Brian Kelly agreed with experts' assessment that class is his best yet in South Bend. "Absolutely," he said at a Wednesday press conference. "I love agreeing with experts. The Irish signed at least four five-star recruits out of a 24-member class representing 15 states: linebacker Jaylon Smith, running back Greg Bryant and safety Max Redfield. There were also a collection of four-star recruits likely to eventually make an impact. Defensive tackle Eddie Vanderdoes, a five-star, blue-chip defensive lineman from Placer, Calif., decided late Wednesday to sign with Notre Dame after originally committing to USC. Kelly was pleased that the new class now only brings in an infusion of elite talent, it also fills holes caused by graduation and injuries. "We'll have the depth in the certain areas that we felt like we did not have in 2012," he said. All told, Notre Dame added four defensive backs, four wide receivers, three defensive linemen, five offensive linemen, two running backs, three linebackers, one quarterback and two tight ends. Closing the gap with reigning national champion Alabama, which blew out the Irish 42-14 in last month's national championship game, won't happen in a year. But Kelly, firmly in the Irish fold after a brief flirtation with the NFL's Philadelphia Eagles, is determined to try. "After the last game you play, you want to begin taking that next step forward," he said on Feb. 6. "For us, taking that next step forward is to continue to build our football program within and developing football players, so when they get back on that field in 2013, we finish it. "And this class is that first step towards finishing off 2013 the right way." TOP OF THE CLASS --Bryant, a running back from Del Ray Beach, Fla., rushed for 1,447 yards and 17 touchdowns and landed second-team USA Today All-USA honors. "What we really love about Greg is, again, a guy that has shown a proficiency of catching the football as well as running physically tackle to tackle," Kelly said. --Redfield, a defensive back from Mission Viejo, Calif., was also a second team USA Today honoree and ranked among the nation's top 30 athletes by two services. "We think Max is an elite player," Kelly said. "He's a young man that has a specific skill set that could see him play offense, he could play defense, he's going to play in that safety position for us." --Smith, a first-team Parade Magazine all-American and 2012 Butkus Award winner as the nation's top linebacker, hails from nearby Ft. Wayne, Ind. "The thing that's most impressive is the character of this young man and his energy, he just has it," Kelly said. "When he walks into a room, the room kind of lightens up, and that's the kind of personality that he is, and he is one tough football player, as well." SPRING SNAPSHOT --Practice priorities: Carlo Calabrese, Dan Fox and Jarrett Grace are frontrunners for a start at linebacker this fall. Center is also open with Matt Hegarty and Nick Martin along with Mark Harrell among potential contenders. --Players injured during 2012 like Bennett Jackson (labrum tear) and Fox (shoulder) aren't expected to participate in spring drills but should be available for fall practice. Austin Collinsworth and Hegarty are likely good for spring. Lo Wood's status for a spring return was uncertain. --Five of the 24 players -- wide receivers Corey Robinson and James Onwualu, tight end Mike Heuerman, offensive lineman Steve Elmer and quarterback Malik Zaire -- enrolled at Notre Dame in January and will participate in spring football practices. The other 19 players will arrive on campus by June for the start of summer school. PLAYERS TO WATCH IN 2013 --QB Everett Golson started 11 games and led Notre Dame to wins in 10. He was 187 of 318 for 2,405 passing yards, 12 touchdowns and six interceptions. Golson also rushed 94 times for 298 yards and six TDs. There will be solid depth at the position with Gunner Kiel and new recruit Malik Zaire, a lefthander, also possibly in the mix. --DL Louis Nix III is expected to be one of the anchors on the 2013 line. He had 15 unassisted tackles and 30 assists on the line. Linemate Stephon Tuitt was another mainstay on the line with 42 tackles, including 22 unassisted plus a team-high 12 sacks. --CB KeiVarae Russell made the lineup as a freshman and recorded 50 tackles, fifth best on the team. He also had two interceptions. --LT Zach Martin has 39 consecutive starts and gave rookie quarterback Everett Golson plenty of protection in 2012. He's eligible for the 2013 NFL draft, but opted for another year with the Irish. --Sophomore WR DaVaris Daniels had his first 100-yard receiving game against Alabama and finished third on the team with 31 catches for 490 yards. --K Kyle Brindza, a sophomore, hit 26 of 27 extra point tries and 23 of 31 field goal attempts to close with 95 points during this past regular season. Nick Tausch eyes a rebound after injuries.
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