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What to expect from Florida transfer Cody Riggs

Apr 23, 2014, 1:46 PM EDT

Cody Riggs Cody Riggs

In early June, 21 freshmen will officially become part of the Notre Dame football program. So will Cody Riggs. The former Florida defensive back might be a newcomer at Notre Dame, but will immediately be the most experienced player on the Irish defense.

Riggs’ one year journey is a unique case. While head coach Brian Kelly has accepted fifth year transfer students in the past, Riggs is cut from a different cloth. He’s played 40 games for one of the SEC’s best defenses. He’s got positional flexibility at a spot where Brian VanGorder covets that versatility. And as the Irish defense leaves spring practice will more than a few unanswered questions, Riggs will hopefully play a big part in supplying some answers.

Riggs is eligible to play immediately after transferring under the same rule that granted Andrew Hendrix and Alex Welch immediate eligibility at Miami (Ohio). And a season ending injury at the beginning of the 2012 season allows him to jump right into a talented but inexperienced secondary. How helpful will Riggs experience be? Consider he’s played more than an entire season more of football than Keivarae Russell, the next most experienced player on the defense.

Riggs nearly spent the last four seasons in South Bend, but committed to Florida, choosing the Gators over Notre Dame around the same time Brian Kelly took the head coaching job. Four years later, the Irish finally landed the 5-foot-9, 190-pound cornerback. And from his official comments in late February, Kelly knows he landed a critical defender.

“Cody Riggs is an outstanding player,” said Kelly. “He played a ton of football at Florida having started at both safety and corner back. Cody definitely brings veteran leadership and versatility to our team and defense.”

After watching Bob Diaco recruit players to positional profiles for the past four seasons, it’s interesting that Riggs is almost the prototype off-profile recruit. He’s undersized at 5-foot-9. But he’s clearly capable of doing things that appeal to VanGorder’s system, with cross-training between cornerback and safety a true need on this defense.

Veteran safety Matthias Farley was shifted into that role for the spring, learning how to be a cover corner on the fly. But comparing him to Riggs is difficult. Riggs was a key cog in a Florida secondary that put together back-to-back seasons as one of the ten toughest defenses to pass against in college football.

Russell and safety Max Redfield feel like the only “sure things” in this secondary, with Redfield’s status still more a projection. It’s hard not to consider Riggs the same type of player. Where VanGorder decides to use the versatile defender is the last true question.

Riggs expressed a desire to play cornerback, after starting all 12 games for the Gators last season at safety. While Cole Luke has slid into the starting job, Riggs will likely challenge for that job, creating another nice piece of depth along with Devin Butler.

While most will get caught up in the race for the starting spot opposite Russell, in reality the Irish will likely have three cornerbacks on the field at all times. And Riggs’ combination of diminutive size, elite speed and ability to play multiple positions makes him an ideal candidate to cover slot receivers — a nickel cornerback that might not come off the field.

“I am very thankful for this opportunity,” Riggs said in Notre Dame’s official release. “I fully intend to make the most of this opportunity by not only giving my absolute best effort, but also leading by example both on and off the field.”

Bringing a one-and-done player into the program is a decision that was weighed heavily. Bringing in a situational punter is one thing, but Riggs will need to step in and play a key role in the defense, something that necessitates a high character individual.

After meeting with Riggs and his family during his “recruitment” period, Kelly sounded sold on that aspect of the decision.

“He will help us immediately but, more importantly, Cody is a great kid with a tremendous focus on both football and academics,” Kelly said. “His decision to complete his collegiate playing career and pursue a graduate degree at the University of Notre Dame speaks volumes about both our program and University.”

Riggs is completing his degree in Family, Youth and Community Sciences this semester. He’ll then spend summer courses and the fall semester pursuing a masters degree at Notre Dame before likely turning his attention to prepping for the NFL Draft, where he projects to play on Sundays.

Entering his fifth season in South Bend, that’s the type of player that a head coach should take a chance on. And from the sounds of Riggs’ comments, it’s a decision he took very seriously.

“Being on campus, meeting with the academic personnel and interacting with the Notre Dame players helped me dot the I’s and cross the T’s on what has been the toughest decision of my life,” Riggs said back in February. “I am excited about working hard in the classroom and expanding my professional network in pursuit of a graduate degree from Notre Dame. I am equally excited to contribute on the field and make some big plays to help the team win games.”

 

  1. cajunirish - Apr 23, 2014 at 2:25 PM

    He hasn’t played a down for Notre Dame yet, but the class, character and poise he is showing is already making me a fan.

  2. notredameirish1980 - Apr 23, 2014 at 3:45 PM

    I’m getting more curious as to what we will actually see defensively. Comments like KA’s make me think we may see more of a 4-2-5 package morphing into a 3-3-5 at times. If this is the case, we will need really good hitting as well as speed from the strong safety which may explain the move of Onawalu and would mean Shumate will get most of the reps over Collinsworth. It seems speed to the point of the attack and unpredictability of rush packages may be the new norm as opposed to gap integrity. The third linebacker will actually be a safety or safety hybrid. I hope we will still have enough bulk to hold up at the line of scrimmage, but they may have heavy packages adapted for that purpose.

    • gtizzo - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:37 PM

      I would look more to a 4-3 or back to a 3-4 than anything else. Jaylon Smith has the speed to cover backs and tight ends. There are those that would say he could play safety at ND…course we don’t need him to. A formation where he is on the field 90 percent of the time would be good. Putting him in the middle would be a waste of his cover skills. The run stoppers go in the middle, the faster better coverage guys on the out side. Day could be a guy who draws a double team, we would need to see more out of Jones.

      • dudeacow - Apr 24, 2014 at 10:33 AM

        I think putting Jaylon in the middle best utilizes his skills. He can play the whole field now, not one side, and he is now in the most important linebacker position. Everything funnels back to him now. And if Te’o could get 7 interceptions from the MLB spot, I think Jaylon will have plenty of opportunities to drop back into coverage.

  3. mtflsmitty - Apr 23, 2014 at 4:18 PM

    All good comments, 1980. I am fascinated by the range we’ll be able to bring to the field at any given time. But like you, also concerned about our size.

    Watching, re-watching and watching recorded games again and again will be very fun this fall. Will be a lot to watch on both sides of the ball.

    Every time I get concerned about the size up front, I think about how slow we’ve looked in the past. All the keystone cops plays where our defenders were plenty big, but too slow to do anything but crash into one another.

  4. mtflsmitty - Apr 23, 2014 at 4:22 PM

    Keith, Thanks for continuing to write great stuff even during the worst time of year. Lean times to satisfy my ND football compulsions. So bad I’m almost tempted to read more on The Cubs. Almost.

    • 1historian - Apr 24, 2014 at 1:20 PM

      Smitty – 127 and a wakeup.

      My work here is done

  5. onward2victory - Apr 23, 2014 at 5:25 PM

    I think the addition of Riggs is the most important story of this offseason. I really think he might be worth 1 or 2 wins this year. It’s not good news for Farley, but I feel really confident putting Russell, Luke, and Riggs out there in man coverage. It’s also huge to add him for depth reasons because it’s unlikely that Luke and Russell will both avoid injuries completely throughout the whole year. Huge huge huge pick up, if only for 1 year.

    • irishdog80 - Apr 24, 2014 at 5:13 PM

      Riggs will also be a great example for our young Cornerbacks and Safeties to model themselves after. Put Riggs on Daniels or any of our receivers during practice and free time 7 on 7 drills and our receivers will get better and our QBs.

      Back in the days of Weis, Willingham and Davies, we didn’t have enough high quality athletes on the roster or developing for our players to truly understand what it takes to be truly elite and NFL worthy. Riggs has plenty of lessons to teach from his time at Florida and in the SEC and our defense and offense will only get better. He was a huge pick up and it is even better that he is a great character guy.

  6. papadec - Apr 23, 2014 at 9:17 PM

    Makes me want to put more on the Irish to win it all.

  7. irishdog80 - Apr 24, 2014 at 9:43 AM

    If we are as good on offense as we think we can be…if our o-line could keep Rees relatively clean, imagine what we can do with Golson or Zaire back there…our opponents will be forced to air it out to keep up. I like our chances with the solid secondary we will put on the field. At the college level, one true shutdown cover guy is enough to make a lot of teams one dimensional and a lot easier for our young defense to play against.

  8. 1historian - Apr 24, 2014 at 1:21 PM

    We have a guy coming into the defensive backfield with 4 years of experience in the SEC.

    What’s not to like?

  9. mattymill - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:05 AM

    Anytime I read an article about Riggs joining the team, the mention is that we’re not sure if he’ll start opposite Russell as ND has Cole Luke at the other corner spot. No offense to Cole Luke, but this is a 3 yr starter for a really good SEC defense. I’ll be utterly shocked if he isn’t starting at CB from day 1, which is great because you could have Luke as the nickel back. ND has an excellent chance of having 2 legit shutdown corners — can’t remember the last year we could say that.

  10. 1notredamefan - Apr 25, 2014 at 11:39 PM

    One of those feelings. Can ya Feel It! Been waitin but to no regard.. 1st year of a playoff and they think we’ll be watching on TV? My thoughts then turn to VanG and how he can just pull a kid like this.. and don’t think he didn’t..

  11. a68domer - Apr 26, 2014 at 5:55 AM

    With a name like CODY, how could you go wrong?! Kinda reminds you of a gunslinger – just what ND needs in the secondary.

  12. toconnell14 - May 7, 2014 at 11:27 AM

    I don’t know much, but we need to keep attracting 5th year senior transfers because we never seem to reach our scholarship limit and stop gap fixes (guys who come in and fill a need for a year) are huge and can be what puts a team over the edge in terms of championships. Also, whatever keeps Collinsworth off the field is a plus in my book. He’s not a strong hitter, average intelligence/football IQ, and lacks speed. He, right now, is a massive weakness in our defense.

    • chinahand11 - May 15, 2014 at 1:46 PM

      You guys got Cody to cover, now all you need is a slugger at a safety position. The ACC is just happy he’s gone from the Gators. That guy will elevate the Irish D, no doubt.

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