Analysis: Offensive players impress at Irish Invasion

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Before the sweat dried on the campers at Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion, the event could be deemed a success.

The two-hour camp for nearly 80 football recruits was bookended by new verbal commitments. Three-star defensive back Jalen Elliott gave his pledge to the Irish before the camp started. As three-star wide receiver Kevin Stepherson walked off the field in Notre Dame Stadium on Friday, he did the same.

The Irish ended the night with a 2016 class of eight verbal commitments and much-needed recruiting momentum after waiting two months to add a new member.

But the main event came on the playing field Friday night. Many of the top recruits competed in the camp despite already holding offers from Notre Dame, including Elliott and Stepherson.

Elliott didn’t look as tall as his listed 6-foot-1, but he brought a physicality in coverage. On one play, Elliott knocked down a tight end with a simple jam. Elliott brings versatility in the secondary and could line up at safety, cornerback or in the slot as a nickelback. He closed on the ball well when trying to prevent completions.

Stepherson, while not imposing physically, won plenty of one-on-one reps. He worked equally well on short and deep routes and created separation between himself and the opposing defensive backs. His footwork and speed allowed him to run clean routes.

The offense seemed to fare better than the defense in many of the passing drills. The odds of a win for the offense increased with 2017 quarterback target Hunter Johnson throwing the ball. He lived up to his No. 1 pro-style quarterback ranking from 247Sports. The signal caller from Brownsburg, Ind., was slinging the ball across the field with accuracy. He showed superior touch on deep throws for a young quarterback.

Marquez Callaway, a four-star wide receiver target, impressed on almost every rep. The 6-2, 178-pound prospect had the look of an elite wide receiver and made the plays to match it. He dominated defensive backs with body control and soft hands.

Canadian wide receiver Chase Claypool, who received an Irish offer less than a month ago, towered over the competition. The 6-foot-5, 215-pound rising senior could end up playing tight end in college. None of the defensive backs could match his strength and length. He may have had the highlight of the night with a bobbled one-hand catch.

One wide receiver who entered the camp without an offer stood out: rising senior Rontavius Groves. The four-star recruit from Nashville, Tenn., made plays against some of the top defensive backs at the camp.

Many of the top recruits were given gold Notre Dame helmets to wear. Several of them shined in the secondary. Cornerback target Carlos Becker and three-star safety Spencer Perry shut down wide receivers and tight ends at a high frequency.

Two of the top skill players in attendance — four-star wide receiver Javon McKinley and four-star cornerback Joejuan Williams — didn’t take part in the camp but stayed close to staff members while watching.

Over at the LaBar Practice Complex, the offensive and defensive linemen worked with assistant coaches Harry Hiestand and Keith Gilmore. The three committed offensive lineman — seniors Tommy Kraemer and Liam Eichenberg and junior Dillan Gibbons — stuck together while watching drills and hanging out with some of their future teammates. Defensive end targets Tomon Fox, a three-star senior, and Corey Malone-Hatcher, a four-star junior, showed good burst and potential as pass rushers.

The linemen joined the rest of the recruits in Notre Dame Stadium for the end of the camp. Recruiting coordinator Mike Elston organized races for each position group and a few matches of tug-of-war to end the night. With a DJ providing a soundtrack for the night, the families of the campers joined them on the field for a slew of pictures.

Earlier in the night, head coach Brian Kelly took a photo with the incoming class of freshmen who enrolled in classes earlier this month. If the Irish have any luck, a number of the recruits on campus Friday night will get a chance to do the same in the future.

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Notre Dame quarterback target Hunter Johnson, a junior, steps back to throw during Irish Invasion in Notre Dame Stadium. (SBT Photo/BECKY MALEWITZ)