Chat Transcript: Talking Notre Dame recruiting ramping up and portal possibilities

Eric Hansen
ND Insider
Notre Dame sophomore cornerback Clarence Lewis emerged from spring practice at the top of the depth chart.

Eric Hansen: Welcome to Notre Dame Football Live Chat, early June edition. Lots going on with ND football, with the NCAA's protracted recruiting dead period finally ending this week and unofficial and official recruiting visits cranking up for the first time in 15 months. Please REMEMBER to include your name and hometown with your question(s). Off we go.

Tyler from Cleveland, Ohio: Glad to have these back. Thanks for the time Eric! Any updates on Clarence Lewis? I feel Brian Kelly has named everyone but CL. Did other guys emerge or is he just a solid No. 2 corner?

Eric Hansen: Hi Tyler. Thanks for joining us. It sometimes is difficult to follow along in the spring due to a kind of irregular news flow with a lot of it coming on the weekends. But Clarence Lewis had a strong spring, per Brian Kelly, and came out of it as a presumptive starter for fall. The Irish are looking at Tulsa grad transfer Akayleb  Evans, who is visiting ND today (Wednesday) and perhaps Thursday as well. If Evans were to join the Irish roster, my impression is that he'd be starting opposite Lewis and not instead of him. ND needs four capable corners minimally, so Cam Hart, TaRiq Bracy and Ramon Henderson are in the CB mix as well.

Trevor from Drayton, Ontario: Who on the offensive line has stood out to you so far? And if the season started tomorrow, who is the starting five? Keep up the great work.

Eric Hansen: Here's another position group that could be affected by a grad transfer. Marshall All-America guard Cain Madden is expected to visit ND this week after visiting Florida State for their Midnight Madness on Monday night/Tuesday morning. So the Irish will either have him playing with them or against them Sept. 5 in Tallahassee. FSU was the favorite to land him. ... Whether he comes to ND or not, Jarrett Patterson is ND's best offensive lineman. He did not practice in the spring, as he recovers from foot surgery. Individually, the other starters showed a lot of potential this spring, but collectively there's a lot we won't know until fall camp. Taking Madden out of the conversation, I'd expect the starting five, from left tackle to right tackle to be Blake Fisher, Jarrett Patterson, Zeke Correll, Rocco Spindler and Josh Lugg.

Mike from Thorold, Ontario: Hey Eric, any news from ND about the start time for the Wisconsin game? A noon kickoff for that game is disappointing.

Eric Hansen: Lots of fans from Canada in the chat today — welcome. The media is not disappointed. Noon kickoffs are gold in our world. From a fan's perspective, I understand not wanting a noon ET kickoff (it'll be 11 a.m. local time). ND, however, did not have control of this one. This is technically Wisconsin's home game and thus part of the Big Ten's TV package. When the teams play in Green Bay in the rescheduled 2020 contest that was canceled, it'll be an NBC game and ND will have control over kick time.

Terence Connors from Rochelle Park NJ: Hi Eric. Thank you as always for hosting this forum. What have you heard about Kevin Austin‘s recovery? Is it realistic to expect good things from him this season? Also, what are your thoughts on Tommy Rees relying more on the pass this year? I know we have two great running backs, but the offensive line is not what it has been.

Eric Hansen: Kevin hasn't suffered any setbacks and was cleared for a running program at the end of April. The team is on break now and will reconvene next weekend for the start of summer classes and workouts. At that time, I hope to have an update on his progress. As far as whether offensive coordinator Tommy Rees will lean more on the pass this year, we'll know more in August. Tommy's philosophy is to tailor the scheme and play-calling to the talent on hand.

Andy from Bryan, Ohio: Hi Eric. Thanks for taking my question. My question is: In your opinion, what is the missing ingredient into sealing the deal on legit five-star guys? I mean, I understand the admissions hurdles, but there is talent all over the place that can get into ND. So from a recruiting dynamic, why has ND fallen short? I ask, because of all of the talk coming from Brian Kelly about landing top 5 classes and they think — as a staff — that this is attainable on a regular basis. Thanks.

Eric Hansen: Where ND has fallen short of landing more five-star talent has been addressed. and that's why you'll see more five-star prospects from both the 2022 and 2023 classes visiting this month. For starters, the Irish are evaluating, identifying and offering those players earlier than ever before. They lost out on a lot of them by simply not forging a relationship early enough in the recruiting process. Then they'd have to play catch-up. I think Marcus Freeman's aggressiveness and fearlessness on the recruiting trail and Mike Elston's creativity has rubbed off on the entire staff. That helps too. And ND has a better product to sell than earlier in the Kelly Era. They can couple a really good track record or sending players to the NFL and two playoff appearances in three years with their traditional 4-for-40 mantra.

Marie from Atlanta: Hi Eric. So glad you are hosting the chat and hope you had a great long weekend. Lots of great 2022 recruits taking official visits in June. Of those visiting, who do you see as the three biggest must gets for the 2022 class?  Also, What do do the players do over the summer months? I know they cannot have on-field coaching, but can they meet with the coaches off the field, study film, etc.? Is it possible to make a lot of improvement over this time without on-field coaching? Thanks again for all your great work.

Eric Hansen: Hi Marie, hope all is well in Georgia. The good news in your first question is that every prospect in the 2022 class that is on ND's wish list is scheduled to take an official visit this month. There are nine Rivals top 100 players on that list and a handful more near the top 100. By Rivals ranking only, the top three would be OT Zach Rice, WR CJ Williams and RB Gavin Sawchuk. But that's not what you asked. When you factor in who's already in the class and on the roster, I'd designate the "must gets" as CJ Williams No. 1, safety Xavier Nwankpa No. 2, and S/CB Devin Moore as No. 3 (very underrated player at two positions of need). Really like LB Jaylen Sneed, by the way. ND will land much more than three from the visitors this month.

The ND players should get back to a more normal summer routine this year with COVID no longer disrupting schedules. Because of the heavy recruiting commitment in June, I'm not sure about the OTAs they normally do the first week the new freshmen arrive. A lot of what the players do, they do on their own or under the eye of director of football performance Matt Balis and his strength and conditioning staff. That why leadership is so important in the summer and the creation of SWAT teams, which provide leadership structure and accountability. Yes, it's possible to make improvement with little interaction with the coaches. In fact, it's very necessary for that to happen.

Jim Oakwood Ohio: Hi Eric and thanks again for all of your work doing the chat. I hope that you and your family have been safe as the U.S. opens up. I know that June 1 is the NCAA opening of in-person recruiting visits and contacts and that ND has a plan to maximize the recruiting visits to campus. Can you give us more details regarding ND's plan?  And secondly, if I may, since July 1 is the date to enter the transfer portal, might there be others from ND that enter the portal before that date? Thanks again and best wishes for a wonderful summer.

Eric Hansen: Jim, thanks for the good wishes. I have had the chance recently to connect with family (in Kettering, of all places) and we had a great reunion. I'll give you a condensed version of the recruiting plan, since I plan to write about it in detail the next three days. Get ready for lots of recruiting coverage.

This week kids from the 2023 class have started to take unofficial visits. On Sunday, ND will hold its Irish Invasion camp and there will be more big names from 2023 visiting that weekend. The other three June weekends will focus on the 2022 prospects, and official visits for them with the players back on campus to help host at that point. Still, there will be key prospects from the 2023 class (more than a dozen top 100 prospects nationally) visiting throughout the month. Already committed 2022s will take their official visits to help with the recruiting effort. There will also be some midweek visits as well. So this is an extremely pivotal month for ND and a lot of schools on the recruiting front.

I would not expect a flurry of transfers out of ND at this point. Maybe one or two this month.

Erik from Granger: Thanks for being here! I hope the transition is going smoothly. Please fill in the blank: “The fact that PFF left Kyren Williams and Michael Mayer completely off their top 11 lists (by position!) is ______.” And where would you have them ranked nationally at their positions?

Eric Hansen: Thanks, Erik. Filling in the blank, I'd use the word flabbergasting. I respect the work Pro Football Focus does, but I think they were off on those two players in particular. I think it's difficult collating national lists in the spring without much film to go on, but I think Williams and Mayer had enough good film from 2020 to warrant top 10 status among returning players at their respective positions.

Well, the only two grad transfers in play at the moment, to my knowledge, are the two I mentioned earlier in the chat — CB Akayleb Evans and OG Cain Madden. We'll know sooner than later about both. ... I would imagine ND will probably have four or five new commitments by early July, perhaps more. And some other June visitors will decide before the season starts.

Robert from Minnesota Tundra: I think you and Brian Kelly have much in common. You are severely underrated! I hope Brian Kelly can solidify his place as an elite coach by bringing home a national championship before he retires. Two questions: How would you characterize Brian Kelly’s relationship with local media? Also, how good will the running backs be this year behind a new line?

Eric Hansen: Wow, thanks. If only our paychecks were similar ... I can't speak for everyone on the local media question, but I would say it's generally a good relationship. I think from my standpoint, it's one that benefits the reader, because he's pretty open to talking frankly about most things. ... I think the new offensive line presents some challenges in the running game — because if inexperience, not lack of talent — as will the fact that Jack Coan is not the running threat Ian Book was. Some of the running game's proficiency is going to be dependent on how much of a threat the passing game can be. I still think Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree will find a way to be productive. C'Bo too when called upon. Really eager to see the freshman power back Audric Estime.

Caleb from Charlotte, N.C.: Hi Eric. What is the big advantage of having recruits actually come on campus for official visits as opposed to the online recruiting activity? Does having recruits come to campus give ND any advantage over schools like Alabama, Clemson, and Ohio State?

Eric Hansen: Have you ever been to Notre Dame's campus? I have talked to a lot of former players over the years and ask them how critical to their decision was their official recruiting visit on campus. And a good number of them say "everything." In fact, it's convinced a lot of players who were on a trajectory to sign elsewhere. ... They cite the beauty of the campus, the spiritual vibe, the history and the people. ... especially meeting their future teammates. I think beyond those reasons the advantage ND has for its campus visits is that for a lot of kids it's unexpected. And you can only get so much of that from Zoom.

David Kaminski from Elkhart: You have been missed Eric. Hope you took advantage of some well-deserved rest and relaxation. However, I'm guessing you have been working on one or more of your deep-dive stories, which I am sure we will have to wait to read until we inch closer to Kickoff 2021. Today's question is centered on Matt Balis. I believe anyone who has been paying attention has seen the physical results since coach Kelly brought him in after the 2016 season. Although the ND program has taken a holistic approach — with nutrition and mental health being priorities as well — is it possible to quantify the body of work coach Balis has put together these past four seasons? Injuries seem to have been minimized and (lack of) conditioning never seems to enter the conversation any longer. There seems to be quite a few more "First off the Bus" type of players than in years past. Thanks for all you do. ND nation is lucky to have you.

Eric Hansen: David, thanks. It was nice to get a break. Speaking of deep dive stories, I'd love to do an updated version of one with Matt Balis -- AS SOON AS in-person interviews are possible. That's one that would suffer from a Zoom version. I did a piece on a day in the life of Brian Kelly in the summer of 2017. Matt Balis and his program were a big part of that story, and being there to watch what went on and see all the sports science advancements was invaluable. I think you hit on a lot of Balis' best assets, but the list is a lot longer.

Cederick Walker from Saginaw, Mich.: I'm really concerned about the Sept. 5 game at Florida State. How do you see this game? My prediction is ND 24, 'Noles 23. But my heart says ND 31, 'Noles 17. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: I see Notre Dame as the clearly superior team, especially on defense. That doesn't mean things won't get interesting if the Irish get sloppy with turnovers.

Ade from New Jersey: What's your take on the national media underestimating ND, particularly the ND defense? ould it be their lack on knowledge on ND's players?

Eric Hansen: Ade, when national media are trying to do perspectives on 130 teams, it's difficult to understand the more nuanced strengths of certain teams. I think they look at ND's D-line, for example, and just see the personnel losses. They don't see the tremendous depth or rising players. I do think concerns about the secondary are real, but I also think there are answers ... answers we'll all have a much better feel for in August. I think this will be a very difficult defense to run against.

Mark from Orange County, Calif.: Hi Eric. Great to have a chat session. Will the team be having an off-campus camp session this summer?

Eric Hansen: Mark, thanks. Great to have you all to chat with. The last time I asked that question, about camping in Culver, I got a big "I don't know." The world has changed dramatically since then, at least our part of it. I will stay on that and keep asking.

Joey G from Philadelphia, Pa.: Hi Eric, I recently heard on an SEC talk show that Norte Dame is going to sign three players from the transfers portal — an O-lineman and two DBs very soon. The discussion was that ND is ready to make another run at the College Football Playoff. Who do you see as players that may leave ND because of this?

Eric Hansen: Well Joey, I don't know that I'd classify ND as a favorite to land the two players I mentioned earlier in the chat, but the Irish are very much in play. ND is one under the amended scholarship limit and has some wiggle room for two additions without anyone having to exit the roster.

Lee from Lancaster, S.C.: Hi Eric, do you expect to have greater access to the coaches and players this fall?  Do you think that you'll be allowed to conduct in-person interviews or do you expect the Zoom interviews to continue?

Eric Hansen: The impression I'm getting is more of a hybrid model ... some in person, some Zoom. A lot of those details are still being discussed. I have been asked for my feedback, and I appreciated that.

Todd. thanks for the good vibes. Your question is kind of manifesto-ish, so I'm not sure if you're really looking for my opinion or just wanted to share yours. ... I'll try to boil things down. Not everyone makes college decisions uniformly, and you also left out geography as a factor. But the reality is most college football players have an NFL dream, realistic or not. They're looking for a place that can provide access to that dream. Some kids are interested in a school that can provide that dream and the best of academics. Some are looking for easy access to the dream without having to work hard in the classroom. That's reality.

Robert from Minnesota Tundra: How many 5 stars will we land this year?  I am hoping for 3!

Eric Hansen: Robert, it's kind of a moving target, because players will move up and down, and because the recruiting services haven't handed out the full allotment of five-stars yet. Generally, there are 30 to 32 a year. So looking at the top 32 players on both Rivals and 247Sports, ND has five top 30 players visiting this month in the 2022 class and another seven in the top 100 who conceivably could move up. If all those positions were frozen and all the top 30 players were awarded five-star status, I also would expect ND to land three. Sorry for the math.

Joe from Parts Unknown: How do you feel about this statement: I believe Notre Dame will be a better offense with Jack Coan than it was with Ian Book. The reason why is Ian Book hung onto the ball too long. He didn't like to throw the ball until he saw his receiver open rather than throwing the ball to where the receiver was suppose to be, which is what caused him to run so much. And, as as result, he didn't see receivers break open.

Eric Hansen: Joe, I'd feel better if you had included your hometown. Next time, please? How I feel about the statement is that they're not playing behind the same offensive line and you have to factor that in. ... Coan in 2019 was the slightly better passer statistically, finishing 19th nationally in passing efficiency to Book's No. 24 ranking. Book is the superior runner. I think some of that was the result of not spotting open receivers, but he also made plenty of plays with his legs when nothing was there.

Ken from Pensacola, Fla.: Eric, when can we expect the 2021-2022 ND Insider to come out?

Eric Hansen: Ken, thanks for asking. It will be in an even different format this year and it's going to publish around Aug. 1. I'll keep you posted.

Rob Connolly from Parts Unknown: Eric, we have yet to see the consistent production out of Braden Lenzy we all have hoped to see. What are your expectations for Branden this year?

Eric Hansen: If Braden Lenzy can stay healthy. I expect him to be a starter and a key contributor.

Gordon from Sacramento, Calif.: Thanks for the chats. Nobody does it better than you. What activities are permitted during summer workouts? Who is in charge of organizing the practice? Thanks, and have some fun today.

Eric Hansen: Gordon, thank you. There's a window in June where the players can do some OTAs with coaches. But they have to be without a football. The more meaningful stuff happens in the weight room and on their own. There are eight SWAT team captains that organize the player-only workouts. No pads, but they can run plays, etc. They can watch film. They can throw extra on the side. All of this is technically voluntary. Teams tend to grow together or apart during the summer because of this dynamic.

Ryan from Mars, Pa: Good afternoon, Eric. What do you think about this team this upcoming season? i think Jack Coan will win quarterback battle. Go Irish.

Eric Hansen: Ryan. I mentioned this in one of my columns — this team didn't hit any dead ends or unfixable problems in the spring. While that's not exactly an endorsement for a playoff run, it keeps alive the potential that this team can work itself into a team or that caliber or something close to it. When that happens, there are players who make big lunges forward. I did a piece a few weeks ago addressing six key players: Analysis: Notre Dame's quest for 'greatness' upgrade starts with these 6 players . You can check if out if you'd like.

Eric Hansen: Todd, thank you for the kind words and blessings to you and your family. Barring the addition of a grad transfer, I'd expect the starting secondary to be Clarence Lewis and Cam Hart at corner, Kyle Hamilton and Houston Griffith at safety. Since there's not a returning linebacker who matches Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah's skill set, I think we'll see ND in nickel more in 2021, with TaRiq Bracy possibly as the nickel. I think safety DJ Brown will play a lot in certain packages and rotations as well.

Matt in Augusta N.J.: Eric, I have been doing these chats for years and really like them. I remember there was a guy — “Greg from Oakland” — who posted and used to call for Brian Kelly to be fired and was upset with the direction of the program. He had a point of view that many did years ago before the program turned the corner in the last few years. I have not seen his name on a chat in years and I would love to hear his opinion on coach Kelly today. Still disappointed? Think Kelly cannot take us any higher (NATIONAL Champion). I feel like the program is in the best place it was been in decades. I also thought Kelly was on thin ice after the losing season we had years ago. I am not sure if I got his name right, but if so I would like to hear from him.

Eric Hansen: Matt. I haven't seen Greg from Oakland pop up in the question queue for a long time, and I do remember him vividly. There's a midwestern version of him who emails me regularly, and Kelly can still do little right in his opinion.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: What is more satisfying summer treat: a DQ Blizzard or a cold beer after working outside?!? Either way, have one for me!!!

Eric Hansen: Well, my grandkids love the blizzards, but I actually think the beer is more healthy for me. I'll be glad to have either one, but will choose the latter if I have a choice. I do have more work outside to do on my next day off. Lots of power washing in store for me.

Patrick, Fort Wayne: Eric, I read last week of a early enrolled freshman defensive tackle at USC that is now wanting to transfer, with ND possibly interested. Can you flesh out this story?

Eric Hansen: Patrick, I believe you're talking about Jay Toia. Good player. Notre Dame didn't recruit him out of high school, and I don't see a fit there now with tight numbers. If something changes, I'll report it.

Tom from Kennesaw, Ga.: Hi Eric. Hope you are going to have a great summer filled with lots of positive news from ND football. June is set up for a very busy camp and on-campus visit month. Do you expect any commitments soon after the visits are completed? Or, because so many of the kids visiting are top 100 players that it may take longer before any of them pull the trigger? When do the players report for fall practice and will they be back at Culver? Appreciate all you do for us. ND made the right choice is asking your opinion on the interviews. Shows they know a professional when they see one. Have a great summer!!  Go Irish!!!

Eric Hansen: Tom, I hit on a couple of aspects of this earlier, but yes I do expect some commitments quickly. For a lot of these guys, getting to be on campus in person represents the last piece of the puzzle. Some have multiple visits set up for June that will help them make their decision. Busy, busy, busy recruiting month and one that could be very good for ND. Also fall camp should start sometime the first week of August.

Robert from Minnesota Tundra: Which game on the schedule scares you?  Any thoughts on a playoff appearance?

Eric Hansen: I think ND's most difficult game will be Cincinnati ... with Wisconsin, USC and North Carolina also challenging. They all come in a five-game stretch. I need to see how some things unfold in August before I can put this team on a playoff trajectory ... or not.

Eric Hansen: That's going to do it for this week. Thanks for all the great questions. We'll do this again later this month, perhaps twice, depending on how recruiting goes and if any other major news comes up.

Follow ND Insider Eric Hansen on Twitter: @ehansenNDI