To say Notre Dame struggled through the 2016 season would be a massive, massive understatement. Though they lost a lot of key contributors from their Fiesta Bowl team the year prior, the Irish underperformed on both sides of the ball, and it lead to a lot of questions regarding the program’s future.
Brian Kelly’s job is safe – for now. As much as he frustrates me at times, there were no true upgrades available, and after recently finishing payments to Charlie Weis, ND cannot afford to fire another coach early into a long extension. The Irish welcome in three new coordinators – Chip Long (offense), Mike Elko (defense) and Brian Polian (special teams). Despite the turnover, I think the Irish have had a solid National Signing Day.
Notre Dame will always be known for strength at two offensive positions – the offensive line and tight ends. This signing Day proved to be no different. The Irish brought in two tight end recruits in Brock Wright (4-star, Cypress, TX, pictured left) and Cole Kmet (4-star, Arlington Heights, IL). Wright is known for his blocking, though he projects as a capable receiver; Kmet is the opposite, and seen as more of a receiving tight end.
The offensive line was strengthened through the commitments of Aaron Banks (4-star, El Cerrito, CA), Robert Hainsey (4-star, Bradenton, FL), and Josh Lugg (4-star, Wexford, PA), among others. Though the o-line should be set for the most part next year, these prospects are high ceiling guys who are set to continue ND’s reputation for a strong offensive front.
Aside from these two spots, the Irish gained solid commitments. They signed one quarterback – Avery Davis (4-star, Cedar Hills, TX), a 5’11” dual threat who opted to come to South Bend over schools like Texas Tech and Colorado. I don’t see Davis competing right away, but with Brandon Wimbush as the starter for the forseeable future, Davis allows the opportunity to continue an offense that will inevitably put more of a focus on the option.
Running back CJ Holmes (4-star, Cheshire, CT), and wideouts Jafar Armstrong (3-star, Mission, KS, pictured right) and Michael Young (3-star, Destrehan, LA) bring a new sense of athleticism to Notre Dame Stadium. Equanemious St. Brown, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams are the most experienced returning skill position players, but these guys fit in well with the direction the offense is moving.
The D obviously was a massive weakness last year. It probably will be again this year. My biggest problem is that, despite poor coaching last season, the defense was exposed due to lack of talent and lack of depth – that comes from poor recruiting as much as it does from coaching. It’ll be a while until the Irish have a great defense again, as that will take years to rebuild. However, they have commits coming in that can contribute right away.
In the trenches, the Irish have signed defensive tackle Kurt Hinish (3-star, Pittsburgh, PA), defensive end Jonathan MacCollister (3-star, Orlando, FL), and Darnell Ewing (4-star, Norfolk, VA), among others. All three could push for time right away for a defensive line that basically couldn’t do anything right last season.
The linebacking corps is helped by the singings of inside ‘backers Drew Adams (4-star, Pittsburgh, PA) and Drew White (3-star, Ft. Lauderdale, FL). Adams played all season with a serious arm injury which may need surgery, but he still finished as his high school’s career leader in tackles. That, to me, screams two things – competitiveness and toughness. Those are two things this unit lacked greatly last season. White comes in as another player with a chip on his shoulder, which should help to change the culture on that side of the ball.
The secondary’s marquee commitment is from Isaiah Robertson (4-star, Napierville, IL, pictured above), a 6’3″ safety with great speed and length. Robertson was originally listed as an athlete, but he’ll be welcomed into the secondary with open arms. Also, safety Jordan Genmark Heath (3-star, San Diego, CA) picked the Irish after originally committing to Cal. Heath is relatively new to football, but the consensus among the Irish staff is that he can come in and help right away.
The Irish also grabbed Jonathan Doerer, a kicker from North Carolina (2-star, Charlotte, NC). Originally a Maryland commit, Doerer can push Justin Yoon, who had a solid enough year last year.
Obviously, this class comes with no 5-star commits, which always brings the most fanfare. I’m not totally surprised, given all of the turnover and uncertainty regarding the football program. I do not think this is a bad recruiting class by any means, however. Most of these players stand to contribute right away in a season where the Irish are rebuilding. I don’t think that’s a bad thing at all, because you’re going to see motivation on all fronts. I think that was the biggest thing lacking on this Irish team last season, and I’m excited to see what happens from here on out.
Cover photo from UND.com.
Other images from 24/7 sports, Twitter of Jafar Armstrong, Chicago Tribune.