Where Are The Defensive Linemen?
Charlie Weis must make some coaching moves eventually.
I wrote a short column for the Sun-Times website on Tuesday about the Big Ten's woes in bowl games. I've thought a lot about this topic in recent years and had even come up with a theory of my own. I wondered if basketball wasn't partially to blame. Think about it. Basketball draws a lot of talent away from football in the Midwest's largest population centers. I don't know if that's true in places such as Texas and the South, where football is the undisputed king. Imagine if Derrick Rose had played football instead of basketball.
I'm not saying that's the only reason why Big Ten teams seem to have less talent than teams from other conferences. But I thought it was a factor. In researching the piece I did for the website, however, I spoke with CBS College Sports recruiting analyst Tom Lemming and his explanation blew mine out of the water. He said that schools in the SEC and in other major conferences are more willing to pay big bucks for position coaches who are talented recruiters because school officials realize that it takes talent to win and winning brings in more money. He contends that Big Ten schools are traditionally less willing to pay non-coordinators big bucks and therefore the top recruiters go elsewhere.
If you're wondering what all this has to do with Notre Dame, stick with me.
Logic says Weis will soon make staffing changes. Not only must he replace offensive coordinator Mike Haywood, who accepted the head job at Miami University, but other changes are likely in the offing. The aspect of my job that I enjoy least is speculating about other's people's jobs, especially when it's difficult to decipher just who is responsible for what. That said, it would be difficult to justify the return of offensive line coach John Latina after the way that unit has performed the past two seasons. There could be some turnover among defensive position coaches as well.
Recruiting will and should play a large role in the process. As we all know, Weis has proven to be an effective recruiter. His last two classes ranked in the top five in the nation and Lemming says the current class will rank somewhere between 10th and 20th as it currently stands, although that could change with additional commitments.
Attracting top-notch defensive linemen continues to the biggest weakness in Notre Dame's recruiting efforts. Lemming said the incoming class has no impact defensive lineman, either, which would make adding an assistant who can effectively recruit the type of defensive linemen it takes to have a dominant defense a wise decision.
"Defensively, they don't have Alabama-Florida talent but offensively their talent is as good as anybody's this side of USC," Lemming said. "It's an offense waiting to explode. Defensively, they have real good defensive backs but they really need linebackers and defensive linemen. They're really not getting quality players there."
As I've said before, if poor recruiting contributed to Ty Willingham's firing than it stands to reason that Weis' vastly improved recruiting record would have been a factor in athletics director Jack Swarbrick retaining him after this past season. But this is a troublesome trend. The teams that contend for national championships are dominant on both sides of the ball. If you don't believe me, check out Florida and Oklahoma tonight (as I'm sure you all will).
The only vacancy on Weis' staff as of today is on offense but one of the most critical issues facing the program --- lack of impact defensive linemen and perhaps even linebackers --- must be addressed, which means he may need to make some defensive changes as well.
"The defensive coaches need to bring in great players like Alabama, Florida and USC and they'll win big," Lemming said. "It's the defensive coaches' responsibility to bring great players to Notre Dame. If the defensive coaches aren't doing it the blame should be entirely on them. Ethan Johnson is the only heavily recruited defensive lineman they have brought in in recent years. Other schools bring in three or four per year. The defensive staff should bring in impact players every year and if they don't it's their fault."
It will be interesting to see if Weis shares Lemming's view. Stay tuned.
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