Nick Coleman found his way onto the field early and often as a freshman, the only defensive rookie to see playing time in all 13 games. Even if he spent most of his high school career as a standout running back, Coleman’s competitiveness—and a need for healthy bodies—made the decision to take redshirt off and compete an easy one.
But that’s only the beginning for the sophomore. With a wide-open battle to replace KeiVarae Russell and the need to fill out a nickel and dime team a priority, Coleman has the chance to showcase his versatility as he makes a play for a larger role in his second full season in South Bend.
5’11.5″, 185 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 24, CB
A three-star recruit who was an All-State running back, Notre Dame identified and landed Coleman early as a defensive back prospect, a move that already looks to be the right one.
Coleman had offers from Michigan State along with a handful of lower-tier Big Ten programs before picking the Irish in mid-June. On Signing Day, Brian Kelly praised Coleman’s versatility and athleticism.
Freshman Season (2015): Played in all 13 games, making five total tackles and breaking up two passes. Played 43 total defensive snaps, including a season-high of 25 against UMass. Graded out as a +1.4 player on PFF College, the third-highest ranked player in Notre Dame’s secondary.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
Not too shabby.
He might not be highly rated, but I love the type of football player Coleman was in high school. So while I could see him redshirting and saving a year of eligibility, I could also see him becoming a sponge and contributing in the secondary and on special teams this year.
If Drue Tranquill found a niche in this secondary as safety in sub-packages, it’s worth considering that Coleman could do something similar in a coverage capacity. While classmate Shaun Crawford looks the better bet for that assignment, Crawford’s an intriguing and versatile athlete worth keeping an eye on.
Coleman’s trajectory may have just been impacted by Crawford’s injury last year and the training injury Devin Butler suffered this week, pushing the sophomore into a rotational job—if he hadn’t already been in position to win one. There’s a ton to like about this young cornerback, especially considering he did most of his damage as a high schooler at running back and is still learning the craft of his position.
Coleman checks off a lot of the boxes you want in a cornerback. He’s tough, he plays with confidence, and as a freshman there wasn’t much “scare” in his game. Of course, over-achieving as a mop-up contributor and special teamer is much different than being asked to step into a regular role in the secondary.
The 2016 will go a long way in determining just how good Coleman can be.
I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman enters camp as a name Brian Kelly points to as an ascending player. That might be a motivational tactic to help boost Coleman’s confidence (or send a message to the others competing for time at that position), but it also could point to a breakout season for a young player that has the ability to be an impact player.
Avoiding the big mistake is job one for Coleman. In his most expansive playing time, Coleman was on the wrong end of a long touchdown against UMass. Nobody cares if you play the slant aggressively if you’re getting beat for six points over the top.
Coleman also needs to stay in the mix as talented true freshmen like Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn arrive, along with redshirt Ashton White. He also should look to find a niche, there’s nickel and dime work available even if he’s playing behind Shaun Crawford and Nick Watkins.
Ultimately, Notre Dame needs at least three good cornerbacks to be a competent secondary. Coleman already seems comfortably in the top four, and I think he’ll establish himself as a solid rotational player during his sophomore season.
2016’s Irish A-to-Z