Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Desirable Number One | by Pat

In a move that was nearly eleven months in the making, Chicago linebacker Steven Filer publicly committed to Notre Dame this morning after a weekend trip to South Bend. The 19th member of the current recruiting class of 2008 had narrowed down his list of schools in recent weeks and with his high school season starting in a few weeks, Filer made his choice public and ended his recruitment.

"In the beginning, Notre Dame wasn't at the top of my list. I liked Ohio State and Michigan,'' Filer said. ''But I got a good feeling for the players and coaches. In the end, I felt Notre Dame was the best move for me and my family. It is close to home and it will give me a good education."
The commitment is great news as Filer was among the first trio of players in the current recruiting cycle offered by Notre Dame. Schools are not allowed to officially offer a recruit until September 1st of their junior year. On that date nearly eleven months ago, ND made contact with Filer's school, Mt. Carmel in Chicago, and faxed over an official offer for Filer. (Wide receiver Michael Floyd and offensive lineman Trevor Robinson were the other two offered that day). That doesn't make Filer the most talented player in the country, but it does make him one of ND's top 3 targets and the #1 defensive target in a class that was in great need of talented defensive players. That ND was able to close on their number one defensive target despite some tough competition from two Big Ten powers with strong defensive reputations is just another great sign of the work that Charlie and new defensive coordinator Corwin Brown are doing.

It also is noteworthy that Filer is another talented Chicago-area player; ND has worked hard to re-establish a strong recruiting connection to the nearby city and its surrounding suburbs. It might sound easy to do, but in previous years the pipeline from the Chicago area wasn't as plentiful: only four players from the area signed with ND in the four recruiting classes from 2002-2005 (Dan Santucci, Tom Zbikowski, Tregg Duerson, Scott Smith). Filer now will join Darius Fleming, Robert Hughes, Aaron Nagel, Demetrius Jones, and Sergio Brown as Chicago-area kids brought to ND under Weis. (I would add Sean Cwynar to the list too, but I'm not so sure how those who live around Woodstock, IL, would react to being called a suburb of Chicago.)

In the end, Filer narrowed his list of schools down to Ohio State and ND before picking the Irish. He also had offers from Florida, the aforementioned Wolverines, Wisconsin, and others. As for the recruiting rankings, Rivals has Filer listed as a 4-star guy and the #34 overall player in the class of 2008 and the #2 inside linebacker. Scout considers Filer a 5-star player, the #4 middle linebacker, and the #28 overall player in the class of 2008. ESPN.com, which finally unveiled its own Top 150 list (a list that happens to feature many of the players committed to play in their inaugural All-Star game....I'm just sayin'...), lists Filer as the #9 inside linebacker and #110 overall player in the country. For those so inclined, you can watch his highlights here.

A second team All-State player as a junior, the 6'4", 230-pound Filer is listed on the recruiting sites as an inside linebacker, but depending on what the Irish need, he could play an inside spot or find time on the outside. Prior recruiting articles have mentioned that the Irish were talking to Filer about playing the "Jack" position in the 3-4, which is the designation for the weak side outside linebacker *. As he hasn't even started his senior year and could keep growing, it's hard for the causal fan to predict where's he going to end up, especially not knowing exactly what Corwin Brown is looking for at each linebacker position.

Desperately in need of linebackers after relatively light linebacker recruiting combined with a switch to the 3-4 defense, ND has now come up with enough 'backers in the past two classes to fill up an entire 2-deep on the roster. Here's a sneak peek at where conventional wisdom has them winding up, with recruiting class year in parenthesis.
Kerry Neal ('07)
Brian Smith ('07)
Darius Fleming ('08)

Aaron Nagel ('07)
Steve Paskorz ('07)
Anthony McDonald ('08)

Inside or Outside
Steven Filer ('08)
David Posluszny ('08)
Again, none of this is set in stone, but it's highly likely that it will wind up like this. Already Nagel and Paskorz have been practicing as inside linebackers this summer while Brian Smith and Kerry Neal have started out on the outside. Fleming has mentioned he will be an outside linebacker while McDonald is a definite middle linebacker type. That leaves Filer and Posluszny as the two candidates capable of finding a spot either on the outside or inside. The inside might be the better bet for both, but ultimately the idea is to get the best four linebackers on the field, not just the four that happen to fit the ideal height/weight/speed archetypes for each position. Luckily for the Irish, there are now a full stable (don't forget about sophomores John Ryan, Toryan Smith and Mo Richardson) of young linebackers from which to choose in the coming years.

* Just a quick note on linebacker terminology. In the 3-4, there seem to be two naming conventions for the four linebackers. There's the "Sam" designation for the strong-side outside linebacker (strong-side typically meaning the side with the tight end), and that's common to both. But the other guys can be called different things. A 3-4 team like the Baltimore Ravens labels the strong-side inside linebacker as the "Ted" and the weak-side inside guy as the "Mike". The weak-side outside guy is the "Will". However, on a team like the Patriots, the "Mike" is the strong-side middle linebacker while the "Will" is the weak-side inside guy. The "Jack", the possible destination for Filer, is the weak-side outside backer. We'll learn more about Corwin's defense (and all the Sams and Jacks and Mikes) in the coming months, but given his Belichick/Groh/Mangini pedigree, it's a safe assumption that he'll stick with the Patriots terminology.