Notre Dame football recruiting: QB Barnett among the elite

TYLER JAMES
South Bend Tribune

Jordan Palmer had seen the film of Blake Barnett.

When he finally had the chance to see the junior quarterback in person on Sunday, Palmer and the rest of the Elite 11 crew realized the Notre Dame pledge matched the hype.

By the end of Sunday’s Elite 11 regional camp in Los Angeles, the first of the 2014 circuit, Barnett earned MVP honors and received the first invite to the Elite 11 Finals at The Opening in July.

“There were a lot of guys worthy of it,” said Palmer, who ended the season as a backup quarterback for the Chicago Bears and works in the offseason as one of the Elite 11 quarterback coaches.

“This early in the game, it's safe to say that he's a guy that would make it regardless,” Palmer said. “We know what he is. We know what he can do. We know he's going to continue to compete at our events. It was great to see what showed up on tape showed up on Sunday.”

Some of the most electric plays on Barnett’s highlight reel won’t be a factor in the Elite 11 competition. He ran for 695 yards and 13 touchdowns as a junior at Corona (Calif.) Santiago last fall but wasn’t asked to recreate those plays on Sunday. Instead, Barnett had to rely on his arm.

"We don't have drills where we go ask them to run and juke people and outrun people. It's strictly distributing the football,” Palmer said.

“One of the things that matched up (to his film) was his consistent stroke. He doesn't throw it different every time, like a lot of guys do at this age. He seems to have a really good understanding of his base and his lower half. He has a really strong lower body and uses it. He has the ability to make all three throws. He has the ability to drive the football, the ability to layer the football and has great touch on the touch throws."

Barnett entered the camp after a week of training in Arizona with quarterback coach Dennis Gile. Barnett has worked with a number of different quarterback coaches, but has worked with Gile since last summer. He focused on shortening his release of the football and improving his footwork.

"I wanted to improve on my game,” Barnett said. “It was mainly in preparation for the Elite 11 camp. I wanted to be on the top of my game for it because I knew there would be so many good quarterbacks there that were going to be at the top of their game."

Barnett was right. A talented group including Alabama pledge Ricky Town and uncommitted quarterbacks Brady White and Brian Lewerke created a deep pool of talent in Los Angeles. Palmer called the group one of the best he’s seen and better than any of last year’s regionals.

"I thought I performed pretty well,” Barnett said. “I did my best to go out there and compete. I knew the top quarterbacks would be out there not just from California, but across the nation. It was a great time to compete with all them and show what you have."

Knowing of Barnett’s talent coming into the camp, Palmer challenged the 6-foot-4, 205-pounder beyond his comfort zone. Palmer asked Barnett to work on seven-step drops and nail specifics with his technique.

Barnett responded by taking the coaching and implementing those tweaks during his reps. Palmer described Barnett as “one of the most coachable kids I've been around that's already a star.”

“I put him in a position that wasn't necessarily comfortable for him based off of his muscle memory,” Palmer said. “He did a phenomenal job of seeking out what we were looking for, embracing the new information and being coachable."

The key for Barnett was staying even-keeled throughout the competition. The coaches create a competitive environment that culminates in a two-minute drill simulation called The Pressure Cooker.

"I did a fairly good job of staying composed throughout the camp,” Barnett said. “If I threw a bad ball, I'd stay composed about it and come back to the next one and improve off of that. I wouldn't want to get too down on a certain throw because it would carry over to everything else and ruin your day, essentially."

A day after earning MVP honors, Barnett watched as Florida State quarterback Jameis Winston, an Elite 11 alum, led his team on a game-winning drive in the national championship.

The Elite 11 program has produced a number of NFL and college quarterbacks including Matthew Stafford, Tim Tebow and Andrew Luck. The last four Notre Dame quarterback recruits — Everett Golson, Gunner Kiel, Malik Zaire and DeShone Kizer — have advanced to the Elite 11 finals.

Palmer’s not interested in making comparisons, but he sees a high ceiling for Barnett.

“He's big enough to be a prototypical pocket passer in the NFL today. Then you look at what he does athletically, he can make people miss,” Palmer said. “He can pull away from people in high school. I see a guy that when he gets bigger and stronger and faster, he could be able to do that at the college level too."

On Wednesday, Barnett added another accolade when he accepted an early invite to play in the 2015 Under Armour All-America Game. The hype continues to build for a quarterback more than a year away from enrolling at Notre Dame.

"Notre Dame has a great young man coming in to compete to be their quarterback,” Palmer said. “He has an understanding that regardless of the success that he's had, it's a journey to go ahead and continue to find what you need to get better at. He has a good grasp of that. He's one of the kids who's really talented, but will also at some point reach his potential."

Quarterback Blake Barnett, a junior verbally committed to Notre Dame, earned himself an invite to the Elite 11 Finals on Sunday following the Elite 11 Los Angeles Regional. Photo provided by Student Sports/Tom Hauck