Irish Fortunes Changing Along Defensive Line

( – For years Notre Dame has had major problems recruiting elite defensive linemen, especially at the tackle position. In the last two classes Notre Dame has signed just one natural defensive tackle. Fortunes seem to be changing for the Irish, however, as Notre Dame has received commitments from three prospects capable of manning the tackle position after receiving a commitment from Omar Hunter Monday and the calendar still reads June.

Charlie Weis’s first half class featured two defensive tackles, Pat Kuntz and Derrell Hand, but neither of them were very highly ranked. While both seem to be ready to contribute at the position, both were projects who have needed time to develop and build up their strength. Neither was the type of defensive tackle who was ready to come in make an immediate impact even though Kuntz was thrown into the fire very early out of a lack of depth.

Weis didn’t fair much better in his first two full classes either with just a “natural” defensive tackle, Ian Williams, combined between the two. The Irish whiffed on targets such as Gerald McCoy, Joseph Barksdale, Will Blackwell, Butch Lewis, and numerous other targets who the Irish pursued but didn’t get much consideration from.

Recruiting at the tackle position has been so bleak the past few years, the Irish will be forced to look at a number of offensive line prospects on the defensive side of the ball. Chris Stewart will be getting a look at nose tackle and Emeka Nwankwo and Andrew Nuss, two incoming freshman, will also be getting a look along the line. While these three prospects are all talented kids, none of them were heavily recruited on the defensive side of the ball by the big boys of the recruiting world.

All of these struggles over the past few years is making Notre Dame’s sudden success at recruiting the position that much more satisfying for the throngs of Notre Dame recruitniks out there. We haven’t even reached July 4th weekend yet and the Irish have commitments from Sean Cywnar, Hafis Williams, Brandon Newman, and Omar Hunter – all very talented and sought after recruits.

In any other year, the four defensive line prospects Notre Dame is already received commitments from would be projected as tackles. With Notre Dame switching to a 3-4 alignment this year, however, its likely the Irish have two penciled in as interior linemen and two penciled in as ends.

A lot of credit must go to new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown who has been vital in the recruiting of all four of these defensive linemen. Brown has come in and been a shot of adrenalin for recruiting on the defensive side of the ball in the few short months he has been at Notre Dame.

Brown has shown a commitment and energy recruiting on defense that Notre Dame hasn’t really seen in a number of years. Former defensive coordinator Rick Minter was not known for his recruiting abilities. He wasn’t really known for his coaching abilities the last two years either, but I digress.

The increase in defensive line commitments so far this year is also a sign of Weis change in recruiting philosophy this year. Last year Weis slow played a lot of defensive tackles and only offered a select few. When those recruits went elsewhere, Notre Dame was up a creek without a paddle at the time. Fast forward a year and you will notice that Weis and Brown have been much more aggressive recruiting the position, offering more prospects and in essence casting a wider net. The result has been one of the strongest defensive line classes Notre Dame has seen in the last 20 years.

Most fans might not realize just how huge it is for Notre Dame to be having this kind of success this early in the recruiting process this year. Games are won and lost in the trenches and it has been years since Notre Dame has had the kind of depth along both lines that Weis and his staff have been building through recruiting over these last three years.

With all of these defensive linemen already in the fold for this class, Notre Dame may not be forced to move some of the offensive linemen over to defense. Depth will still be an issue this year, but its very possible that the Irish will be able to keep Nuss and Nwankwo on offense and not waste a year of development on them if its clear they are better suited for the o-line.

It’s still entirely possible that either prospect could step in and really show something on defense, but if neither does, the staff may not be forced to keep them on defense out of necessity.

Notre Dame is in the process of putting together a very special class, a class that potentially could be the most talented Weis has brought in and one of the main reasons for that is all of these defensive linemen. Recruiting is not just about getting the most four and five star guys, its about getting the best players you can at a position of need, and that is something the Irish are doing very well so far this year.

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