NOTRE DAME — It's the Year of the Lineman at Notre Dame.
As head coach Brian Kelly rattled off the list of 23 players who signed letters of intent with Notre Dame, three positions in particular were mentioned more than the rest. Of the 23 players who signed, 15 are offensive or defensive linemen or linebackers.
Kelly said Notre Dame focused on loading both of its lines and its linebacker corps with players in the Top 15 in their position rankings. It's part of Kelly's fifth-year focus to load crucial positions with talented depth.
"I think if you really boil it down, it's about the front seven and the offensive line," he said. "Yeah, there's some great skill players that I'll talk about, but you're winning up front, and building that depth in the front seven and the offensive line really stands out in this class, and then having some really good players across the board for us."
The Irish received 21 signed letters of intent Wednesday, Feb. 5, 20 of which came from players who previously verbally committed. The lone surprise came from Cincinnati defensive tackle Daniel Cage, choosing the Irish over slightly favored Oklahoma early Wednesday morning.
Not included in Wednesday's signings were the two early enrollees who arrived on campus three weeks ago. Wide receiver and Speedway High School graduate Justin Brent and defensive lineman Andrew Trumbetti are enrolled in spring classes at the university. Brent and Trumbetti round out the Class of 2014 to 23 total.
Notre Dame nailed down four offensive linemen — including five-star Quenton Nelson — six defensive linemen and five linebackers this cycle.
Kelly called Nelson "relentless," saying the sole five-star player Notre Dame signed this cycle "comes after you play after play after play."
"His desire to want to be great is what always stood out about Quenton." Kelly said. "He's always pushing himself."
Notre Dame won over Cage and his family during a recent visit to campus. The three-star Cincinnati native was recruited in a much narrower window than most of his classmates, but whatever he and his parents saw on their trip to Notre Dame must have stuck.
"This guy is a ferocious player," Kelly said of Cage. "He's an inside player, and we love the way he got off the ball. His strength, lower body strength, he's a guy that's going to play the shade; he can play the nose. He's a guy that's very disruptive inside."
Inside linebacker Nyles Morgan headlines the linebacker corps. The four-star Crete, Ill., native committed to the Irish during the US Army All-American Bowl in January. Morgan had initially fallen off of Notre Dame's radar following the departure of coordinators Chuck Martin and Bob Diaco, but a persistent rally from Kelly swayed Morgan back.
Kelly said Morgan has the physical capabilities to play right away and will see the field if he's mentally prepared come next fall.
"One thing that stands out about Nyles is his thirst for knowledge of the game. Every time I'm with him, he just wants to talk about football," Kelly said. "Just got a great nose for the football, plays downhill, plays fast, great instincts, and when he arrives, he arrives with a bad attitude when he gets to the football. He's just that kind of player. Very, very talented."
Here's who joined Brent and Trumbetti Wednesday morning:
- Tyler Newsome, punter/kicker
- Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
- Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
- Corey Holmes, wide receiver
- Sam Mustipher, offensive guard
- DeShone Kizer, quarterback
- Jonathan Bonner, linebacker
- Alex Bars, offensive lineman
- Jay Hayes, defensive lineman
- Nile Sykes, linebacker
- Nic Weishar, tight end
- Jhonny Williams, defensive lineman
- Greer Martini, linebacker
- Kolin Hill, linebacker
- Quenton Nelson, offensive lineman
- Drue Tranquill, defensive back
- Grant Blankenship, defensive lineman
- Nick Watkins, cornerback
- Tyler Luatua, tight end
- Pete Mokwuah, defensive lineman
- Nyles Morgan, linebacker