Early-enrollee freshman Devin Studstill has proven himself a quick study. The Florida native kick-started his life as a college student, trading Palm Beach for South Bend in January. He’s also found his way into the thick of a surprising position battle with senior Max Redfield, the first-year player providing a datapoint that maybe, just maybe, it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to solve Brian VanGorder’s defense.
Studstill had been a staff priority since the day he stepped foot on campus for the Irish Invasion summer camp. While the three-star defensive back didn’t come in with any expectations from the recruiting services, the Irish coaching staff knew better. And after five practices, Brian Kelly explained what has allowed Studstill to rise quickly and put himself in the mix for a job that nobody thought was open.
“He’s just a natural player. It comes easy to him,” Kelly said on Wednesday. “It’s not hard to him, he has had no setbacks in terms of learning curve.”
That learning curve is a crucial one for a defense that needs to replace multiple starters at each level. We saw even that experienced group struggle with consistency, breakdowns stemming from mental mistakes as much as physical limitations.
We won’t know until this fall what Studstill truly brings to the table. His ascent could be a product of opportunity—with Mykelti Williams transferring and limited bodies at the position, Studstill’s early arrival turned this into a force-feed situation.
Nor will we know if this rise up the depth chart is part of Brian Kelly’s motivational tactics. Remember, Kona Schwenke moved into a dead heat with Louis Nix the spring before the 2012 season, sending enough of a message to Big Lou that it put him back on track to anchor one of the finest front sevens in the country.
But as the Irish look for consistency at a position that’s lacked it since Harrison Smith roamed the back line, Studstill has turned into a potential face of a reloaded secondary. Paired with Shaun Crawford as standouts in back-to-back recruiting classes asked to transform the secondary from a group of Cover 2 defenders hand-picked by Bob Diaco to VanGorder’s preferred man-covering athletes, the early returns are good—essentially all you can ask this time of year.
As young defensive backs push guys like Redfield and Cole Luke, the roster churn has helped create some much needed competition for Todd Lyght’s secondary. And that’s allowed Studstill to catch the eye of the one man who needs him most.
“Excellent ball skills. Excellent retention,” Kelly said of his new safety. “He is out there making plays and getting lined up and getting guys in the right positions, so we have been pleased.”