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Recruiting: Irish seek defensive prowess, reinforcements

Mike Monaco | Wednesday, September 11, 2013

In the days following Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss to Michigan, Irish head coach Brian Kelly preached patience and confidence, stressing that his team is not a finished product and will fix the things that need to be fixed.

In that same vein, Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said Notre Dame fans need not panic after the loss to the Wolverines, even though Michigan put on a show complete with Beyoncé, Eminem and a record-setting crowd in front of recruits considering both the maize and blue, and the blue and gold.

“I don’t think that one game really changes a lot of minds as far as players go,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliated Irish Sports Daily. “They’ve just got to bounce back and start fixing some things that were problems in that game. I think people need to put it into perspective as well. Devin Gardner could not have played any better than he did, other than the one mental error he had. He put the ball right on the money and just played outstanding football.”

Frank said if the Irish are to bounce back on the field and remain steady in the recruiting realm, the defense will need to improve. Notre Dame surrendered 362 yards to Temple in the season-opener and followed that up by allowing 460 yards and 41 points to Gardner and the Wolverines. 

“It’s real important for Notre Dame to get back on track and start playing defense the way they played before,” Frank said. “What they’re missing right now is guys on the defensive side.”

In 2012, Notre Dame’s defense finished second in the nation in scoring defense at 12.77 points per game. At this point, the Irish have received 16 commitments in the class of 2014. Seven of those players – defensive ends Grant Blankenship, Matt Dickerson, Jay Hayes and Andrew Trumbetti, as well as linebackers Jonathan Bonner, Greer Martini and Richard Yeargin III – project to play on the defensive side of the ball. 

In order to get back to a 2012-level of defense, Frank said he expects Notre Dame to focus on a nose guard, inside linebackers and cornerbacks, with the possibilities of defensive ends and safeties.

For now, however, Frank believes the Irish will be patient in evaluating and offering such players.

“I think they’re doing a smart thing. There is no hurry at this point,” he said. “You might as well kind of see how players look their first four or five games of their senior seasons. I think you’ll see Notre Dame be a little more patient as far as offers go for anybody new at this point and just do a really good job of evaluating these players and see how they progress both physically and athletically as football players in their senior seasons.”

Just as the Irish are taking their time evaluating, recruits too are being patient in making their decisions. Notre Dame’s most recent commitments came at the beginning of August, when Dickerson and Yeargin III pledged to the Irish on consecutive days.

“Most kids, once they get to August, they kind of make the decision that they’re going to make some official visits, look at the schools and kind of go through the process and enjoy their senior seasons,” Frank said. “I wouldn’t expect a whole lot of commitments between now and maybe November.”

Frank did say Fort Wayne, Ind., native Drue Tranquill would be the player most likely to commit next to Notre Dame. Tranquill committed to Purdue on July 23 but received an offer from the Irish soon thereafter. Tranquill is expected to visit Purdue this weekend.

Aside from Tranquill, Frank said things are currently moving slowly. But activity is expected to pick up, Frank said, for the USC weekend in mid-October, when the Trojans come to South Bend for the annual rivalry game. According to Irish Sports Daily, 10 2014 prospects, including defensive tackle Matt Elam, tight end Tyler Luatua, offensive lineman Damien Mama, cornerback Nick Watkins and receivers Isaiah McKenzie and Michiah Quick, are scheduled to make official visits during that weekend.

“It seems like things are focusing more toward USC,” Frank said. “And once those official visits happen, you may get someone to pull the trigger.”

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com. Email Mike at mikefrank18@sbcglobal.net and tell him The Observer sent you.

Contact Mike Monaco at jmonaco@nd.edu