Weis, Irish Cornering the Market

Notre Dame, IN (UHND.com) – Before Charlie Weis arrived in South Bend in December of 2004, it had been years since Notre Dame had much success recruiting cornerbacks. The Tyrone Willingham and Bob Davie Eras were littered by a string of failures when it came to recruiting the position. Sure, there were a few here and there that Notre Dame managed to land, but most Davieham recruited corners were thankful their names weren’t on the back of their jerseys since that’s what we saw the most of.

During the eight year span between the end the Lou Holtz Era and the beginning of the Weis Era, Notre Dame failed to produce a single first or second round pick out of its secondary after Holtz coached teams produced six over the final eight years of his reign on the Notre Dame sidelines. Part of the reason was a case of under developed talent at the position, but so was a lack of recruiting success.

Notre Dame CB 1st/2nd Round Picks

Player Year Drafted
Pat Terrell 1990 2nd Round (49)
Todd Lyght 1991 1 st Round (5)
Rod Smith 1992 2nd Round (35)
Tom Carter 1993 1st Round (27)
Jeff Burris 1994 1st Round (27)
Bobby Taylor 1995 2nd Round (50)

Both Davie and Willingham struggled to recruit corners to South Bend. For every five star recruit like Clifford Jefferson, there were four or five Dwight Ellick’s (nevermind the fact that Jefferson is the poster child for a recruiting bust under Davie). For every four star recruit like Terrail Lambert, who was part of Willingham’s final full class, there were another three or four Prestan Jackson’s.

Notre Dame constantly struggled to recruit corners and routinely settled for their B and C list recruits. Davie and Willingham were reduced to securing commitments from project recruits like Ellick, Jackson, Leo Ferrine, LaBrose Hedgemon, Mike Richardson, Jason Beckstrom – recruits who either played other positions or possessed track speed the coaches thought they could coach into playing corner.

Times certainly have changed for Notre Dame and Monday’s news of the commitment of four star corner Marlon Pollard continues the trend which Weis began by securing verbal commitments from Raeshon McNeil and Darrin Walls during his first recruiting campaign.

It started with McNeil’s commitment in the summer of 2005 when the North Carolina native picked the Irish on ESPN News and has continued through the Monday commitment from Pollard which gives Charlie Weis five commitments from four star corners since taking over for Willingham. During the almost four years of Tyrone Willingham recruiting, he and his staff managed just two such commitments (Terrail Lambert and Ambrose Wooden).

Cornerback Recruiting under Weis

Player Year Stars
Raeshon McNeil 2006 ****
Darrin Walls 2006 ****
Gary Gray 2007 ****
Robert Blanton 2008 ****
Jamoris Salughter 2008 ****
Marlon Pollard 2009 ****

* Jamoris Slaughter was listed as a 4 star safety by Scout.com

In between, Weis and staff have added current returning starter Darrin Walls, nickel back challenger Gary Gray and incoming freshman Robert Blanton and Jamoris Slaughter. A position which along with the defensive line had recently been the bane of the existence of Notre Dame recruiting has suddenly become a strength and Monday’s news shows that there are no signs of this success slowing down.

Weis hasn’t been able to just increase the “star value” in recruiting the position, he along with Corwin Brown since being added to the staff, have been able to recruit athletes who can actually play the position from day one and don’t need to be taught it once they get to Notre Dame.

Davie and Willingham recruited track stars and athletes such as Jason Beckstrom, Dwight Ellick, Ambrose Wooden, and Mike Richardson and tried to turn them into corners. Ellick and Beckstrom were track stars with blazing speed but neither ever picked up the nuances of the position and struggled throughout their careers. Wooden had his moments, but he too came to Notre Dame as an “athlete” and probably played corner early in his career more out of necessity. Richardon ended up turning into a pretty good corner and was drafted in the 6th round of the 2007 NFL Draft, but he too came to Notre Dame more as an athlete after playing wide receiver in high school.

The same cannot be said about Notre Dame’s current crop of cornerbacks though. Raeshon McNeil showcased his skills at the Army All American game two years and showed he was a true cover corner. Darrin Walls lined up one on one with All American wide receiver Calvin Johnson in the first game of his career as a true freshman in 2006. Since then, he’s locked down one of Notre Dame’s starting cornerback positions and is poised to have an excellent season in 2008.

More recently, the Irish staff has also started recruiting more physical corners – guys like Blanton, Slaughter, and Pollard who might not have blazing speed but can make plays against the run and know how to play the ball in the air. One thing the previous two regimes either didn’t get or couldn’t avoid because of their recruiting deficiencies is that while track speed is a great quality for a corner, it means absolutely nothing if you can’t teach it how to make a play on the ball.

This shift in recruiting philosophy would seem to coincide with Notre Dame’s desire to play a more attacking style defense. If you have a defense which is constantly pressuring opposing quarterbacks, you need corners that can be physical and know how to cover and make plays on the ball – not track stars who can line up and keep up with a Ted Ginn.

Not only has Weis and have been able to lure top notch corners to South Bend over the past few years, they’ve been able to attract kids who know how to play the position and can make an impact early on. The addition of Corwin Brwon, a former NFL defensive back and secondary coach, as defensive coordinator last year has only added to Notre Dame’s success recruiting the position and should continue to do so. Brown was instrumental in the recruitment of both Blanton and Slaughter last year and Pollard this year.

It’s been 13 years since Notre Dame last produced a first or second round pick from its secondary when the Philadelphia Eagles selected Bobby Taylor with the 50th overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft; but with the talent Weis and now Corwin Brown have been able to attract to South Bend in the defensive backfield, that seems like just another streak the Irish are bound to end in the immediate future.

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