Irish recruits not scared off by loaded depth chart

Irish recruits not scared off by loaded depth chart
February 6, 2013, 4:00 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Jaylon Smith very well may force his way on to the field in 2013, but for the incoming linebacker to do so he'll have to push a successful member of the 2012 defense out of the way.

Smith is expected to slot in as a "cat" linebacker in Notre Dame's 3-4 defense, one who is able to drop back into pass coverage. That was a role Danny Spond played well in 2012, in which he became a key member of a defense that was the backbone of a championship run.

Unseating Spond won't be easy, but seniority won't play a factor in deciding who plays next season.

"We're also going to put the best 11 on the field, and if Danny Spond is the best 11, he's playing," coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday. "If Jaylon Smith is the best 11, he's playing. We recognize the fact that everybody has a value to what we're doing, but we're also going to play the best players."

While Smith will be tough to keep off the field in some capacity, four-star quarterback Malik Zaire joins one of the more loaded areas of Notre Dame's depth chart. Incumbent starter Everett Golson has three seasons of eligibility left, while 2012 five-star recruit Gunner Kiel has four years remaining. Former starter Tommy Rees will enter his senior season, while junior Andrew Hendrix was lost in the shuffle last year.

That's a daunting group, although Kelly said Zaire -- an early enrollee -- came to Notre Dame to beat out Golson, Kiel and the rest of the depth chart for a starting job.

"This didn't bother him one bit," Kelly said. "He had the confidence in his ability."

Kelly's NFL flirtation doesn't prove costly

Alex Anzalone decommitted from Notre Dame after word came out that Kelly took an interview with the Philadelphia Eagles, but the Florida-bound linebacker was the only recruiting casualty stemming from those talks.

There was a four-day stretch after the BCS Championship in which plenty of those outside and inside the program were left in the dark as to what Kelly's next move would be. While reports surfaced about Kelly's interest in the Eagles, plenty of Notre Dame recruits took to twitter to reaffirm their commitment to the school -- some noting it was steadfast with or without Kelly.

Kelly and recruiting coordinator Tony Alford said there was no apprehension among recruits about the future -- and that was one of the reasons why Notre Dame's class stayed intact.

"Our guys knew what was going on, we know who the leader of this football program is, we know what the culture of this football program was supposed to be and what we want it to be, so there wasn't confusion on their part," Alford explained.

New recruiting guidelines an area of some concern for Kelly

The NCAA's latest recruiting rules allow for unlimited calls and text messages from a coach to a recruit, and plenty of FBS coaches have expressed concern over that shift. For some, there's a concern assistant coaches will be overworked. For Kelly, he's worried about the constant bombardment recruits will receive from coaches.

"I've got mixed emotions about it. It cleans up a lot of the little problems that you may have in recruiting if you text at the wrong -- you shouldn't have texted somebody or you picked up a call, whatever the case may be," Kelly explained. "I think it cleans up a lot of that.

"But I think there's going to be a lot more on the plates of the student athletes, and I don't know how good that is."

Another change, too, is easing regulations on what schools can mail to recruits. That's a wrinkle Kelly is concerned about as well.

"Now you may have some schools sending out Fatheads and colored brochures," Kelly said. "I don't want to get into a marketing and promotions department."

Better late than never

Four-star running back Tarean Folston sent his letter of intent to Notre Dame Wednesday afternoon, a few hours after Notre Dame's 17 other non-early-enrollee commits faxed in their paperwork. The Cocoa, Fla., native held a ceremony at his high school Wednesday to sign his LOI.

Folston rushed for 1,186 yards and 13 touchdowns in his senior season and ranked No. 119 in Rivals' top 250.

Te'o hoax not a topic of discussion

While the story of Lennay Kekua, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and Manti Te'o was seemingly impossible to avoid in mid-January, it didn't come up in any interactions Alford had with recruits.

"I gotta be honest with you, it never came up," Alford said. "That was an isolated incident, it is what it is, it never came up. That has no bearing and no effect on anything that has to do with these young men."

Elliott undergoes kidney transplant

In non-recruiting news, Notre Dame safeties coach Bob Elliott underwent a kidney transplant Wednesday after spending the entire 2012 season administering self-dialysis. Elliott, who safety Matthias Farley said was "monumental" in his development, didn't miss any time during the season due to his condition.

"(He) was out there coaching and working, and he's just a great man," Kelly said. "He's got great experience. I love having him on the staff, and he'll get through this. It's a tough time right now for him, but I think you're going to see him back. He's a fighter, and I expect to see him back on the field in the spring."

Nichols nearing medical hardship

Tackle Tate Nichols suffered a knee injury last year that appears as if it'll end his football career. Notre Dame has the paperwork ready for Nichols to be granted a medical hardship waiver, which would keep him on scholarship and let him earn his degree while not counting against the football team's 85-scholarship limit.

Nichols was rated as a three-star prospect out of Union, Ky., in Notre Dame's class of 2010.