Meet the Recruits 2007: The Defense/Special Teams

Here’s the follow up to Wednesday’s post on the offensive recruits in this class.

Gary Gray (5’11”, 178 – Columbia, South Carolina)
Gray was the only early enrollee on the defensive side of the ball this year and the extra time should serve him well.  Gray is the headliner of this year’s defensive class and along with Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls last year, he is one of the best pure cover corner prospects Notre Dame has landed in some time.  Gray is a consensus top 10 corner and top 100 prospect across the board.  With a full spring under his belt, Gray will be ready for meaningful playing time from day one.

Weis on Gray: He’s going to be strictly a cover corner for us. He’s a versatile athlete. If I were running the option, I think I’d have him over there. That’s obviously not what we do. This kid is a very, very, very good athlete who will bring a lot of athleticism to our bring another corner to our competition after the two fine ones we brought in last year.

Aaron Nagel (6’1”, 215 – Lemont, Illinois)
Nagel was one of the first few commits for Notre Dame this year and there was no wavering from him at all throughout the process.  He’s a tough linebacker from the Chicago area and projects as an inside linebacker for the Irish in a 3-4 defense.  Nagel will need to bulk up some to be an effective inside linebacker in a 3-4 to take on guards, but as a high school running back he’s got some pretty good speed for the position.

Weis on Nagel: Had a bunch of tackles, 69 tackles, forced fumbles. That’s not taking into account he missed four games as a senior. Rushed just under a thousand yards, averaging 10 yards a carry. As we configure this defense now, he’s another guy that we see as one of those athletic guys that is able to run to the football.

Kerry Neal (6’3”, 230 – Bunn, North Carolina)
Prior to the change in defense, Neal was a bit of a tweener and would have needed time to add some size before being a regular contributor at defensive end.  In a 3-4 alignment, however, Neal is a perfect fit for the outside linebacker position.  He’s quick off the snap and could see playing time right away for the Irish.  Neal is my pick as the most underrated recruit in this year’s class.  His early commitment most likely hurt his “star” rating as early commitments tend to do, but in Corwin Brown’s defense, Neal has the potential to be a dominant pass rushing outside linebacker.   Neal had a lot of other big time programs recruiting him until the end, but never wavered.  He reminds me a lot of Morrice Richardson from last year’s class.

Weis on Neal: This guy is a dynamic pass rusher, which allows him to get onto the field quicker than most freshmen would be able to do. He knows that we’ve designed in this system right now, he’s in that tweener outside linebacker/defensive end stage, a perfect fit for what Coach Brown is looking to do on defense.

Andrew Nuss (6’5”, 285 – Ashburm Virginia)
Nuss was projected as an offensive linemen by most recruiting services, but with Notre Dame’s low numbers along the defensive line, he will start off on the defensive side of the ball.  He’s a “lunch pail” kind of player who plays hard and could be an ideal defensive linemen for a 3-4 defense.  He might not be big enough be the “nose tackle,” but he could be a nice end in a 3-4.

Weis on Nuss: He stuffed the run when he played on defense. He’s the type of big body type we feel that we need to recruit more of, 6’5″, 285 guys that are going to be 300 pounders after a couple meals at the South dining hall.

Steve Paskorz (6’1”, 210 – Allison Park, Pennsylvania)
He is listed at 210 from the official release by Notre Dame, but Weis mentioned he is up to 220 already.  He could be around 225 by the time he reports in June.  Paskorz is another linebacker prospect who played running back in high school and has good speed for the position.  Like Nagel, he also projects as an inside linebacker.  Paskorz was originally on’s Top 100 list last spring, but he was slowed by injuries his senior season and fell off most people’s radar.  He’s got good athleticism for a linebacker and could develop into a good inside linebacker.

Weis on Paskorz: I think he missed time at a senior with a hammy that just about fully got cured up in about January. I think his best football is well ahead of him. He rushed for over 3500 yards in his career as a runningback, but we see him as an inside linebacker type that can run to the football and run with some speed.

Brian Smith (6’2”, 230 – Overland Park, Kansas)
Smtih was a late addition to this class after the staff offered him in late January.  Smith, who father Chris played fullback for Notre Dame in the early 80’s, is projected as an outside linebacker/rush end by Weis.  The 230 lbs is the highest I’ve seen Smtih’s weight listed so it makes sense that he is projected on the outside.  Originally I figured he would play inside, but Weis and Brown like his pass rushing ability.  Smith is a kid who really wanted to come to Notre Dame and its always nice to see kids who truly want to be at Notre Dame and can play get scholarships.  I think Smith could be a very good outside linebacker for the Irish.

Weis on Smith: This is another guy when our system changed, he became a perfect fit. As a junior, he was an inside linebacker. As a senior, now all of a sudden he’s playing inside linebacker, outside linebacker, and a rush end.

Harrison Smith (6’2”, 205 – Knoxville, Tennessee)
Smith is a hard hitting safety who can provide the kind of deep coverage Notre Dame has been lacking from its safeties the last few years.  Getting Smith out of Knoxville is probably the best recruiting job Weis did on defense.  Smith is another top 100 guy in this class.  Tom Lemming has compared Smith to John Lynch and according to Weis, Smith ran just over a 4.3 at one of the camps last year.  That kind of speed is rare in a safety and Smith has the ability to be top notch, play making safety for the Irish.

Weis on Smith: The thing we’re bringing him in as a safety who can cover from sideline to sideline. One of the things we think we need to do is get additional range in the secondary with our safeties. We’re really happy to get Harrison in here. That was a tough one for him.

Brandon Walker (6’2”, 190 – Findlay, Ohio)
With additional scholarships available in January, Weis went looking for a kicker and found Walker.  Walker had originally committed to Louisville, but when Bobby Petrino left for the Falcons, he opened his recruiting back up.  He’s got a big leg and will be in a competition with last year’s freshman kicker, Ryan Burkhart.  Burkhart did adjust too well to the college game last year and struggled with his accuracy and consistency.  If Walker can consistently reach the end zone on kickoffs, Notre Dame will already be in better shape than they were a year ago in terms of place kicking.

Weis on Walker: I was only interested in bringing in a guy at this position with another scholarship if it was a guy had had a chance of unseating somebody and being able to get on the field for us as a freshman. We think looking at this kid, he has the potential to do that walking in the door.

Ian Williams (6’2”, 295 – Altamonte Springs, Florida)
Williams just might be the most important recruit in this year’s defensive class because he is the only true defensive tackle.  Williams will man  the middle of Notre Dame’s 3-4 defense and is very quick off the line.  Williams might only be a “3 star” recruit, but he is a very promising tackle prospect for the Irish.  If he can add some strength to go along with his quickness, he will be a very good interior defensive lineman for Notre Dame.  Florida made a very strong, late push for Williams, and after some serious deliberation, Williams stuck with Notre Dame.  Florida didn’t make a late push for Williams simply “to stick it to Notre Dame” either, they did it because Williams’s got some serious talent.

Weis on Williams: He’s the big body, interior defensive lineman. The big body type, 6’2″, a tad under 300 pounds. This guy is a very disruptive interior defensive lineman, the type of guy that can make us better in a hurry. Ian knows we’re counting on him getting involved in the mix walking in the door.

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