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Recruiting: Notre Dame builds 2012 class

Allan Joseph | Thursday, September 29, 2011

Despite his insistence on recruiting quality linemen, Irish coach Brian Kelly has focused his 2012 recruiting class on bringing a number of skill players to campus, Irish recruiting expert Mike Frank said.

“The biggest priority for this class was what they call skill players,” said Frank, who runs the ESPN-affiliate Irish Sports Daily. “They wanted to sign a good number of those players.”

Notre Dame currently holds commitments from nine skill players, most notably athlete Ronald Darby, receiver Justin Ferguson and cornerback Tee Shepard. With months left until signing day, however, Frank expects that number to grow.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if that number climbs to 11 or 12, maybe even 13 depending on how this shakes out,” Frank said.

Notre Dame focused on running back in the 2012 class, a position where the Irish have had little depth this year.

“[The Irish] have to get two really good running backs,” Frank said. “I’d be surprised if Will Mahone doesn’t commit sometime soon.”

If Mahone, from Ohio, commits to the Irish, Notre Dame can focus on recruiting more explosive backs that can run in tandem with Mahone’s style.

“They’ve got three different players coming in … in Keith Marshall, Byron Marshall (no relation) and KeiVarae Russell,” Frank said. “All three of those guys are more speed and quickness, explosive-type players where Mahone is certainly fast and certainly explosive, but he just has a little more size and power. If he commits soon, that solves one issue, and then they can really focus on landing one of those three players.”

Receiver was also an area of concern for the Irish, who will be tasked with replacing senior Michael Floyd after this season. Yet after seeing the Irish land Ferguson and Chris Brown, Frank said Notre Dame is looking for a bit of a different receiver to add to its stable.

“They’re definitely looking for one more wide receiver that’s kind of a more explosive, slot, Theo Riddick-type player, somebody who can put a lot of pressure on defenses,” Frank said. “That’s really kind of the missing piece they have to get at wide receiver.”

Notre Dame has also heavily recruited secondary players in the class of 2012, and while the Irish have a number of commits with defensive backfield experience, Frank said the Irish would be willing to sign one more.

“I’m sure they would like to have one more corner if possible,” Frank said. “They’ve really kind of set themselves up with some players that can really help them. A lot of these guys that are thinking about Notre Dame are really on the fence. “

Perhaps the most important hole in Notre Dame’s 2012 class is at offensive tackle, where the Irish recently received a big commitment – from a 2013 player, Steve Elmer.

“The last thing that they need more than anything, is an offensive tackle,” Frank said. “I’ll tell you, having a guy like Steve Elmer, the 2013 commit, he’s going to be probably the top offensive tackle in the whole Midwest next year — having him commit early, doesn’t make it quite as big a need to get an offensive tackle. If there’s the opportunity to take one, they’ll take one, because the guys that are considering Notre Dame right now are too good to pass up.”

Elmer’s commitment is a reminder that despite the focus on skill players in the 2012 class, Kelly is firmly committed to developing high-quality line play.

“Brian Kelly is building this team at the most important place where he needs to build it, and that’s offensive line and defensive line,” Frank said. “The big thing is, you’ve got to control the line of scrimmage. If you have great offensive linemen and great defensive linemen, you’re going to be a really great team.

“It doesn’t matter what skill players you’ve got if you don’t have good players up front.”

While Notre Dame may not be ranked on the field, Frank said the Irish recruiting class is already one of the best in the country with a number of slots to fill.

“They have the chance to definitely go into the top-five or higher depending on who they get,” Frank said. “There are about 6-7 slots left, and I would think everybody filling those slots would be a four-star or higher. If that’s what they end up with, they’re going to climb into the top-five, I would guess. Right now, because the numbers are a little low compared to some others, I’d say they’re probably a top-10 class. “

For more on Notre Dame recruiting, check out Mike Frank’s irishsportsdaily.com. Email Mike at [email protected] and tell him The Observer sent you.