Irish coach Brian Kelly introduced his 2013 recruiting haul Wednesday afternoon by saying the 22-man group adds a much-needed layer of depth to the Notre Dame roster. A few defensive signees, though, will have a chance to battle for more than depth when they get to South Bend this summer.
Four-star safety Max Redfield could complete for playing time in the Irish secondary in the fall.
Five-star linebacker Jaylon Smith headlines this year’s class. The country’s No. 5 overall recruit, according to 247Sports, is at the top of the list of players that has a chance to see the field early for the Irish defense.
Smith said Notre Dame coaches talked to him about playing mostly at the Cat linebacker position (where junior Prince Shembo currently lines up) with his hand on the ground. On Wednesday, Kelly indicated that he was more likely to line up at the Dog spot with junior Danny Spond where Notre Dame could take advantage of his pass coverage skills. He may end up doing a little bit of both in different situations.
“I will tell you this, we're going to put the best 11 on the field,” Kelly said. “And if Danny Spond is the best 11, he's playing. If Jaylon Smith is the best 11, he's playing. We recognize the fact that everybody has a value to what we're doing, but we're also going to play the best players.”
The second highest player currently signed on to play for the Irish is four-star safety Max Redfield. The Mission Viejo, Calif., product originally committed to USC, but flipped to Notre Dame on Jan. 4.
Kelly singled him out as another player who has a shot to earn some early playing time. Notre Dame has a long list of safeties, but not many have a sizable head start on Redfield in experience. Sophomore Matthias Farley started the majority of games last year and junior Austin Collinsworth is expected to be healthy in 2013 after sitting out the fall while recovering from shoulder surgery. Mostly the safeties group is made up of young players who have played limited roles at best at this point in their careers.
“We think Max is an elite player,” Kelly said. “He's going to play in that safety position for us, and we think he's a young man that can come in and compete. He's got all the athletic ability, and he's a very smart young man.”
Kelly and his staff are still waiting on a potential letter of intent from five-star defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes — “They day is not over yet. Stay tuned,” Kelly said at the end of his Wednesday press conference. Vanderdoes, the No. 1 defensive tackle in the country and No. 6 overall prospect, is another player who could see the field immediately as part of a tag team with junior Louis Nix if he picks the Irish later tonight.
The rest of Notre Dame’s incoming freshmen on defense project as depth players that could find themselves on special teams or filling certain situational roles. Here’s what Kelly had to say about each of them:
Florida native Michael Deeb brings a high energy attitude to the Irish linebacker corps.
Devin Butler (CB): “Devin obviously at the cornerback position is a need that we have within our program. With injuries last year and graduation the year before, we were thin obviously this year, and we were able to find a way to get it done back there. Now we can add some depth to the cornerback position. He's an exciting player that's going to come in and compete immediately.”
Michael Deeb (ILB): “He brings an energy to everything he does. When he walks in that locker room, it's time to play football, and if you're not locked in, he's going to make sure he says something to you. We love his energy, we love the way he plays the game.”
Rashad Kinlaw (CB): “He played quarterback primarily, he got injured this year, but we love his size, his length, his athleticism. We think it's an untapped resource for us in that we're only going to get him better and better physically, and he has the speed, he has the ability to play the ball. We think he's going to fit well at the cornerback position for us.”
Cole Luke (CB): “This guy plays on a championship football team. When you go around the high school and you go around the program, you can sense it and feel it. We've got a great relationship with [Hamilton High} Coach [Steve] Belles, a former Notre Dame player here, and just a great fit. “
Jacob Matuska (DE): “Another winner, another guy that can play in the profile that we have at the defensive line position for us but is also versatile enough that he can play on the other side of the ball. Our target is to play him on the defensive side of the ball. He's going to physically get bigger and stronger. We just like his work ethic.”
Doug Randolph (LB): “Dual athlete, excellent lacrosse player, played basketball, can do a number of different things. He's somebody that's long at 6-foot-3, very versatile, can stand up or put his hand down. He gives us that kind of flexibility at that position.”
Isaac Rochell (DE): “I think Isaac is a guy that didn't play in lot of the postseason games and didn't get a ton of exposure. He's a fine football player. We're really excited as a staff to have Isaac Rochell. He's going to play on the defensive line, and he's going to impact this program. I think he's got a huge upside, and we're really excited about getting a player of this caliber here to Notre Dame.”