Irish still trying to find the right answers at safety

30 Comments

As Notre Dame’s finishes up a May spent on the road visiting recruits, one of the keys to a successful 2016 recruiting campaign is to restock the safety position. While graduate transfer Avery Sebastian comes onto campus providing immediate experience, the position is one of the lone worrisome spots on the fully-stocked Irish roster.

As Brian Kelly moves into his sixth season in South Bend, struggles at safety seem to be an evergreen issue. While some Signing Day losses last February kept the haul to just Mykelti Williams and Nicco Fertitta, Notre Dame is targeting three safeties in the 2016 recruiting cycle. The Irish lost out on three-star prospect Kenney Lyke to Michigan State last week, though it doesn’t sound like the Irish are giving up on his recruitment any time soon.

Regardless of Lyke coming around or not, the Irish need to restock the position. Both Elijah Shumate and Sebastian will be gone after the season, so will Swiss-Army defender Matthias Farley. Max Redfield will complete his eligibility in 2016. And the future of mismatched John Turner and injury-plagued Nicky Baratti are cloudy at best.

The struggles at safety go back to the roster Kelly inherited from Charlie Weis. In 2010, the Irish had a two-deep with only four scholarship safeties: Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Dan McCarthy and Zeke Motta.

Before Smith was a first-rounder and All-American caliber player, he was a guy who Irish fans had given up on and relegated to linebacker. And when Slaughter was injured in the season opener against Purdue in 2010, Kelly was left with Motta learning on the fly while McCarthy—a guy who some might say never got completely healthy after a serious high school injury—struggled to find a role on the field.

While Smith and Motta provided stability on the back end, it’s been a challenge filling their shoes. The 2013 defense didn’t get great safety play, though Austin Collinsworth finished the season strong. And after Farley shifted to nickel cornerback, the Irish were short-handed from the start last season when Collinsworth was injured 48 hours before the season opener, putting the back-end of Brian VanGorder’s defense both shorthanded and inexperienced with the loss of their fifth-year captain.

We’ve heard all the right things about Shumate and Redfield, who separated themselves in spring ball, especially with Drue Tranquill recovering from an ACL injury and Baratti not a full participant. But the health of this duo is critical, especially if it’ll allow Sebastian to play a complementary role and Farley to stay closer to the line of scrimmage as a slot cornerback.

We’ll get to know names on the recruiting trail like Southern California’s Chacho Ulloa and Devin Studstill, a former high school teammate of freshman Te’von Coney. But with Todd Lyght in his first big-time college job, he’ll be thrown into the deep end trying to upgrade a position group that’s proved to be a challenge from the moment Kelly arrived.