Recruiting Reset: Linebacker class should help solidify Notre Dame's defense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

In a span of 25 hours, Mike Elston secured verbal commitments from a complete set of linebackers.

Following the Irish junior day event on Saturday, March 19, David Adams made the first commitment call a day later. On Monday, Pete Werner and Drew White did the same. With the trio, Notre Dame’s linebackers coach and recruiting coordinator put together a complementary linebacker corps.

The impressive haul didn’t prevent Elston from pursuing more linebackers. The Irish continued to search for outside linebackers who could rush the quarterback. Much like with Daelin Hayes in the 2016 class, it’s a strategy that could help Notre Dame’s defensive end recruiting as well.

The remaining options at the position have dwindled, but the Irish have been ahead of the game for months now and appear unlikely to reach for new targets.

Commitments

• David Adams, 6-1, 225; Pittsburgh Central Catholic: The first of Notre Dame’s three linebacker commits is also the most highly regarded. Adams has been a tackling machine at one of the best programs in the Pittsburgh area. He was one of the reasons Notre Dame sent five assistant coaches to a Central Catholic game last November.

Adams, a four-star recruit, visited South Bend twice last year before returning in March for the visit that prompted his commitment. He chose the Irish over Penn State, Pittsburgh, LSU, Stanford and others. Adams has lived up to expectations in his senior season while adding some running back responsibilities to his game.

But Adams is a linebacker to the bone. Despite being slightly undersized, his football instincts and quickness draw him to the ball routinely. He’ll leave Central Catholic as the program’s all-time leading tackler, a record he broke this year when he surpassed 290 tackles. In the future, he’ll likely man the middle of Notre Dame’s defense.

Rivals ranks Adams as the No. 4 inside linebacker in the 2017 class. 247Sports slates him fifth at the position.

• Pete Werner, 6-3, 215; Indianapolis Cathedral: When Notre Dame received a pledge from Werner, the Irish secured a linebacker tailored for the modern game. Werner, who has played some safety and cornerback during his high school career, is the most athletic of Notre Dame’s newest crop of linebackers.

Werner fits into the defense much like senior linebacker James Onwualu. Unlike Onwualu, who started at Notre Dame as a wide receiver, Werner will come prepared to play the position. He’s equally comfortable backpedaling in coverage and running downhill to deliver a blow on the ball carrier.

Offseason hip surgeries prevented Werner from impressing recruiting analysts during the offseason camp circuit, but he’s remained a four-star recruit. An offer list including Stanford, Michigan, Ohio State and Texas A&M has likely contributed to that.

Rivals ranks Werner as the No. 18 outside linebacker in the class. 247Sports slates him 21st.

(UPDATE: Werner dropped his commitment to Notre Dame on Nov. 29.)

• Drew White, 6-1, 220; Fort Lauderdale (Fla.) St. Thomas Aquinas: Don’t expect to find much flash in White’s game. Consistency and reliability are his strengths. Like Irish junior Greer Martini, White could play inside or outside linebacker at Notre Dame.

Playing at St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the powerhouse programs in Florida, has prepared him to play against top competition. He tallied 69 tackles in the first nine games of his senior season for a defense allowing just 10.2 points per game.

A three-star recruit, White chose to commit to Notre Dame over offers from Ohio State, Michigan, LSU and Arkansas, among others.

247Sports slates White as the No. 12 inside linebacker in the 2017 class. Rivals did not include White in its ranking of the top 30 inside linebackers.

Remaining target

• Rahyme Johnson, 6-4, 210; Los Angeles Salesian: Talk of an official visit to Notre Dame hasn’t evolved into more than that for Johnson. But if the Irish are still looking for an outside linebacker with rushing abilities, Johnson would seem to fit the blueprint. In 10 games this season, Johnson recorded 76 tackles and seven sacks.

The Los Angeles product previously committed to UCLA in July 2015, but he parted ways with the Bruins almost a year later. To date, Johnson has made official visits to Nebraska, Oregon and Texas A&M. Notre Dame will likely try to make a late push for a number of recruits from California, and Johnson could be one of them.

Rivals ranks Johnson as a four-star recruit and the No. 21 outside linebacker. 247Sports slates him as a three-star prospect and the No. 29 athlete.

Missed targets

• Baron Browning, 6-3, 230; Kennedale (Texas) High: Following an Irish Invasion visit to Notre Dame, Browning eyed a return official visit for the Stanford game. He never followed through on that plan. Instead Browning has made official visits to Michigan, Alabama and Florida State with plans to announce a decision on Nov. 29. He also attended the Texas victory over Notre Dame.

(UPDATE: Browning committed to Ohio State on Dec. 1.)

Rivals: Five stars, No. 1 OLB. | 247Sports: Five stars, No. 2 OLB.

• Jacob Phillips, 6-3, 220; East Nashville (Tenn.) Magnet: Notre Dame’s defensive unrest this season may have cost the Irish a shot at Phillips. Though Oklahoma, who received his commitment on Oct. 12, was long considered the favorite for Phillips, the Irish made a real impression on him during an unofficial visit in March. An official visit sit-down in September with defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who was fired one week later, certainly didn’t help.

Rivals: Four stars, No. 2 ILB. | 247Sports: Four stars, No. 8 ILB.

• Josh Ross, 6-1, 225; Orchard Lake (Mich.) St. Mary’s: Ross made multiple visits to Notre Dame, but he ending up choosing the same path as his older brother. Ross committed to Michigan in March.

247Sports: Four stars, No. 7 ILB. | Rivals: Four stars, No. 13 OLB.

• Antjuan Simmons, 6-1, 215; Ann Arbor (Mich.) Pioneer: Notre Dame emerged as an early leader for Simmons following a visit in January, but he jilted both the Irish and Wolverines to commit to Ohio State.

(UPDATE: Simmons dropped his commitment to Ohio State on Nov. 30 and has shown renewed interest in the Irish.)

Rivals: Four stars, No. 14 OLB. | 247Sports: Three stars, No. 32 OLB.

tjames@ndinsider.com

574-235-6214

Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Four-star linebacker recruit David Adams announced his verbal commitment to Notre Dame on March 20, 2016. (Photo courtesy of Trib Total Media/Christopher Horner)

In the coming weeks, the ND Insider Recruiting Reset will take a position-by-position look at Notre Dame’s recruiting efforts in the 2017 class. This story is the eighth in the series.

QB: Streamlined QB recruiting process pays dividends

RB: ND can be picky at running back

WR: Irish have work left to do at wide receiver

TE: ND has nation's best tight end class for 2017

OL: Irish still waiting to wrap up offensive line class

DT: Ewell, Hinish answered ND's defensive tackle needs

DE: Outlook remains bleak at defensive end for Irish