SOUTH BEND – Coach Brian Kelly began his news conference Wednesday on national signing day talking about what this year's 23-man class represents as he enters his fifth season at Notre Dame.
“I really like the fact that this has come together (where) it really represents for us going into our fifth year, the one thing that I believe you are looking for and that is depth across the board,” Kelly said.
While some depth was addressed at wide receiver and tight end, the predominant focus of this year's haul that is rated No. 10 by Rivals.com, a national Internet recruiting service, is close to the line of scrimmage.
Of the 23 players that signed their national letters of intent to attend Notre Dame, 15 are along either the offensive line or the defensive front seven. While some programs may garner bigger headlines for landing elite playmakers, the Fighting Irish went the blue-collar route, looking to boost depth at the most important positions on the field.
“Yeah, there are some great skill players (that signed),” Kelly said. “But you are winning up front and building that depth in the front seven and offensive line really stands out in this class.”
Teams that consistently compete in the now-defunct BCS, particularly in the SEC, can substitute fairly regularly along the defensive front and not lose too much talent. That is what Kelly is trying to get to at Notre Dame. This year's class continues to add bodies and, more importantly, versatile bodies, to the defensive front seven.
Kelly pointed out Wednesday that many of his recruits along the defensive line and at linebacker can play multiple positions, with his linemen able to play the nose or defensive tackle and the linebackers also able to come off the edge when needed.
For instance, Kelly spoke about defensive lineman Jay Hayes at 6-foot-4, 275 pounds as a player who could move inside or out. Linebacker Jonathan Bonner at 6-3, 245 was mentioned as a guy who could come around the edge and get to the quarterback as well as play his natural position.
Kelly recruited defensive linemen a little differently this cycle, mentioning that he had to adjust his outlook at the position. Instead of recruiting pure defensive tackles or pure defensive ends, he searched for multifaceted players.
“As you know this year, (the line) was an area where we lost some key starters,” Kelly said. “We had to really go and play some true freshmen and guys who hadn't had any experience at all.”
“We were in a position where we needed to augment that position across the board.”
The same is true along the offensive line, where Kelly inked four players rated four stars or higher by Rivals.com. After a five-recruit haul last season, the depth chart is beginning to balance out better at offensive line, with true freshman Steve Elmer forced into a starting role last season.
A few attributes were key as well on offense.
“They all have the ability to move their feet, all have the ability to run block, pass (block)…we like our guys to move whether we are running zone schemes or gap schemes, screens, all those things,” Kelly said. “You see that there is an athletic component to all these guys.”
Overall, this 2014 class for the Fighting Irish will not be a class full of instant-impact freshmen at the skill positions. Rather, it fills out the depth chart at the positions Notre Dame needs to succeed.