Wednesday, June 06, 2007

He never hit the brakes, and he was shifting gears...

This year's recruiting class is going to be the true measure of the ability of Coach Weis as a long-term solution to the coaching carousel of Notre Dame's last decade.

He's used his reputation as an offensive genius over the past couple of years to make Notre Dame THE PLACE for quarterbacks to come to develop. He's used his New Jersey / New York roots to reopen a dormant pipeline from the east coast. He flashed his Superbowl rings to wow young kids with dreams of the NFL.

But as the head coach of Notre Dame, he needed to rebuild the entire recruiting system at the University, and foster relationships with high school coaches around the country. He needed to change public perception of Notre Dame while staying true to the central mission as both a Catholic and centrally academic institution. He also needed to do so well that he can compete for a national title.

Coming into this recruiting cycle, there were two glaring personnel needs above all else - the lack of a true, run stuffing nose tackle to build the 3-4 defense around, and the need for a breakout wide receiver (think "Rocket" or Tim Brown).

Before the summer has even gotten started, this year's class has already taken huge strides to address these needs.

A couple of weeks ago, Brandon Newman, one of the country's top defensive tackle / nose guards committed to the Irish. But, we need depth, and lots of it, at the nose. We can't put all of our eggs in one basket here. So what did Coach Weis do? He stole another top defensive tackle from the jaws of our hated nemesis, Michigan.

Omar Hunter, a 300-lb. nose guard from Buford, Georgia, was widely reported, even by himself, as a strong Michigan lean. Then he came to South Bend. In a few brief days, Coach Weis and his players represented the University and showed Omar what he had to expect here in South Bend. I particularly found the following quote to be dispositive:

"Just being around all the players and coaches, it was just unbelievable. I was just impressed with how good of guys they were and how down to earth they were. The players were such good guys. The impression left on me was when I went up there and they took me out, they went back and started studying before they even took me out."

That's right, folks. We didn't lure one of the most sought after defensive recruits in the country with pretty girls and flashy cars. We lured him with studying.

Weis clearly has imparted his vision of the University on the players on his team, and those players are representing honestly their experience of college life.

Even more impressive is the list of teams that Hunter turned down to come to Notre Dame. Because he's from Georgia, it reads like a list of top 10 defenses over the past decade. Michigan. Florida. Tennessee. Auburn. LSU. And he committed to the Irish, who haven't had a great defense in nearly 10 years. Go ahead, try to name a great ND defensive tackle since Zorich and Bryant Young. I'll wait.

Oh, and he's a 300 pounder that can dunk a basketball. There's some athleticism.

On the other side of the ball, Weis missed out on a couple of top receivers last year, and needs to add depth to a depleted receiving corps.

Weis needed to make sure that all of the supporting cast for the receiving corps were in place. Great quarterbacks, check. Heck, Weis got this year's best quarterback, after getting last year's best quarterback - an impressive feat considering that rumor has it that one of the nation's best QBs is transferring out of Notre Dame because he dropped to 4th on the depth chart. Great O-linemen to protect the QB, check. Weis has been hauling in O-linemen like shooting fish in a barrel. Tight ends to put some pressure on the middle of the defense, check - in spades. Weis has been recruiting tight ends like USC has been recruiting running backs. Indeed, Weis has gotten the best tight end in the country every year he's been here. And Kyle Rudolph this year is another. And he has a returning All-American at the position as well. Running backs to keep the defense from cheating back against the pass, check, check, and check. We've got a bruiser (Hughes), and all-around back (Aldridge), and a speedster (Allen). And those are the backups.

Now we just need that elusive speedster receiver. We've got the possession guys. Weis, once he got his hands on the tape for Goodman, saw why he belonged on the Rivals 250, and secured his services for next season early on. We are in good shape for Michael Floyd out of Minnesota, but he falls into the tall, physical receiver group. We need a true speedster. We have a couple of speedy athletes with potential as a receiver, but no true great speed receivers.

We are on the list for Martavious Odoms and Kenny Tate, but aren't at the top of any of the 5-star speed guys.

Weis has righted the ship as far as recruiting goes, and all is well under the Golden Dome. However, the team that Weis has recruited can compete for a national championship every year, but not dominate the way that USC did with Reggie Bush in the backfield.

What we need now is a gamebreaker.