Better Defensive Recruiting Starts on the Field for Notre Dame

( – A lot of Notre Dame fans are up in arms over the lack of defensive recruits in this year’s class which just signed yesterday. The Irish only gained the signatures of seven defensive recruits in a class where they needed to build depth along the defensive line and linebacking corps. Some will argue that Notre Dame is at a major disadvantage when recruiting on the defensive side of the ball, especially along the defensive line, and those people are right. Only that disadvantage is the social life in South Bend, the academic standards at Notre Dame, or the cold winters of the Mid West – its on field defensive production, and until that is fixed, we will see more of the same.

You can argue about Notre Dame’s academic standards all you want, but even with higher academic standards, Notre Dame still managed to recruit defensive line prospects Everson Griffen, Martez Wilson, Marvin Austin, Ben Martin, Justin Trattou, and Joeseph Barksdale. All of the aforementioned d-linemen are five star recruits, but none of the them signed with the Irish.

Grades also didn’t keep Notre Dame from pursuing Chris Donald, Lorenzo Edwards, or Malcolm Smith at linebacker either, but again Notre Dame whiffed on all three. At some point or another Notre Dame was in the lead or right at the head of the pack for most of these recruits, but all of them decided to go elsewhere.

Now contrast the recruiting misses on defenses with the gains on offense. Notre Dame got the nation’s #1 rated quarterback in Jimmy Clausen, they got their top rated tight in Mike Ragone, they got one of their highest rated receivers in Duval Kamara, and they got arguably one of the best 1-2 punches of any school at running back with Armando Allen and Robert Hughes.

In fact, over the last two years, Notre Dame has had to turn some quality kids away on offense because they got most of their top targets. That’s not to say Notre Dame got everyone they wanted on offense. I’m sure Weis would have loved to add an Arrelious Benn, Deonte Thompson, Joe McKnight, or even say a Greg Little, but there isn’t a whole lot to be disappointed about on the offensive side of the ball.

The problem this past year was Notre Dame’s defense. Had the Irish showed some progress on the defensive side of the ball from 2005, maybe some of these recruits would have ended up in South Bend, but when you are a highly touted defensive recruit and you see a team give up 40 points in every big game of the season what would you be thinking of that school?

Are offensive recruits leaps and bounds smarter than defensive recruits? I don’t think so. Do offensive recruits like playing in the cold weather more than defensive guys? Hardly. And do offensive players not like to party as much as the defensive guys? Just let all three of the Chicago Bears quarterbacks answer that one.

Charlie Weis has already begun the process of improving the on field product on the defensive side of the ball when he chose to not renew the contract of former defensive coordinator Rick Minter last month.

While its true that move may have lost the Irish a recruit or two this year, the move is one in the right direction to fixing the inherent problems with recruiting on the defensive side of the ball.

Is it any coincidence that LSU, Florida, and USC had very little trouble landing boat loads of talent on defense? LSU had so many defensive line recruits that a guy like Jason Peters, who Notre Dame fans would have killed for a few weeks ago, wasn’t even sure if he had a scholarship there.

Corwin Brown brings with him a reputation for being an excellent recruiter and early reports are he is just that. Brown is a dynamite in home recruiter who should be able to make a difference on the recruiting front before Georgia Tech ever rolls into town in September.

His recruiting abilities, however, are only going to go so far. For the Irish to truly compete with the big boys for the top defensive talent in 2007, they are going to have to produce a system guys want to play in. Five star linebackers don’t want to play in a defense that is going to match them against star receivers making them look bad. They want to play in an attacking defense that dictates the tempo of a game, not one that sits back and waits for a receiver to get wide open or a running back to break loose to make a play.

Notre Dame does not need to become a dominant defensive force overnight, however, for the recruits to sign on board next year. All they have to do is show progress and play hard nosed nasty football like we’ve been waiting for two years to see. That combined with the recruiting abilities of the new sheriff in town on defense will make Notre Dame a force in defensive recruiting next year.

Remember, Weis turned the offense around rather quickly and the offensive recruits bought into it right away. Now its time for Notre Dame to build a defense to match its offense.

If you build it, they will sign.

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