Notre Dame Football: Deontay Greenberry

Three Notre Dame players were named preseason All-Americans by college football guru Phil Steele, with linebacker Jaylon Smith leading the Irish pack by making the second team.

In what might come as a slightly bigger surprise, tight end Ben Koyack made the third team and cornerback KeiVarae Russell made the fourth team. Koyack's stock obviously is rising after a strong finish to last season, especially with Troy Niklas having left early for the NFL. Now a senior in the No. 1 tight end role, Koyack will be counted upon to become an integral part of the Irish's passing game, which has featured no shortage of tight end success in recent years. Steele obviously sees a lot in the Oil City, Pennsylvania, native, who caught 10 passes last season for 171 yards and three scores.

Russell, meanwhile, is coming off consecutive strong seasons at corner and, in keeping with his usual unfiltered self, has talked openly about trying to become the best cornerback in the country. Playing more press coverage under new coordinator Brian VanGorder should only help in that effort, and it would not be a huge shock if Russell were to play his way into first-team or second-team All-America status by season's end.

DaVaris Daniels, arguably the Irish's best skill player, did not make any of the 30-man teams, though receiver looks to be a ridiculously stacked position throughout the nation this year. If Daniels can pick up where left off with Everett Golson two years ago, and if his off-site training during his spring exile pays dividends, the redshirt junior figures to be one of the better receivers in the country.

One familiar name at receiver who did garner preseason All-America status was Deontay Greenberry, who was once committed to Notre Dame and enters his junior season at Houston on Steele's fourth team.

Florida State, which hosts Notre Dame Oct. 18 in the Irish's first true road game, led the nation with five first-teamers and 11 total players on Steele's list.

Irish lunch links

December, 13, 2013
12/13/13
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Enjoy the weekend, gang.
Following his introduction of the then-22 players entering the Notre Dame football program Wednesday, coach Brian Kelly left a cliffhanger that will not be fully answered until later in the evening.

"We feel like there's still some work to be done," Kelly said. "The day is not over yet. Stay tuned."

Whereas last year's national signing day for the Irish was marked by a notable defection, this year's -- already considered the best in Kelly's four years at Notre Dame -- could become even better when all is said and done.

[+] EnlargeJaylon Smith
Tom Hauck for ESPN.comFive-star linebacker Jaylon Smith leads a Notre Dame recruiting class which may yet grow bigger.
Kelly welcomed 22 players during a Wednesday afternoon news conference, and he added one more a few hours later when ESPN 150 athlete Tarean Folston signed his national letter of intent. At 8 p.m. ET tonight, Placer (Calif.) High's Eddie Vanderdoes, the nation's No. 1 defensive tackle prospect, will announce his decision, with Notre Dame right in the thick of things.

Deontay Greenberry's 2012 signing day defection to Houston this is not, but it could instead mark an even greater jolt to a class currently ranked fourth nationally following a season that ended in the Discover BCS National Championship.

"I love agreeing with experts," Kelly said, when told this was considered to be his best class. "It's a recruiting class that -- you know, when you're looking at it from my perspective, it meets the time and place as to where we are right now. We're a team that has gone from unranked to top-10 ranking, top-five ranking, at times we're the No. 1 team in the country, and I think your class begins to reflect that as you move forward."

The upcoming season should mark the first time during Kelly's Notre Dame tenure that he will be able to play a full season with 85 scholarship players, something the team was hamstrung by in its preparation for Alabama in the title game.

Kelly and his staff bolstered that depth significantly up front, where they added five offensive linemen to a position group that Kelly said was down to five fully functional bodies by the end of the regular season, limiting live action in practice.

While some of his earlier classes were built on the selling of opportunity on a re-building program, Kelly this year faced the challenge of convincing elite prospects that they could add value to the depth of a potential championship-caliber unit.

"Then they're not elite players if they're afraid of competition," Kelly said. "Those that back off and say, 'Well, you've got two of these guys and you've got three of those' -- now, sometimes that makes a difference, granted; I understand that. But by and large, we've made the case in recruiting where we see you, and we're honest with them.

"Here's where we see you're at and this is where you're going to be, and if you do this, you're going to get your playing time. So I think from our end, the elite players have that confidence, that no matter who's in front of me, I'm going to beat them out."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- National signing day never seemed so far away.

Back then, more than six months ago, the story line of Notre Dame's recruiting haul surrounded the player the Irish didn't get, as touted California wide receiver Deontay Greenberry flipped to Houston at the 11th hour. But with three receivers highlighting the group of nine freshmen who met the media for the first time, Monday's discussions shifted to those who will take the field for the Irish this fall.

And if reviews from 10 preseason practices are any indication, those freshman wideouts will, in fact, be seeing the field this fall.

"We're all looking to play early," Justin Ferguson said between practices 10 and 11. "The spots [are] open, and we just gotta make the best of our opportunities."

[+] EnlargeDavonte Neal
Davide De Pas for ESPN.comDavonte' Neal has been able to pick the brain of former Notre Dame star Michael Floyd.
Examples of that include Chris Brown's touchdown reception from Everett Golson last Wednesday that spanned more than half the field. Or Davonte' Neal learning the intricacies of the slot position from senior Robby Toma, while also trying to make his mark on the punt- and kick-return teams.

Neal, whose whirlwind recruitment ended with a commitment to the Irish three weeks after signing day -- and hours after failing to show at his former elementary school for his originally scheduled announcement because of what his father had said was a family issue -- used something of a cheat sheet before arriving on campus.

The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Scottsdale, Ariz., native enlisted the help of Cardinals first-round draft pick Michael Floyd this spring.

"It's a big help, just because Michael Floyd, he's a great receiver," Neal said. "And he has size on him, so he knows the size part of it and the swift part of it, and he's obviously under Larry Fitzgerald, who is another great receiver. So I feel I have a little advantage just because Michael Floyd has helped me out."

Floyd, who re-wrote the school record books before graduating, has left a considerable production hole to fill, though depth among the receiving unit has helped breed competition.

"There's no replacing Michael Floyd's production, but as a unit we just gotta come together and fill that role," Brown said.

Brown, a high school track star, is the speediest of the trio. Neal, ESPN's No. 1 athlete from the class of 2012, is the most decorated. The 6-foot-2, 196-pound Ferguson is the most physical of the new wideouts.

Each has described comfort with the playbook, which, as least thus far, has spared them from the inevitable wrath of their superiors.

"The coaches have been very supportive, we haven't gotten chewed out or anything," Ferguson said. "If we do something wrong — not politely — but they make sure we know what we're doing. They know the right way to get the message across, so they help us a lot."

Playmaking ability certainly helps, too.

With assistant Tony Alford in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, the line between each position will be further blurred, as both are expected to provide crucial elements to the passing game -- even if those passes are coming from just a few yards away.

"Coach [Brian] Kelly, he knows best, and coach Kelly knows what to do with the football," Neal said. "We have a lot of playmakers that can take that three-yard catch or three-yard run for 30 yards, 40 yards, and I just feel that I'm just another asset to the team."

Q&A with Justin Ferguson

June, 15, 2012
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Justin Ferguson's father, Jason, called his son's decision to pick Notre Dame a "no-brainer." Throw in the defection of receiver recruit Deontay Greenberry to Houston, and the opportunity will be there for Justin to earn early playing time. With Justin (Pembroke Pines, Fla./Flanagan) expected to arrive with other members of the Irish's 2012 recruiting class on Sunday, father and son were scheduled to embark on the more than 1,300-mile drive to South Bend, Ind., on Thursday. Earlier this week, Justin spoke with ESPN.com about the move.

Any bucket list before you go during your last free week to be a kid?

Justin Ferguson: Nothing I haven't done already, I want to just get there. I've got to focus, get serious. Football and school for me. So I'm just going to enjoy these last couple of days still free and then just going to get there and be ready to grind.

What are the feelings right now? How's your family dealing with it?

JF: Everyone's just excited for me. My family, friends, close friends -- everyone's just excited. They're all in my corner just to cheer me on.

Do you know what you're going to major in yet?

JF: Business management.

How much have you been in touch with other members of class?

JF: The only guys I really got a chance to meet personally, on a face-to-face level, none of them are going to Notre Dame anymore. Tee [Shepard], Deontay, they're not going anymore. But I've been in contact with most of the guys -- Nick [Baratti] and William [Mahone]. I haven't got to meet everyone.

What about the guys that are there now, Sheldon Day and Gunner Kiel? Have you talked to them about what the transition is going to be like?

JF: Gunner I haven't talked to. I talked to Sheldon once or twice, but I haven't really gotten a chance to talk to them in-depth.

This class obviously took a hit at the wide receiver spot. How do you plan on taking advantage of the opportunity for early playing time?

JF: I just want to come in and contribute to the team the best way I can. If that's playing the slot, if that's outside receiver, if I have to tackle -- anything.

Do you know what your jersey number will be yet?

JF: 15.

Any significance?

JF: I wanted 81. I'm a huge T.O. fan. I like T.O. a lot, him and Dez Bryant. I like 81, but [John Goodman] has that, so that's off-limits. But 15 was my high school number. I made a big impact at my high school, so I just want to take that with me.

Any family ties to Notre Dame? How did they ultimately come into the picture?

JF: Location wasn't really a big part in my [decision], because I know wherever I go my family will be behind me either way, so that wasn't really a big part. But the biggest thing was I think it was the right place at the right time. They lost a couple receivers and they needed someone to come in, and I can definitely be that guy.

Big shoes to fill: Wide receiver

March, 20, 2012
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Our series continues today with wide receiver, where Notre Dame looks to replace arguably the best to ever play the position in blue and gold.

OUT: Michael Floyd. Floyd rewrote the record books during his time in South Bend, Ind. He finished his senior season with 100 catches for 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns, none more impressive than his final grab, a 5-yard score in the Champs Sports Bowl that he juggled while absorbing a pair of hits from Florida State defenders. Those blows knocked him out of the game and several ensuing pre-draft showcases with an upper body injury. All healthy now — and with the troubles from three alcohol-related brushes with the law seemingly behind him — Floyd will likely hear his name called on the first day of the NFL draft following a Notre Dame career that featured school records in receptions (271), touchdown receptions (37) and receiving yards (3,686). He was also the team's 10th two-time MVP.

IN: DaVaris Daniels, Justin Ferguson. It would be unreasonable to expect anyone to perform to the standard of someone with multiple school records, let alone expect someone who has never played a down of college football to do it. But Daniels, who redshirted as a freshman, and Ferguson, an incoming recruit, certainly have the tools to earn significant playing time early in 2012. The 6-foot-2, 185-pound Daniels, the son of former NFL defensive end Phillip Daniels, was one of the top players in the state of Illinois and an Under Armour All-American while at Vernon Hills High School. Ferguson, a 6-foot-2, 205-pounder from Flanagan (Fla.) High School, was ESPNU's 85th-best player in the Class of 2012. The loss of Deontay Greenberry to Houston on national signing day hurts this unit, which could have used the four-star prospect's explosiveness early on.

Wanted: Cornerback help

March, 15, 2012
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Pretty prescient with the Bennett Jackson spotlight today, no?

Jackson's -- and every other defensive back's -- responsibilities just grew significantly in light of the news today that four-star cornerback Tee Shepard, an early enrollee, has left Notre Dame. (And yes, the Jackson post was a complete coincidence.)

Brian Kelly said during national signing day that the focus for the 2012 recruiting class was on wide receivers and players in the secondary. While the Irish notched a number of safety prospects, the loss of Shepard gives them zero cornerbacks for this class, and they now have just four on scholarship. None of those four -- Jackson, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown -- have started a college game.

Once Shepard decides on a new school, he will need a waiver just to play this fall. And this comes after he sat out his entire senior season of high school at Washington (Calif.) Union after transferring from Central East.

The late commitment of Davonte Neal is all the more important now, as cornerback will likely provide the quicker route for the athlete to get on the field, over receiver.

Regardless, following the national signing day de-commitment of Deontay Greenberry, Shepard's cousin, this is one blow Notre Dame will have to recover from quickly with spring practices less than a week away.

Notre Dame chat wrap: Feb. 24

February, 24, 2012
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Thanks for another strong turnout this week for the weekly Notre Dame chat. A full transcript can be found here.

And onto some highlights ...
  • BW (Colorado): Matt,Why is it when a young man like D. Neal waits to sign & then signs with ND do all the haters and others come out and slam
  • Matt Fortuna (2:10 PM): BW, Neal was going to get plenty of heat regardless of where he signed. I don't know the full circumstances of the kid's situation so I'm not going to slam him or speculate, but anytime a top recruit waits until after the pack on national signing day to announce his choice he will get some heat for trying to stand out and draw more attention. Add in the fact that he was a no-show without notice to anyone for his morning announcement Tuesday -- and that 600 elementary school kids were pulled out of class for virtually no reason -- and the kid is going to take some criticism, regardless of where he ends up. In the time between his scheduled announcement and actual one, several ND fans had said they didn't even want him anymore because of the circus.
  • Casey (South Bend, IN): Hi MattJust wondering what the advantages would be, if any, for "redshirting" Kiel this season?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:15 PM): Casey, if multiple guys prove they are more game-ready than Kiel, then what would be the point of playing him just a little bit? The kid's clearly talented, and you'd like to maximize the potential amount of time he could play. Better to have the possibility of four strong years after he learns the offense and playbook on the sideline this year than only three more years after a handful of meaningless snaps.
  • Evan (Indiana): Matt, I've been an Irish fan since I was young and I feel Coach Kelly has the program positioned to be a contender. Outside of the question at quarterback right now, do you see an offense that is more talented than the Irish will be this Fall?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:31 PM): Evan, I'm not sure I do. Quarterback aside, how do you expect to get better when you lose possibly the greatest WR in school history? Tyler Eifert won't sneak up on anyone again, either. And we don't what's behind Cierre Wood yet. Then again, if this team does a much better job of protecting the ball than last year's, it could have more success.
  • Darren (Peoria, Ill.) If you could only take one, between Davonte Neal and Deontay Greeberry. who are you takin?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:42 PM): There's no right answer here (at least that we know of yet), but I say Greenberry given the circumstances. Any coach will tell you losses hurt more than wins feel great, and losing a top recruit at a position of need to a school like Houston at the last minute stings.

Nearly three weeks after national signing day and nearly four hours after 600 elementary school kids missed class for an announcement that didn't come, Notre Dame got its man.

Five-star athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral), the last unsigned member of the ESPNU 150 (No. 8 overall), committed to the Irish on Tuesday over North Carolina, Arizona and Arkansas.

Neal is the lone five-star prospect to commit to the Irish, who now come in at No. 9 in ESPNU's 2012 recruiting class rankings. Five other ESPNU 150 players are a part of the class.
At 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds, Neal played receiver in the Under Armour All-America Game, though he was picked for the event as a defensive back. As a senior, the two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year scored 30 touchdowns on offense, added three on special teams and starred in the secondary with 12 pass breakups. He finished as the No. 8 overall prospect nationally.

Neal is recruit No. 17 for Notre Dame, which had dealt with the de-commitments of four-star cornerback Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md./Potomac), three-star offensive tackle Taylor Decker (Vandalia, Ohio/Butler) and four-star wide receiver Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) in the month leading up to signing day. Greenberry, who flipped to Houston on signing day, was the most surprising of the defections, putting a damper on the Feb. 1 signing day for the Irish.

Twenty days later, they're singing a different tune in South Bend, Ind.

While his future position in the blue and gold remains unclear, Neal has the potential to make an immediate impact for the Irish in the return game, where Notre Dame averaged just 0.3 yards per punt return during the 2011 regular season.

Perhaps more importantly, Neal helps Notre Dame close the 2012 recruiting season on a strong note following a disappointing end to the 2011 football season and the ensuing de-commitments leading up to signing day.

Notre Dame chat wrap: Feb. 13

February, 13, 2012
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Thanks to those who stopped by the re-scheduled Notre Dame chat today. We had plenty of questions about QBs and coaches, and even a few of you wishing me a Happy Valentine's Day. (Seriously, I'll be just fine guys. Thanks for your concern.)

Here's a transcript. And a few highlights:
Stephen Donnelly (Franklinville, N.J.): With michael floyd leaving for the NFL, do the fighting irish have any big body receivers to help out in the red zone this year?

Matt Fortuna (2:10 PM): Stephen, this should be a big concern, right behind that of the quarterbacks. We think there is talent at the signal caller position, though -- it's just a matter of nurturing it and making the right choice. At the WR position? There is talent, sure, but nothing like Michael Floyd, and no true downfield threat that we know of yet. That's what makes the loss of Deontay Greenberry hurt so much. Perhaps Justin Ferguson can step in and contribute right away, though that remains to be seen.

Rob Rod (San Francisco): What are your thoughts on the Booker for special teams coach?

Matt Fortuna (2:14 PM): Rob, he has drawn rave reviews from everyone for his work as an intern the past two years. The special teams will be shaken up, sure, but BK said it falls on the staff as a whole, not just one guy. They need a playmaker on punt returns, a threat to make something happen at any given time. Michael Floyd, when given the chance in the bowl game, showed he could do that. Now it's about finding another guy on the roster who can handle that.

Lucas (Indiana): Hey Matt. Thanks for answering my question last time. New questions...What is the schedule of Spring Practice and have they set a date for the Blue and Gold game? Is our RB coach here to stay or NFL bound? And given the history of our new Off. Cord. coach Martin...he seemed to run more than pass when he controlled the offense at other schools. Are we going to see more ground game this year than previous?

Matt Fortuna (2:49 PM): Lucas, spring practice is tentatively set to start March 21. The spring game is April 21. From the way Tony Alford spoke Friday, I'd say he's here to stay. He was very candid, which you don't always see from guys who interviewed at other places, and, most importantly, he hasn't been offered anything yet. As for Martin, I think that may be a wait-and-see approach with how quick the starting QB can develop.

Rich (NYC): Coach Kelly had a track record of player development in his previous stops (if you the equation is <2 star recruits who become NFL draftees). I admit that hearing Jonas Gray sing his praises, and seeing his turn around has peaked my interest. Do you see players who could have a "Jonas Gray" turn around for 2012?

Matt Fortuna (2:52 PM): Rich, just taking a guess here, but let's go with John Goodman, who is reportedly back, to the surprise of some. That speaks to Kelly's faith in him, and with a depleted and relatively young receiving corp, I could see Goodman playing a bigger role and rewarding the staff for its belief in him, much the way Gray did last season.

Defections the story for ND's class

February, 3, 2012
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Gunner Kiel landed at Notre Dame after pledging to LSU and Indiana and now Deontay Greenberry is Houston-bound, after initially pledging to the Irish. The reverberations from both flips will likely be felt more in the years to come than the immediate future, but that didn't stop pettiness from reigning supreme Wednesday.

The video has gone viral, LSU coach Les Miles questioning the heart of Kiel at the Tiger Gridiron Club's annual national signing day "Bayou Bash" in Baton Rouge, La.

Miles
Miles
"There was a gentleman from Indiana that thought about coming to the Bayou state," Miles said. "He did not necessarily have the chest and the ability to lead a program, so you know."

And here Notre Dame fans were thinking they landed the upset of the 2012 recruiting class.

Adding to the sting of Miles' comments was the fact the coach said it to an audience, one that responded with a roar of approval to the millionaire coach's shot at a high-school kid for changing his mind.

No wonder fans spew so much vitriol to prospects who don't sign with their favorite schools.

If Kiel did not have the chest and the ability to lead a program, Miles sure did a lousy job of recognizing that, too. The performance of his quarterbacks suggest as much, as do his comments the day Kiel enrolled at Notre Dame, which offered a much more reasoned take on the Indiana native's decision to stay in Indiana.

"There's a point in time where young people make a variety of decisions, and for a variety of reasons," Miles said at the time. "The only thing I can tell you is there is a guy in the Midwest who felt staying close to home was the right thing."

Fortunately for the Irish, Miles' foolishness has in some ways overshadowed the lack of momentum Notre Dame had in this class, the Irish losing three commitments in the last month, Greenberry's defection to Houston coming at the very last minute.

But for now, they can take solace in the fact that much of that was salvaged by the last-minute landing of Kiel, chest and ability issues aside.

Greenberry's 11th-hour switch from the Irish to Houston may have been the biggest shocker on national signing day, but Kiel's 11th-hour de-commitment from the Tigers and ensuing early enrollment at Notre Dame served among the biggest shockers of this recruiting season.

Just look at others' reactions.

Notre Dame chat wrap: Feb. 3

February, 3, 2012
2/03/12
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Thanks again to those who stopped by for the weekly Notre Dame chat. The full transcript is available here.

A sampling:
  • Lucas (Indiana): With all the talk about the QB's and who might start...who is going to be the WR's that are going to step up? Is there anyone on the roster that the coaches are looking forward to see play or get more passes thrown their way? And is Theo Riddick a RB next season or WR?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:19 PM): Lucas, that's what makes the Greenberry loss hurt so much. Michael Floyd told the SBTribune this week he thinks Daniel Smith is a sleeper. I think TJ Jones is a very good receiver, but he's no Floyd (few are). I wouldn't be surprised if someone was moved there — be it Theo or Atkinson — with the newfound depth at RB.
  • Raphael (Chicago): how many players besides Floyd will get drafted this year?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:25 PM): Raphael, Harrison Smith definitely. Darius Fleming, Robert Blanton and Gary Gray likely will, too, though you never know when you get to those later rounds. Here's hoping a team takes a shot on Jonas Gray, too, though it's tough to gauge how recovered he will be at that time.
  • Andrew (Michigan): Matt you have to look at Golson's high school tape & know hes the guy to lead the Irish next year right? Theres no better athlete or arm in the group.
  • Matt Fortuna (2:28 PM): Andrew, you cannot make that assertion based on just high school tape. Sure, the skill set is there, but how will it measure up against elite college defenses, not HS ones? How will the kid handle all of the attention that comes with being the QB at Notre Dame? How will he bounce back from a mistake? None of this is to say Golson can't do it, and I am as anxious as anyone to see how his skills translate to the college level, but you can't say he's "the guy" based off just HS highlights.
  • Otto (CA): Do you got Matt Barkley throwing for 400 against ND?
  • Matt Fortuna (2:48 PM): Otto, ND probably won't be the only team he has a big day against, though the combination of a POTENTIAL title game spot and POTENTIAL Heisman candidacy up for grabs there could make that game interesting on many levels.

ESPN's national signing day review

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Everything you need to know about national signing day 2012 can be found here.

Notre Dame was among the national headliners, though not in the way the Irish had hoped, Jared Shanker writes:
A commit flipping from Houston to Notre Dame on signing day might not raise eyebrows. Bigger programs snag recruits from smaller schools all the time close to signing day as targets are missed. But a prospect flipping from Notre Dame in favor of Houston? Almost unheard of. That's what ESPNU 150 WR Deontay Greenberry (Fresno, Calif./Washington Union) did, though. He felt as if he was going to Notre Dame only because his cousin and teammate Tee Shepard was. He told ESPN his relationship with Cougars receivers coach Jamie Christian was also a major factor.

There could be a glimmer of hope, however, as the Irish may still be in the running for five-star athlete Davonte Neal (Scottsdale, Ariz./Chaparral), the top unsigned prospect from this year's class.
Recruiting update: Neal recently bumped out Miami for Arizona, and Oklahoma is also a new team in the mix. Ohio State is doing well, and Neal is a big fan of Buckeyes coach Urban Meyer. Notre Dame is also very high on his list, and he'll make his decision the week after signing day.

Irish Lunch Links

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
12:00
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Any other big football-related events coming up?

Notre Dame signing day wrap

February, 2, 2012
2/02/12
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Biggest need filled: Last year it was fortifying the defensive line, something Notre Dame did with a bang in landing stud recruits Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt, immediate contributors. This year it was shoring up the secondary and receiving corps.

Despite a decommitment from a big prospect in each area, Brian Kelly must feel the Irish did that by adding two receivers, a corner and four safeties. Still, the loss of Deontay Greenberry will sting more than that of Ronald Darby, given the graduation of Michael Floyd and the uncertainty at the quarterback position.

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