Tag: Dan McCarthy

Slaughter Utah

Filling holes: Safety


Just a year after Harrison Smith played the role of ball hawk, the senior safety was snake-bit. Seven interceptions in 2010 had Irish fans thinking Notre Dame’s defense had a gold-glove center-fielder. But in 2011, while the defense had a more mature and comfortable Smith roaming the secondary, the interceptions just didn’t come. Smith had 10 pass break-ups (up from seven during 2010), but his interceptions dropped from seven to zero, a staggering decline for a guy that put together game tape and athleticism that has him climbing closer to a first-round grade by the day.

NFL personnel men wouldn’t be swooning over Smith if they didn’t like the way he played his senior year. But if there’s ever proof that football is a game of inches, 2011 gave it to us. Whether it was quarterbacks identifying where Smith was at all times, or a change in scheme or playmaking, the Irish didn’t get the the turnovers in the passing game they needed, with Smith coming up just a hair-late or inches from a game-changing turnover. Just another small piece of why the 2011 season was ultimately a disappointment.

With the Irish defense needing to replace it’s defensive captain and starting free safety, let’s take a look at the battle coming together this fall.

2011 Starters
Harrison Smith, Sr.
Jamoris Slaughter, Jr.

Quick Positional Recap

While his interceptions plummeted, Smith still played great football. He was on the field for a staggering 95% of all defensive snaps, an amazing number considering the lopsided victories the Irish had against teams like Purdue, Navy, Air Force and Maryland. That shows Smith’s impact wasn’t just from whistle to whistle, but before the snap, making sure the Irish were in proper alignment and calls. Smith also had the second-highest productivity as a tackler, trailing only Manti Te’o among major contributors, a pretty impressive feat for a guy that spent a lot of time in coverage.

The second safety position was mostly manned by the platoon of Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta. As discussed earlier, Motta was more impressive than you may remember, and Slaughter’s play down in the box against Air Force, and his subsequent use as the “star” linebacker showed some versatility that will give the Irish defense some additional options in 2012. Both Austin Collinsworth and Dan McCarthy saw playing time, each clocking in around seven percent of snaps in reserve work.

The Candidates

Zeke Motta, 6-2, 215, Sr. — If Motta has the ability to be a great safety in space, we haven’t seen it yet. The knock on Motta’s game so far has been the occasional out-of-control play that’s made him look bad out in space against running backs or wide receivers. (That was also the knock on Smith until his tackling radically improved when Brian Kelly came to town.) Motta, who took almost 70 percent of the defense’s snaps as a nickel back, will play a lot. Where remains the question.

Austin Collinsworth, 6-1, 200, Jr. – It was Collinsworth that worked his way past Dan McCarthy in the safety depth chart after spending his freshman season as a wide receiver. Now it’ll likely be those two battling for the primary nickel job that Motta owned last season, with Collinsworth hopefully making the leap now that he’s entering his junior campaign. Brian Kelly and the defensive staff are high on Collinsworth’s football IQ and playmaking ability, and we’ve seen flashes of both in special teams. Having that translate into defensive success with be key in 2012.

Danny McCarthy, 6-2, 205, Sr.  — McCarthy was the primary beneficiary when the Irish recruiting class came up a bit short in February. That’s not to say he’s some leftover body that fills an empty hole on the roster. When McCarthy chose the Irish over offers from Ohio State, Oklahoma, Penn State, and Michigan after being Ohio’s player of the year, many expected a more athletic version of his older brother, current NFL’er and former Irish captain Kyle. But McCarthy hasn’t been able to crack the safety rotation yet, with various injuries the main culprit. Still, he’s a great athlete that has a chance for a “light-bulb on” final season in South Bend, just like Jonas Gray.

Eliar Hardy, 6-0, 185, Soph. — Just as word was coming around that Hardy was impressing during fall camp last year, a knee injury robbed Hardy of his freshman season. It might be a blessing in disguise as the undersized safety was allowed to save a year of eligibility while also developing in the weight room. We won’t know what to expect from Hardy until spring practice gets underway, but he’s a great wild-card in a position battle that seems pretty straight-forward.

Tee Shepard, 6-1, 186, Fr. — Shepard is also a leading candidate to push for time at cornerback, but at six-foot-one, and good natural size even before spending six months with Paul Longo, he’s the type of big-bodied athlete that could find his way to the nickel back spot early. Early enrollment was critical for Shepard, who lost a season of development when his senior year on the football field was forfeited because of a transfer rule. Shepard is one of the more intriguing athletes to watch during spring practice.

Chris Salvi, 5-10, 190, Sr. — Let’s not forget the former walk-on special teams dynamo. Chuck Martin mentioned last season that he wouldn’t hesitate putting Salvi in the game at safety. (He almost had to during the injury plagued 2010 season.) That likely won’t change when new safeties coach Bobby Elliott gets his hands on the Bengal Bouts champ, who knows the system and has plenty of speed and athleticism.


Fifth year candidates begin to emerge

Dan McCarty

News broke earlier in the week that walk-on special teams ace Chris Salvi was being rewarded with a scholarship. Now Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune has the list of fifth-year candidates that will go before the Faculty Board on Athletics for approval to return for next season.

Hansen reports that six seniors are in the final process of returning for next season: center Braxston Cave, center Mike Golic Jr., wide receiver John Goodman, defensive end Kapron Lewis-Moore, safety Dan McCarthy, and safety Jamoris Slaughter.

Cave, Lewis-Moore and Slaughter all spent significant time in the starting lineup last season, and their return was all but assumed. Sean Cwynar, who shared starting duties at nose guard with Louis Nix, had already decided not to return for a fifth season, though he would’ve likely been welcomed back. Goodman and Golic had also long been rumored to be returning, with Goodman providing senior depth at wide receiver while Golic has the opportunity to play the super-sub role Andrew Nuss filed last year as a graduate student.

Perhaps the biggest surprise is the return of McCarthy. In mid-November, it appeared that McCarthy was preparing himself for life after football, with the finance major ready to tackle the job market in his senior profile by the university’s school newspaper The Observer. But with the Irish recruiting class coming up short on a few targets, McCarthy will add veteran depth in the secondary, a position grouping that’s losing three of four starters and needs to replace captain Harrison Smith.

It’s been mentioned before and bears mentioning again that McCarthy’s older brother Kyle, now with the Kansas City Chiefs, was a near anonymous special teams player until his senior season, when he ascended into a starting role and then captained the squad during his fifth year. With new safeties coach Bobby Elliott getting his first look at the depth chart, there’s a chance McCarthy could battle for the nickel job and capitalize on the athleticism that made him the high school player of the year in Ohio his senior season.

Here’s a look at the projected 2012 Irish scholarship roster, broken down by class:

Graduate Students (7)

Braxston Cave
Mike Golic Jr.
John Goodman
Kapron Lewis-Moore
Dan McCarthy
Chris Salvi
Jamoris Slaughter

Seniors (15)

Carlo Calabrese
Jordan Cowart
Tyler Eifert
Dan Fox
Jake Golic
Zack Martin
Zeke Motta
Theo Riddick
Tyler Stockton
Nick Tausch
Manti Te’o
Robby Toma
Ben Turk
Chris Watt
Cierre Wood

Juniors (19)

Austin Collinsworth
Bruce Heggie
Andrew Hendrix
Bennett Jackson
TJ Jones
Christian Lombard
Luke Massa
Kendall Moore
Tate Nichols
Louis Nix III
Tommy Rees
Cameron Roberson
Kona Schwenke
Prince Shembo
Daniel Smith
Danny Spond
Justin Utupo
Alex Welch
Lo Wood

Sophomores (26)

George Atkinson III
Josh Atkinson
Chris Badger
Kyle Brindza
Jalen Brown
Amir Carlisle
Brad Carrico
Ben Councell
DaVaris Daniels
Matthias Farley
Everett Golson
Jarrett Grace
Conor Hanratty
Eilar Hardy
Matt Hegarty
Chase Hounshell
Ben Koyack
Aaron Lynch
Nick Martin
Cam McDaniel
Troy Niklas
Jordan Prestwood
Anthony Rabasa
Tony Springmann
Stephon Tuitt
Ishaq Williams

Freshman (17)

Nick Baratti
Chris Brown
Scott Daly
Sheldon Day
Justin Ferguson
Mark Harrell
Jarron Jones
Gunner Kiel
William Mahone
Davonte Neal
Romeo Okwara
CJ Prosise
KeiVarae Russell
Tee Shepard
Elijah Shumate
Ronnie Stanley
John Turner

Fox edges Calabrese at LB, Slaughter over Motta at FS

Jamoris Slaughter

While the news didn’t trend on Twitter like Dayne Crist did nationally this afternoon (another example of Notre Dame’s irrelevance in college football I guess), one surprise in Brian Kelly‘s press conference was that junior Dan Fox unseated Carlo Calabrese as the starting Will linebacker next to Manti Te’o. Calabrese spent the lion’s share of last season starting while Fox transitioned from outside linebacker during an injury riddled season.

Asked for the biggest reason Fox found himself in the starting lineup, Kelly was pointed.

“Last year, he was not a guy that liked contact,” Kelly said of Fox. “He likes contact now. He knows that contact is necessary in that zone that he plays in. Here’s another young man that’s developed a toughness to him.”

The move is high praise for Fox, but also underscores the multiple nature of a position that almost seems situational. With South Florida bringing in a mobile quarterback like B.J. Daniels, having a guy with athleticism like Fox might give the Irish their best chance to contain the Bulls’ offense.

“Danny Fox will start at the Will, Brian Kelly said. “Both those guys are going to play, I think I’ve made it pretty clear, just like Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke, Jamoris is going to start there, but that’s a 50/50 deal. It will be the same thing with Watt and Nuss and it will be the same thing with Fox and Calabrese. I’m very pleased we’ve got the kind of depth at those positions.”

To give you an idea of how close the battle at linebacker was, defensive coordinator Bob Diaco clarified that both Fox and Calabrese will have a prominent role in the defense.

“It’s not a 1A, 1B, it’s an or,” Diaco said. “We see them as both starters. Carlo and Dan are going to be fifty-fifty players.”

As with the job at linebacker, Jamoris Slaughter taking back the starting job at safety after being hobbled with injuries throughout much of last season is interesting, although not entirely unexpected. Safeties coach Chuck Martin talked about how important it was to get consistent play out of the field safety, likely one of the reason’s the staff tapped Slaughter in front of Zeke Motta.

“We go into the year with the idea that those field safeties better not give up plays, because that’ll cost us the game. And then with the idea of hey, let’s pitch in,” Martin said. “We know Manti’s going to make plays, and Gary and RJ, and Harrison and a lot of guys up front can make plays, so we want the field safety position to start off being very solid and then at some point we want to put that tape on Sunday and say, Jamoris or Zeke that’s really the play that tilted the game in our favor.”

With Slaughter and Motta being called upon to play consistent football, Martin also has the advantage of knowing that he’s got more than just the minimum allotment of players at his disposal.

“I think we have trust in more than just three safeties and two corners,” Martin said. “I think as camp’s progressed we’ve got a lot of guys that are fighting to get on the field and help us win. I don’t think we’re going into the season like last year where we knew we had really limited options, we go into camp with the idea that a lot of guys are going to play well and adjust. We’ve still got a lot to improve on to get guys ready to play.”

Those options are likely senior Dan McCarthy and sophomore Austin Collinsworth, two promising athletes that just need to find a way to get on the field and get some experience.

“I think they’re both getting there,” Martin said of McCarthy and Collinsworth. “They both need reps and both need experience. We know its a process back there, especially deep defenders. They’re fighting to gain the ground they need to feel comfortable to get in the game.”