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Life after Max: Notre Dame’s options at safety

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In the days after Notre Dame returned from Culver Academy to kick off training camp, head coach Brian Kelly went out on the ledge and praised Max Redfield.

“He’s been that guy that everybody was hoping for out of high school,” Kelly said.

A little more than a week later, Redfield’s career at Notre Dame is over.

Done in by the same maddening decision-making that kept Redfield from reaching his potential on the field—Friday night’s antics, with Redfield the lone senior with four underclassmen, puts an end not just to his career at Notre Dame, it puts Redfield’s life at a crossroads.

There is no amount of talent that allowed Kelly to keep Redfield on the roster. And as the Irish move on with no proven depth at a safety position that’s relied upon to be the last line of defense, the Irish now look to some unusual spots to find a dependable player that the former five-star recruit could never become.

With Texas just two weeks away, here are a few options worth considering:

 

1. Start Devin Studstill. 

The true freshman pushed his way into the mix during spring practice, far from any type of motivational ploy by the Irish coaching staff. He’s a smooth athlete, a capable tackler and intelligent defender who understands the concepts Brian VanGorder is asking for from his back end defenders.

Studstill has battled a nagging hamstring injury during camp but is back in action. He’s also the only true positional fit that’s close to capable of stepping in for Redfield without some major schematic adjustments.

He’s still a freshman—and that means the Irish will have to live with some of the mistakes that come when you’re seeing and doing things for the first time. But Studstill’s been the free safety of the future since he stepped onto campus. So the timeline is accelerated, but it’s long been the plan.

 

2. Find a way to play Drue Tranquill next to Avery Sebastian. 

Sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian was kept in the program for a reason. And if this isn’t the perfect opportunity to lean on a mature player who could bail the Irish out of problems, I’m not sure what is.

No, he’s not the perfect fit for the position. Nor is Tranquill. But if Notre Dame needs two low-mistake defenders in the secondary along side their talented cornerbacks, they could do a lot worse than playing Tranquill and Sebastian on first and second down before bringing in a nickel or dime package depending on the situation.

Multiple reporters came out of last week’s open practice praising Sebastian’s toughness and capable play at safety. While he’s yet to be able to stay healthy for any of his college career, he’d do the ordinary things well—something this team desperately needs.

Putting Tranquill, a 230-pound safety, next to Sebastian, a 5-foot-10 (on a good day) hammerhead, limits a team that wants to play a lot of man coverage. But if you’re looking to find dependability, you could do worse.

 

3. Give Donte Vaughn a look at safety. 

Notre Dame thinks they have a future cover corner in Vaughn, whose length and athleticism has people thinking big things about the Memphis native. But with the cornerback depth chart well stocked and the safeties raw and thin, there’s no harm in repping Vaughn at free safety.

The only thing harder than throwing a freshman in at free safety is doing it to a freshman who switched positions less than two weeks before the opener. But Vaughn isn’t your ordinary freshman, as senior James Onwualu attested to last week.

“He’s gonna be a freak. He’s so long, so smooth,” Onwualu told Irish Illustrated’s Pete Sampson. “He comes to work every single day and I respect that.”

That work ethic will serve him well. So will cross-training this week at safety with Studstill.

 

4. Keep cross-training and developing. 

Just because a player isn’t ready week one doesn’t mean they won’t be able to contribute. And the Irish coaching staff recruited a variety of shapes and sizes when they restocked the secondary in the last recruiting class, and we’ll now see how quickly they can find a way into the mix.

Expect Jalen Elliott to get an early look. While the staff thinks he’s a future strong safety, Elliott is talented enough to compete at both safety positions—and the door is open for him to do that. He’ll be one of the first guys taking back-up reps now that Redfield is gone.

D.J. Morgan, another talented safety out of a Southern California powerhouse program, will need to show he can physically hold up as a safety in the open field, but he’s got the length and size to play. That high level experience in high school should certainly make the transition to the college game easier.

Football players might be your best bet, too. While Julian Love has been taking two-deep reps at nickel corner, there’s an opening at safety and Love’s high school tape showed an athlete that could do any job. Nobody will confuse him with a prototype at the position, but if he can think his way through the job, he’ll have a shot.

 

5. Don’t panic. 

Notre Dame’s secondary has taken blows like this with Kelly at the helm. And even if you’d argue that Redfield was the one of the least-replaceable starters on the defense, there’s no reason to be throwing the towel in after one of the worst evenings in recent off-field history at Notre Dame.

But remember this: An August injury to a presumed starter and the dismissal of a blue-chip recruit before he ever took the field, forced a freshman running back to convert to cornerback. Then KeiVarae Russell started all 13 games on a team that played for a national title.

At safety that season a redshirt freshman converted wide receiver started 11 games after spending spring outside of the two-deep, with Matthias Farley stepping in at safety and picking up the slack after Jamoris Slaughter went down.

The Irish have recruited better than most programs in the country and have kept the emphasis on finding defensive backs who can play in this system. Even if the timetable has accelerated, there’s a plan in place.

Redfield kicked off team as Kelly announces discipline

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Max Redfield‘s career at Notre Dame is finished. Brian Kelly released a statement on Sunday, official ending Redfield’s disappointing tenure for the Irish while also put Devin Butler on indefinite suspension. Butler was involved in an incident that took place outside the Linebacker Lounge that has the senior potentially looking at resisting arrest and battery of law enforcement charges.

The other four members of the Irish that were in the car with Redfield—Te’von Coney, Kevin Stepherson, Dexter Williams and Ashton White—will remain with the team, but face internal disciplinary measures, as well as discipline from the University’s Office of Community Standards.

Kelly’s statement reads:

During the past 24 hours, I have met with each of the members of our team involved in the two incidents that occurred over the weekend, reviewed the evidence available to me, and consulted with others involved in the leadership of our team and the University. That process has only served to deepen my disappointment in the poor decisions made by these young men. Their conduct fell far short of what we expect from those who represent our football team and this great university.

On the basis of my review, I have decided to dismiss Max Redfield from our football team and place Devin Butler on indefinite suspension. The other individuals, while not being separated from the team, will be subject to disciplinary measures internal to the football program.

In making this announcement it is important to stress that all of the players involved in these two incidents remain subject to justice system and University discipline, and those processes could yet impact their standing with the University and the team. At Notre Dame, where we place so much importance on the integration of students who are athletes into the broader university, the primary responsibility for discipline lies, as it should, with the University’s Office of Community Standards. But even within that system, there are times when a player’s conduct so clearly fails to meet the standards I have set for our football team that it is appropriate to take action independent of any decision that might be made by the Office of Community Standards. This is such an instance. The expectations we set for the members of our team are high, but they are especially so for the upperclassmen who are expected to provide leadership and a positive example to the other members of the team. Max and, at least at this stage in the review of his case, Devin, have failed in that regard and so have lost the privilege of continuing to be part of our team.

 

Six Notre Dame football players arrested in two incidents

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Two separate incidents led to six arrests of Notre Dame football players.

A car of five Irish players—Tev’on Coney, Max Redfield, Kevin Stepherson, Ashton White and Dexter Williamswere all arrested on suspicion of marijuana possession after being stopped by a State Trooper in Fulton County on U.S. 31, south of South Bend after being stopped for speeding. Additional charges were filed against Redfield, Stepherson and Williams for possession of a handgun without a license.

Senior Devin Butler was arrested just after midnight at the Linebacker Lounge, a popular bar just off of campus. He was booked for resisting a police officer and battery against a police officer.

They are the first arrests in three years for the Notre Dame football program and come at a critical time heading into the opening weekend of the football season with Texas scheduled for next Sunday.

The off-field repercussions from this are still unknown. Notre Dame’s disciplinary process has certainly changed in recent years, though the timing of this incident will likely lead to suspensions or perhaps even dismissals. The addition of a misdemeanor weapon charges adds a level of severity we haven’t seen in recent years.

The on-field impact of this is still unknown. Butler was injured and not expected back for some time. Of the five players arrested in the car, Redfield’s role was the most prominent, the team’s starter at free safety—and a week after his head coach praised his consistency and maturity.The other four all received praise during fall camp, none starters but all expected to play a role in Notre Dame’s plans.

Brian Kelly has not released a comment yet. Students returned to campus this weekend with the academic year scheduled to start Tuesday. Notre Dame is next at practice on Monday.

 

Irish A-to-Z: Andrew Trumbetti

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Entering his third season in the program and playing a position he’s built to play, Notre Dame is still waiting for the light to go on for Andrew Trumbetti. In a program that’s struggled to find prototype pass rushers, Trumbetti is one who is already on the roster—though he needs to put the pieces together.

Running second in a position battle with Jay Hayes, Trumbetti will have an opportunity to earn back reps—or lose them to younger talent that’s on the way up. It’s an important season for the New Jersey native who certainly will be given every chance to play a key role in this defense.

 

ANDREW TRUMBETTI
6’3.5″, 255 lbs.
Junior, No. 98, DE

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

An UnderArmour All-American, Trumbetti was a four-star national prospect with offers from Florida, Florida State, Miami and Michigan State. He chose Notre Dame fairly early in the recruiting process and enrolled early.

A big-time recruit with a lot of pedigree.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 12 of 13 games, missing Purdue after suffering a concussion a week earlier. Trumbetti notched one sack on the year but managed a more-than-respectable 5.5. TFLs.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in 12 games, starting three. Made 16 tackles with 2.5 TFLs, including a sack and an interception run back for a touchdown.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

Swing and a miss.

As we look at the ripple effects of Jarron Jones’ injury, you’ve got to think there are going to be more snaps for Trumbetti on the field this fall. Whether that means Isaac Rochell shifting inside and putting Okwara and Trumbetti as bookends or just making sure your four best defensive linemen get on the field, Trumbetti is very close to fitting that distinction.

But we need to see results in 2015. As Keith Gilmore continues his work with a depth chart that’s got decent talent but needs to maximize its ability, Trumbetti feels like a test case. He’s not big enough to succeed as a thumper in a 3-4. He’s not long and quick enough to be a true 4-3 weakside defensive end.But he’s got plenty of skills that should make him productive.

I’m skeptical, but still feel confident buying that Trumbetti takes a step forward and ultimately think he’s going to be more productive than his veteran teammate Okwara. While last season was mostly learn on the fly, if the Irish defense is going to be a Top 25 unit, they’ll need players like Trumbetti to make more than incremental progress.

I think five sacks and ten TFLs would be a great sophomore campaign.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

At this point the ceiling has come down for Trumbetti, no longer a guy who’ll have the chance to hit his star-rating, but far from a bust. His struggles to hold up in the run game—added to the fact that he hasn’t found a way to impact the passing game—make him the ultimate tweener, and a fringe starter for a team with lofty aspirations.

Listening to coaches, it doesn’t sound like it’s a physical thing, rather the space between the ears is still trying to process and compute what’s supposed to be happening on the field and playing with confidence needs to come next. Plenty of football players need two seasons for the light to come on, so let’s not bury the kid just yet.

 

 

CRYSTAL BALL

There is a role in this defense for Trumbetti—maybe even a starting job if Jay Hayes can’t return quickly from his injured ankle. That open window should be one Trumbetti jumps through without reservation, because young guys like Daelin Hayes are on the horizon and may already have passed him when it comes to a pure pass rusher.

So much of this evaluation is based on opportunity and only Trumbetti can truly control that. I think Notre Dame’s defense is going to get to the quarterback much better this season than last, and if they do it’ll be Trumbetti playing a supporting role. Sign me up for four sacks and and hopefully getting to a half-dozen plays behind the line of scrimmage.

 

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill
Elijah Taylor
Brandon Tiassum
Jerry Tillery
Drue Tranquill

Irish A-to-Z: Drue Tranquill

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With two repaired knees and the heart of a lion, Drue Tranquill will now get his shot to prove he’s an every down player. Notre Dame’s projected strong safety and a key weapon in Brian VanGorder’s scheme, Tranquill may have some limitations as a open field safety, but he more than makes up for them with his other skills.

A team leader both on and off the field, after two star-crossed seasons, perhaps junior year is the time for Tranquill’s breakout.

 

DRUE TRANQUILL
6’1.5″, 225 lbs.
Junior, No. 23, S

 

RECRUITING PROFILE

A three-star recruit with offers coming from mostly MAC and lower-tier Big Ten programs, Tranquill wanted a chance to play safety at Notre Dame, and ended up committing to Purdue first before eventually Brian Kelly found room for him.

 

PLAYING CAREER

Freshman Season (2014): Played in 11 games, starting three before tearing his ACL against Louisville. Made 33 tackles, one TFL, one interception and recovered a fumble. Was named Notre Dame’s Defensive Newcomer of the Year.

Sophomore Season (2015): Played in three games, making one start before suffering a season-ending knee injury. Made nine tackles including 2.5 TFLs and breaking up two passes.

 

WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR

This was on track, until his knee gave out.

If he’s given the opportunity, Tranquill will make plays. That’s not to say you should expect to see him flying across the back-end of the secondary and snatching footballs from center field, but rather expect to see some paint-chips flying and Tranquill doing his best heat-seeking missile impression.

A defense needs football players like Tranquill. So do Notre Dame’s special teams. After hearing Kelly rave about Tranquill’s rehabilitation (he “attacked it” like no other player he’s seen, per BK), it’s clear that the sophomore will be ready come Texas.

I’m skeptical that Tranquill can play as a back-end safety. So while his role as an every-down player won’t come unless something goes wrong, Tranquill should be a productive performer for the defense, a key to the unit on third downs.

 

FUTURE POTENTIAL

I still don’t think Tranquill will be a great player in coverage, and at times I expect to see those limitations show up in ways that hurt the Irish. But he’s also shown very quickly that if used properly he’s a wonderful weapon in VanGorder’s scheme—especially as a missile attacking the option and run-heavy offenses.

Health is the only question. Not if Tranquill can recover from injury—he’s already shown that twice. But does his body have the ability to take the punishment of an every-down role?

 

CRYSTAL BALL

If he can stay healthy, I expect Tranquill to be one of the most productive players on the Irish defense. Think of him as a super-sized version of Matthias Farley from 2014. He will fill up the stat sheet.

Knock on wood that he stays healthy, because if he does I expect Tranquill to be the most productive safety of the VanGorder era at Notre Dame. He’s going to be one of the team’s leading tackler in front of and behind the line of scrimmage.

Does that mean he’ll be great in coverage? No. But if he’s able to wreak havoc as a guy running the alley and crashing towards the line of scrimmage, he’s got a chance to be a real difference maker.

 

2016’s Irish A-to-Z
Josh Adams
Josh Barajas
Alex Bars
Asmar Bilal
Hunter Bivin
Grant Blankenship
Jonathan Bonner
Ian Book
Parker Boudreaux
Miles Boykin
Justin Brent
Devin Butler
Jimmy Byrne
Daniel Cage
Chase Claypool
Nick Coleman
Te’von Coney
Shaun Crawford
Scott Daly
Micah Dew-Treadway
Liam Eichenberg
Jalen Elliott
Nicco Feritta
Tarean Folston
Mark Harrell
Daelin Hayes
Jay Hayes
Tristen Hoge
Corey Holmes
Torii Hunter Jr.
Alizé Jones
Jamir Jones
Jarron Jones
Jonathan Jones
Tony Jones Jr.
Khalid Kareem
DeShone Kizer
Julian Love
Tyler Luatua
Cole Luke
Greer Martini
Jacob Matuska
Mike McGlinchey
Colin McGovern
Deon McIntosh
Javon McKinley
Pete Mokwuah
John Montelus
D.J. Morgan
Nyles Morgan
Sam Mustipher
Quenton Nelson
Tyler Newsome
Adetokunbo Ogundeji
Julian Okwara
James Onwualu
Spencer Perry
Troy Pride Jr.
Max Redfield
Isaac Rochell
Trevor Ruhland
CJ Sanders
Avery Sebastian
John Shannon
Durham Smythe
Equanimeous St. Brown
Kevin Stepherson
Devin Studstill
Elijah Taylor
Brandon Tiassum
Jerry Tillery