Rivals.com football recruiting analysts weigh in on topics in a roundtable format.
Which early enrollee are you most excited to follow during spring practices?
Mike Farrell: Everyone will want to follow Gunner Kiel at Notre Dame. He's the No. 1 pro-style quarterback in the class of 2012 and he committed to three different schools so everyone will be very quick to either heap praise or criticism on him. And it's not like there is an established quarterback at Notre Dame already, so he will essentially be competing for playing time.
Adam Gorney: I'm really interested to see how Tee Shepard performs at Notre Dame. He's in a completely different environment in South Bend coming from Fresno, Calif., and most importantly he missed his senior season because of transfer rules. Shepard looked outstanding at the Cal State Game and the Semper Fidelis All-American Bowl but that was against high school competition. I want to see how his game translates to the college level. He is a big, physical corner who never gets beaten so he has the ability to play early on.
Josh Helmholdt:Interested probably more accurately describes it, but for me it is five-star Gunner Kiel at Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish quarterback position is far from settled and the 6-4, 220-pound Kiel has the physical tools to factor into that competition immediately. The way his recruiting process ended, though, there is a big question of where the young man is mentally right now. I am definitely interested to see how he responds in spring ball.
Chris Nee:Nathan Peterman at Tennessee. I think he will position himself to be firmly in the battle to back-up Tyler Bray at Tennessee. He is an ultra-competitive kid with a high football IQ and the physical ability to make plays. Like any freshman, especially at quarterback, spring will be a learning experience with some hard lessons but I expect him to show flashes of his ability at times as well.
Keith Niebuhr:Mario Pender at Florida State. By most accounts this is an immensely young running back. But Pender has had some off-the-field issues that are at least a little cause for concern. It will be interesting to see how he reacts to being in a new environment. If the transition away from football goes smoothly I suspect he will thrive on the field.
And which early enrollee do you expect to make an immediate impact this spring?
Mike Farrell: Wide receivers usually make an easy transition to college if they have the skill so I'll be looking for Michael Thomas at Ohio State to make an impact. I'm not talking about a Sammy Watkins kind of impact, but Thomas is a year older and more experienced after playing in prep school this year and he's physically ready to compete early.
Adam Gorney:Zach Kline is already on the California campus and he's going to have a fantastic chance to earn the starting job for the Golden Bears this spring and summer heading into next fall. Cal struggled at that position last season and Kline, from nearby Danville (Calif.) San Ramon Valley, has all the tools to be a special player in college. In his senior season, Kline threw for 3,630 yards with 36 touchdowns and seven interceptions. He also rushed for eight scores. Kline could be a special quarterback in Berkeley. A bunch of the wide receivers who signed there want to play with him. It could be sooner rather than later.
Josh Helmholdt: With Boom Herron off to the NFL and Jaamal Berry reportedly no longer part of the Ohio State football program, the opportunity exists for four-star running back Bri'onte Dunn to step into a significant role in the Buckeye's backfield as a true freshman. The 6-2, 215-pound Dunn is a big, powerful runner and with a spring to immerse himself in the Buckeye's playbook, he should be an early impact kid in the Big Ten.
Chris Nee: I am interested to see what T.J. Yeldon does at Alabama from the opening whistle. The Crimson Tide has an incumbent starter in Eddie Lacy, but Nick Saban has always employed a committee approach in the backfield so carries are available for Yeldon. Yeldon's blend of speed and size will be tough to keep off the field and I expect him to provide some highlights during the 2012 season.
Keith Niebuhr:Raphael Kirby at Miami. I had a chance to see the former Stone Mountain (Ga.) Stephenson standout a bunch in 2011, and was more impressed with his ability each time. While Kirby doesn't wow you with his size, he's extremely muscular, has terrific movement, always is in the middle of the action and doesn't miss many tackles. I'm thinking he'll contribute early in Coral Gables, but we'll know more as the spring progresses.
Brian Perroni:Calvin Barnett was a U.S. Army All-American coming out of high school and now the defensive tackle will finally get a chance to show what he is capable of on a big stage after being forced to go the junior college route first. Enrolled at Oklahoma State in time for spring ball, Barnett will have a chance to be a major contributor right away.
How much do coaches push kids to early enroll during the recruitment process?
Mike Farrell: I don't know if push is the right word but encourage is a good term to use here. But some kids simply can't because of the rules at their school or in their district so it's all about who can and is willing to give up things like graduation, prom and other senior activities to begin their football careers early. I think quarterbacks are encouraged more than anyone else and if they want to play early, they need to get on campus for spring ball.
Adam Gorney: I think it varies but in general coaches would prefer it especially at positions where getting in the playbook and getting acclimated to the college setting is important. If quarterbacks could all get on campus early I think coaches would love that situation. Other than missing a few special months of high school, it really has no major downsides. The player gets to slowly get used to college life and the game in spring practice, he gets a few extra months on campus and usually not much is expected of him immediately. There have been many kids who have benefited from enrolling early.
Josh Helmholdt: It's not a general, across-the-board move that coaches make. Each kid has to be evaluated as a candidate for early enrollment separately. First, the number of open spots a team has determines how many they are allowed to bring early. Then, position needs can cause coaches to value early enrollment at certain positions more than others. But mostly it is whether the individual kid is ready to make the early jump to college, or whether they will be better served to spend the extra six to eight months at home. Academic abilities impact this, athletic development impacts this, but mostly it is the maturity of the individual kid.
Chris Nee: A lot of coaches like to get immediate contributors on campus early if at all possible. Those extra 15 spring practices, as well as the time with coaches and teammates, can prove as a valuable period of transition from the high school ranks to the collegiate level. Most schools would prefer to have top-tier talent on campus as soon as possible.
Keith Niebuhr: In my opinion, not much. They may encourage, but I don't believe they "push" them. As a coach, naturally you'd like to spend more time with someone. And if they're there in the spring that can help prepare them for early playing time. But each kid has his own academic and personal situations, and I believe coaches by and large do a good job of recognizing that.
Brian Perroni: Other than with junior college prospects, who will find themselves with many more offers if they are December graduates, I really don't think there is a lot of pressure on players to graduate early. I think most coaches would prefer to redshirt their freshmen so there is not too much incentive for them to get those guys there early. The trend of enrolling early started out with quarterbacks who wanted a chance to win a starting job but now you see every position doing it. Other than allowing the prospects to count toward the previous year's scholarship numbers, I honestly don't see a huge advantage of having players enroll early.