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How did Brian Kelly's first full season on the trail pan out?
-by Braden Gall (@AthlonBraden)
Charlie Weis was a good recruiter. He landed Athlon Consensus 100 stars like Dayne Crist, Michael Floyd, Cierre Wood, Jonas Gray, Kyle Rudolph, Trevor Robinson, Deion Walker, Shaquelle Evans and Chris Watt.
What do all of those names have in common? They all play on the offensive side of the ball. Certainly, some of those names turned out to be better (and worse) than advertised – with the jury still out on a few as well. But heading into 2010, Robinson, Floyd, Wood, Rudolph and Crist were the foundation of the Irish offense.
Yes, Weis landed some AC100 defensive talent as well – Ethan Johnson, Steve Filer, Darius Fleming and Manti Te’o to be exact.
The first observation is that, from 2008 to 2010, more that twice as many (nine to four) offensive AC100 prospects signed with Notre Dame than did defensive recruits. The second observation is that other than Te’o, those defensive names have probably not lived up to the recruiting ranking (Johnson has been solid and Fleming is a contributor).
In 2007, the Irish went 3-9, ranking 72nd nationally in scoring defense and 96th against the run. The win total, and most defensive stats improved in 2008, but then tumbled again in 2009. The 6-6 campaign was burdened by the 86th ranked total defense, 89th ranked rush defense and 63rd ranked scoring defense.
Enter Brian Kelly.
In one year, Kelly improved the scoring defense to 23rd and the rushing defense to 50th. Most importantly, the Irish won eight games for the first time since 2006.
Despite being known for his offensive guru-ness, Kelly has maintained a defensive focus on the recruiting trail. The 2011 class is the greatest example of this small shift in recruiting philosophy from the previous regime to the current staff.
More specifically, the defensive line has been a primary focus of the new coaches. Of the nation’s top 25 defensive end prospects, Kelly landed five of them – including three of the top seven and two of the top four. All told, the Irish signed seven defensive ends giving Kelly arguably the nation’s top end class in 2011.
Three defensive backs, a linebacker and a couple of athletes will also help the defensive side of the ball.
On the offensive side of the ball, Kelly's focus was once again the line of scrimmage. Five stellar blockers - including a trio of national recruits - restock the front line of the offense. Toss in the nation's No. 4 tight end and the offensive skill players should have plenty of space with which to work. All five AC100 signees in this class will play along the line of scrimmage.
As is the case with every Fighting Irish signing class, the entire nation was used to fill this group. Fourteen different states were used to pull players. From California to New England to Texas and into the deep South, the Notre Dame name still resonates with young athletes. Simply look at the 11 nationally rated prospects that signed in this class - it took nine different states from every region of the country to land those 11 athletes.
Nationally rated signees:
No. 22 Aaron Lynch, DE (Cape Coral, Fla.)
No. 27 Ishaq Williams, DE (Brooklyn, N.Y.)
No. 40 Ben Koyack, TE (Oil City, Pa. - pictured)
No. 41 Matt Hegarty, OL (Aztec, N.M.)
No. 45 Stephon Tuitt, DE (Monroe, Ga.)
No. 105 DaVaris Daniels, WR (Vernon Hills, Ill.)
No. 149 George Atkinson, ATH (Livermore, Calif.)
No. 164 Ben Councell, DE (Ashville, N.C.)
No. 194 Troy Niklas, OL (Anaheim, Calif.)
No. 223 Conor Hanratty, OL (New Canaan, Conn.)
No. 239 Anthony Rabasa, DE (Miami, Fla.)