Notre Dame: Expectations are great for Defensive Backs


Optimism abounds at Notre Dame, as the Fighting Irish concluded a successful Spring practice. The players are now arriving on campus to begin summer school and to continue hitting the weight room. Let’s take a look at the defensive backfield, which appears to be one of the stronger units on this year’s team. 

Cole Luke, last year’s starter will return to the Fighting Irish defensive backfield. This four-star Arizona recruit played in all 13 games as a freshman in various defensive packages. Last year, as a sophomore, Luke had a breakout season. After KeiVarae Russell was suspended for academic reasons, Luke started all 13 games. He had four interceptions, 11 passes broken up, and 15 passes deflected as he teamed up with Cody Riggs.

Russell, a two-year starter returns from an academic suspension in 2014. This prodigal son was a freshman starter for the 2012 Notre Dame squad that went undefeated during the regular season. He made the Freshman All-American Team. He had 58 tackles which was fifth on the team and also had two interceptions. Russell started all 13 games in 2013 and was the best cover corner on the team. He usually covered the opponent’s top receiver.

The combination of Luke and Russell gives Notre Dame a tremendous duo at cornerback with the ability to slow down opponents’ aerial games.

Nov 8, 2014; Tempe, AZ, USA; Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety Max Redfield (10) against the Arizona State Sun Devils at Sun Devil Stadium. Arizona State defeated Notre Dame 55-31. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Backing up the starters are Nick Watkins and Devin Butler. Watkins is a sophomore who played on special teams in 2014. He is a four-star recruit from Texas who played alongside Luke this Spring with Russell on suspension. Watkins outplayed Butler this past Spring and will see action when the defense uses three cornerbacks on passing situations.

Butler is a Junior who played in 25 of 26 games, some on special teams. Although outplayed by Watkins, he should be in the two-deep at cornerback this season and see some action in special defensive packages.

Notre Dame recruited well at cornerback this past February, signing three recruits. Shawn Crawford, Ashton White, and Nick Coleman. We’ll know more about these three freshmen after they participate in August pre-season practices.


Starting at free safety will be former five-star recruit, Max Redfield. He played in 12 games his freshman year in 2013 and started against Rutgers in the Pin-Stripe Bowl later that year. He played in all 13 games in 2014, 11 of which he started in. He and strong safety Elijah Shumate had communication problems last season causing Redfield to miss games against Northwestern and Louisville. If Redfield can reach his potential this season, he could be one of the best free safeties in the country.

Backing up Redfield this season will be Matthias Farley. The graduate student has played four years and last season was the nickel back. He had 53 tackles and led the team with four interceptions. His veteran presence and leadership will be valuable this season.

Also at free safety is Nicky Baratti. The red-shirt junior has had two shoulder surgeries in the last year and we won’t know his playing status until August practices.

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At strong safety is Shumate. This senior played on the 2012 team as a nickel back and had injuries in 2013. He had a good season last year and is one of the hardest hitters on the team. If Redfield and Shumate develop more chemistry and better communications, the backend of the defense will be solid.

Backing up Shumate is Drue Tranquill.   Tranquill played some linebacker last year and was switched to safety. Tranquill beat out redshirt junior John Turner this Spring as Shumate’s backup. Turner, however, has been and will be a top member of special teams.

Notre Dame recruited Mykelti Williams and Nicco Fertitta as safeties this past February. As with the three recruited cornerbacks, we won’t know their playing status until August practices.

The combination of Russell and Luke at cornerback and Redfield and Shumate at safety this season appears to be potentially great. All four were highly recruited and are very athletic. If their communication and chemistry improves, this group will be one of the best in the country and will help the Fighting Irish defense regain the momentum it lost the last six games of the 2014 season.

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