Irish gaining playmakers on both sides of the ball as 2022 class takes shape
Colin Capece | Friday, October 1, 2021
Sitting at 4-0 following a demolition of Wisconsin at Soldier Field last weekend, the Irish have further solidified their status as a perennial national powerhouse in the eyes of recruits. Heading into a clash with top ten opponent Cincinnati on Saturday at Notre Dame Stadium, the Irish seem to be in position to make a major recruiting push this fall. Notre Dame will host a number of their top targets on Saturday, including class of 2023 four-star prospects Carnell Tate (wide receiver) and Malik Muhammad (cornerback). In an interview with The Observer Wednesday, Bryan Driskell of the Irish Breakdown discussed the importance of this game for Notre Dame from a recruiting standpoint.
“This is a great opportunity for some of the top players on the board to see Notre Dame up close and personal, and in that regard, it’s not even just about the game, but it’s about the environment,” Driskell said. “Notre Dame is showing these guys that this what you play in all the time if you come here. It’s also just another opportunity to further cement themselves as a powerhouse program. Winning this game shows that the only teams Notre Dame has left to catch are the likes of Alabama, Clemson and Ohio State. If you beat Cincinnati, in the eyes of the recruits, it says Notre Dame is an elite program.”
One of the biggest storylines for the Irish so far has been the team’s struggles along the offensive line. Injuries have decimated the Irish at left tackle, as starter Blake Fisher and replacement Michael Carmody both went down within the season’s first two games. Notre Dame has a pair of four-star offensive line recruits committed in the class of 2022 in Indiana product Joey Tanona and Massachusetts native Ty Chan. Driskell discussed the importance for the Irish of adding depth at left tackle in this recruiting class.
“You’ve got some talented young players on the roster like Fisher and Tosh Baker, but the depth at tackle is troubling. It’s not a vintage Notre Dame offensive line recruiting class, but it’s a good group that will add depth behind those elite, high-level guys. As we’ve seen this year, it’s more so about gaining that depth to sustain the injury problems Notre Dame has had to work through,” Driskell said.
In the last several recruiting classes, Brian Kelly has emphasized the need to add speed and athleticism to his pro-style offense. Notre Dame has been reaping the benefits of that focus so far this season with players like senior wide receivers Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy emerging as key contributors in a rejuvenated downfield passing attack. Tommy Rees has done his part by finding creative ways to get his best athletes involved in the offense. The 2022 class has an abundance of talent that could make the same kind of impact quickly for the Irish. Driskell honed in on four-star wide receivers Tobias Merriweather and C.J. Williams as the standout playmakers in the class.
“Merriweather is a special player and has a chance to be one of the two or three best wide receivers signed under Brian Kelly. He’s that good. He’s a guy at 6’4” who brings the length and vertical ability that Notre Dame likes and needs more of,” Driskell said. “C.J. Williams is the perfect complement to Tobias [Merriweather], a consummate chain mover who’s a volume pass catcher. If Merriweather gets to 120 yards, it’ll be on five catches because he’s a big play specialist. Williams will get to 120 yards on nine or ten catches. He’s a really sharp route runner with strong athleticism.”
Notre Dame’s defense proved itself to be one of the best units in the country Saturday by dominating Wisconsin. Defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman has quickly taken his squad from one that was gashed against a currently winless Florida State team in Notre Dame’s opener to the unit that stuffed Wisconsin’s Chez Mellusi for just 54 rushing yards and forced five turnovers out of Badgers quarterback Graham Mertz on Saturday. This defense is one that relies mostly on assignment football, allowing players to use their best skills to form a unit that can get stops when it needs, but also play aggressively to get opposing offenses off schedule. Driskell believes that this adaptability inherent to the Irish defense will allow Notre Dame’s top linebacker commit Jaylen Sneed, a four-star recruit from Hilton Head Island, SC, to also contribute right away in 2022.
“Marcus Freeman’s defense is more adaptable for young players because he can ask guys to be really good at just one dimension, and he wholeheartedly believes that depth is important on the defensive side of the ball,” Driskell said. “He even brought up this summer that in this era of players easily being able to transfer, guys don’t want to come and sit on the bench, and it’s a defensive coordinator’s job to be able to adapt and utilize skill sets. He will find a niche for Jaylen Sneed to be able to utilize his skill set. I think he’ll be able to come in and utilize his speed and coverage ability.”
In the class of 2023, Notre Dame picked up a commitment from four-star running back Sedrick Irvin Jr. out of Gulliver Prep in Miami, FL. Irvin Jr. chose the Irish over Michigan State, the alma mater of his father and 1999 fourth-round NFL draft choice Sedrick Irvin. Driskell believes Irvin Jr. is an important commitment for the Irish because he can fill a specific role in the backfield in the future.
“You’re getting a kid who’s a slasher type of back who has the opportunity to develop into a weapon on third down. His skill set also compliments backs from the previous two classes like Logan Diggs, Audric Estime and Jadarian Price really well,” Driskell said. “If you’ve got four running backs that do the same thing, you can’t play all of those guys at once. Notre Dame is showing that they’re building a roster rather just going for national recognition with his commitment.”
Driskell also discussed the regional impact in recruiting Irvin Jr.’s commitment can have for the Irish
“You just got a big name from the city of Miami. That will matter to other Southern Florida kids that you’re trying to recruit like [four-star wide receiver] Jalen Brown. Notre Dame made a statement by going down South and beating out other Florida schools and Michigan State to get this guy from a top high school program with some name recognition,” he said.