Freshman Focus: Max Redfield

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If you’re looking for one of the perks of an undefeated regular season, Max Redfield is it. The former USC commitment, one of the top safeties in the country, chose Notre Dame at the Under Armor All-American game, picking the Irish at a time where ND fans usually only bemoan the recruit that got away.

While the safety position has seen its depth chart fill in the past two recruiting cycles, it hasn’t seen a player of Redfield’s ilk, with the 6-foot-2, 195-pounder one of the top defensive backs the Irish have signed in a long time.

With offers from elite programs coast-to-coast, the size and speed to double as a deep threat wide receiver or centerfielder, Redfield walks onto campus as the wild card in the secondary, likely an immediate contender for playing time.

Let’s take a closer look at the Orange County star:

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Nothing but blue-chip for Redfield, who Rivals ranked as the No. 2 player in the state of California, and one of the top 30 players in the country. Redfield had offers across the country, but took official visits to USC, Washington and Notre Dame, with the Irish eventually winning out for a player Brian Kelly couldn’t hide his excitement about.

“We think Max is an elite player,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “He’s a young man that has a specific skill set that could see him play offense, he could play defense, he’s going to play in that safety position for us, and we think he’s a young man that can come in and compete. He’s got all the athletic ability, and he’s a very smart young man.”

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

During spring drills, it looked as if the Irish were planning to go with Matthias Farley on the short side of the field and Elijah Shumate as the field safety. While guys like Nicky Baratti and Austin Collinsworth are going to have something to say about that when they are 100 percent healthy, so is Redfield.

Jumping into the starting lineup at safety isn’t easy — especially in a defense like Notre Dame’s, where quite a bit of pressure is heaped onto the back end defenders. That said, Redfield comes from one of Southern California’s elite prep programs at Mission Viejo, and he’s been playing in a system that should have him ready for the step up.

Don’t expect to see Redfield redshirt, and it’s already been hinted that he might end up moonlighting as a wide receiver, where he can utilize his sprinter speed, length and ball skills. For as surprising and positive of a season Farley had last season and as promising as Shumate is, there’s no athlete in the secondary that has a profile like Redfield’s. Whether he plays to that lofty reputation remains to be seen, but walking onto campus, that certainly is the expectation.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Redfield looks like the prototype free safety candidate — an athlete similar to Harrison Smith who can fly from sideline to sideline and punish receivers and running backs in equal order. The Irish staff thinks they landed the top safety in the country in Redfield. Now finding his way onto the field should be the interesting part.

It’s dangerous to assume anything about a player you haven’t seen, and star-ratings matter only until Signing Day. But Redfield enters a secondary where in 2014 Collinsworth, Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley will be seniors (though Hardy and Farley are eligible for a fifth year). Behind them are guys like Chris Badger and John Turner, with Nicky Baratti an intriguing guy that was only out of the mix because of injury this spring. Bob Diaco has never been a guy to stick with just two starters, and playing a variety of safeties — especially employing them in nickel and dime personnel groups — could really be beneficial with this talented group.

If you’re truly looking into the crystal ball, a pairing of Redfield and Shumate could be the most talented the Irish have had in probably two decades. The staff is incredibly high on Shumate, and sliding him down closer to the line of scrimmage while allowing Redfield to roam the backline would get the two most talented players onto the field. Now whether they’re able to beat out guys like Farley and Collinsworth? We’ll find out in about 45 days.