paul Longo, he should be a very good starting center for the Irish a little down the line.
Jim Miesle: 94
Hoge is the best true center prospect at Notre Dame since Jeff Faine. I am looking forward to watching him destroy opposing defensive tackles in the years to come.
Pencil him in to start at center from 2017 at the latest until 2019. A year of strength and conditioning combined with practice against more talented players should greatly accelerate Hoge's development. From descriptions of his leadership and work ethic Hoge also seems like a good candidate to be a future captain.
(Cary, IL - Cary Grove Community) - 6'4"/285
OFD Average: 83.8
Brian Kelly's thoughts from the signing day press conference:
Trevor Ruhland out of Cary Grove, another state championship team. What really we loved about Trevor is his toughness. Two way player, never came off the field, and we were looking for an interior guy that really fit our style of play and somebody that was going to play every play and never takes a play off, goes to the echo of the whistle and maybe past the whistle. We loved his toughness, loved the way he plays the game, the demeanor that he brings.
Just a tough, tough player and again, love the way he plays the game and the way he approaches it every day.
Ruhland will have work to do physically to compete for playing time, but that's hardly unusual for a true freshman offensive lineman. What's far more important than that, especially for a guard, is attitude, and according to reports Trevor is about as nasty as they come. Three-time All-Pro lineman Willie Anderson, now retired from the NFL and running his own training business, had this to say about Ruhland: "He’s a bad, bad man... He's a guard at the next level with the body of my former Bengals teammate and Iowa star Eric Steinbach. Eric wasn't this mean and [anatomical adjective not fit for a family website]... He plays with a nose guard mentality... Continued teaching and coaching will be big. You can't coach his mentality though. His downfield blocking is unreal." High praise, indeed.
I’m sure Ruhland will lose some points for being listed at 270 pounds. [Note: Eric wrote this comment before the signing day release came out, which lists Ruhland at 285 and justifies his next thought here.] That lack of size doesn’t bother me too much, though. He’ll have the opportunity to add good weight and grow into his body after a couple years with Paul Longo. I like his explosion off the ball and finishing ability with blocks. His strength seems decent for his size but he’s often pancaking linebackers at the second level instead of high school linemen in front of him. Ruhland is a good guard prospect, the type of player you need every once in a while to add some blue collar attitude to the line.
Jamie U: 84
Ruhland might not be the near the top of rankings in regards to the rest of the class, but he is one of my favorites. This kid flat out gets after it. His pad level and hand placement is outstanding, but it's his nastiness that makes me excited about his potential. He brings a mentality to the guard position that is needed at Notre Dame. He'll take some time to add size and strength, but that will come over the next couple of years. His progression as a pass blocker is also something to watch because he is coming from such a run-heavy scheme in high school. Ruhland actually went out of his way to do the extra though and worked with a private coach to improve his pass blocking technique and that speaks volumes about how good the kid wants to be.
Jim Miesle: 84
Ruhland might be the toughest guy to grade on the offense. His offer list and and recruiting rankings don't match with the assessment from OL Coach Hiestand. With the depth at OL, he probably won't see action for a few years but has the mentality and persona that you want in a lineman.
As others have mentioned Ruhland has more work to do physically to transition to the college level than others in this class, but his technique and overwhelming desire to put people on their backsides bode well for him. Ruhland should be a mauler in the run game when he hits the field, and his pass protection will be determine how early and often he sees the field after a redshirt year. There's a few more question marks with Ruhland than the other offensive linemen in this class, but he brings the toughness to the table that you want the entire line to emulate.