Notre Dame football heads to the 2017 season with a more experienced secondary.
If the Fighting Irish are to make great improvements this coming season, they will need strong play from their defensive backs. This is a very young group, especially last year’s freshman who all played numerous games. Per the 2017 Spring Scholarship Depth Chart, 11 defensive backs return this season along with to freshman.
At boundary cornerback, sophomore Julian Love appears to be leading sophomore Troy Pride Jr. and red-shirt sophomore Shaun Crawford. Love was forced into action last season with injuries and ended up playing in all 12 games, and he did very well. He had 45 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception, three passes defended, one forced fumble and a fumble recovery.
He is battling sophomore Troy Pride Jr. who played in eight games. He collected 12 tackles and had one fumble recovery. Pride, is the fastest player on the team, which will help him as he seeks the starting position.
The third player in this competition is red-shirt sophomore Shaun Crawford, who has had a star-crossed career at Notre Dame, The Ohio native suffered a knee injury in his freshman season and a torn achillis tendon in his sophomore season. If Crawford can stay healthy, he will make a strong run at the starting position.
At the field cornerback position, is red-shirt junior and one-year starter Nick Watkins. He is expected to win the starting position. He missed last season with a broken arm. His injury and that of Crawford forced all the freshman corners to play last season.
Backing up Watkins will be Donte Vaughn, a sophomore who played in 10 games last season. He had 22 tackles, one interception and was tied for the team lead with six passes defended. Vaughn, a tall corner (6’ 3”) will see a lot of action this season.
At strong safety, sophomore Devin Studstill played in 12 games and started many. He had 38 tackles, two tackles for loss, one interception and one forced fumble. He should start this season, but he will be pushed by sophomore D.J. Morgan, who played mostly on special teams last season. Red-shirt sophomore Ashton White will battle Morgan to make the two-deep. This position appears to be Studstill’s to lose.
At free safety, it will be a battle between sophomore Jalen Elliott and junior Nick Coleman. Elliott played in all 12 games and started many others. He had 14 tackles. Coleman played in 11 games and had 17 tackles, one tackle for loss and one pass defensed.
Nicco Fertitta played in 12 games mostly on special teams but did play safety in some games. There are two freshman safeties Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark-Heath. They both may receive red-shirts this season or their play in summer camp may change the coach’s minds.
The Fighting Irish return many defensive backs and two new recruits at safety. This is a group that could have a breakout season, and the reasons are many. Starting field corner Nick Watkins will play after missing last season. Shaun Crawford, a former four-start recruit, returns after missing the last two seasons. But, the greatest reason may be last season’s six freshmen that were thrown into action (Love, Pride, Vaughn, Studstill, Morgan and Elliott). They received tremendous experience, and that will be very, very valuable this coming season.
I think the experience the “youngsters” received last season, will enable them to play much better this year and play with more confidence. This will enable them to help make this season’s defense dominant once again.