The best college coaches recruit players to fit the scheme that they want to run. They don't care about stars or a kid's offer sheet. They look at traits and see if a prospect's traits can fit into what they want to do as a coach.
It's easy to see star rankings and be pleased with what Notre Dame has done with recruiting offensive linemen. A deeper look at what the Irish are doing in recruiting offensive lineman reveals more than just star rankings though. They are looking for specific traits in the players that they are trying to get to come to South Bend.
It's more than just long arms and light feet or 300 pounds on a massive frame. There's a culture of nastiness that is being created with Harry Hiestand's offensive line group and that doesn't come from his teaching. That's already inside of the majority of the recruits Notre Dame has brought in to play offensive line. It's definitely a large reason why they offered and accepted a commitment from 2017 offensive lineman Dillan Gibbons so early in the process.
As Brendan brought up in the comments of his commitment post on Gibbons the other day, Notre Dame has landed early commitments from offensive lineman previously with now future All-American defensive tackle Jerry Tillery (too soon?) and 2016 5 star offensive tackle Tommy Kraemer. But a commitment from a player who hasn't even completed his sophomore year in high school is pretty early. It would be easy to question why Notre Dame should offer a kid without seeing any junior film on him or having a chance to see him in person in a summer camp.
The reasons become fairly obvious after watching his film though. Gibbons gets after it and finishes blocks just like Quenton Nelson did, Tristen Hoge did, Trevor Ruhland did, and Kraemer does at the high school level. At around 300 pounds, he should be doing it, but as a sophomore, it is still impressive to see him do it so consistently.
He continually puts defenders on their backs. The best part about it is, he is making sure they don't get up. If that doesn't get you fired up, then you probably should start following a different sport.
These two particular plays stood out to me the most though and they show he's got that extra bit of nastiness to his game. The first is a play where he not only drives a player and puts him on his back, but then Gibbons goes looking for more work and puts another defender down too.
Every offensive line coach loves to see that mentality in a player, but it's rare to find that. Gibbons obviously already possesses it at a young age.
The next play is a passing play. It's a play-action pass and Gibbons is supposed to be treating it like a run initially, but is actually pass blocking. He gets a little carried away though.
In reality, that's a penalty for illegal man down field. The fact that he didn't let go of that nasty streak even on a play call like that is still awesome to see. It's much easier to reign in someone like Gibbons than it is to ignite a fire under someone who doesn't have that same compete level. Gibbons' desire to compete is obviously not lacking one bit.
As excited as I am from what I saw from him, in no way is Gibbons anywhere close to being at the level he is going to need to be at to play at Notre Dame. Even though he is 300 pounds, he has a lot of developing to do physically. He needs to get stronger and needs to reshape his physique.
He also needs to improve his technique, especially in pass protection. He does not know how to use his length to his advantage yet and has to improve the timing and violence of his punch. He shows fairly decent feet, but also must improve his flexibility and become less of a waste bender.
He has plenty of time to improve in these areas. Heck, he has two more seasons of high school football before he is even going to take a rep at Notre Dame. He has the tools that just about every top program is looking for in an offensive lineman and it starts with how mean he plays.
I know there will always be old school people who yearn for the Irish to bring back a fullback into the offense and run downhill out of the I. Those people, and I include myself in that group at times, need to accept the change in all of football though.
Harry Hiestand appears to be bringing back some of that old school mentality in the run game to Notre Dame and it's a move and I hope to expand even further with the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Sanford.
They say coaches should coach to the strength of their team and with the way Notre Dame has and is recruiting offensive linemen, the boys upfront should be the strength of the offense. The more the Irish run the ball, the more the culture of nastiness can become the mentality of the team on the field.