If anyone hoped the move of Notre Dame senior Drue Tranquill from safety to rover would lessen the questions at the former position, they hoped in vain. The defensive backfield’s elder statesman is spending more and more time working at the hybrid position specific to new defensive coordinator Mike Elko’s scheme, yet the competition at the last line of defense has continued among those remaining.
Come fall, that competition may not yield two primary players, but could rather result in a number of specialized options, Irish coach Brian Kelly said following Friday’s practice.
“I think you’ll see that we’re going to be situationally playing guys that make sense at the time of the game,” Kelly said. “First, second and third down. We’re going to put guys in position to succeed. It’s not going to be one guy and that’s it in all situations.”
Junior cornerback-turned-safety Nick Coleman continues to impress Kelly as he learns the new position. In some ways, the change in schemes may aid Coleman’s learning curve.
“We’re playing the safety position quite differently than we did before,” Kelly said. “Nick Coleman has been the guy that has done some really good things for us. He’s extremely athletic. We’re in the process of continuously developing his understanding of the defense.”
With junior Nicco Feritta reportedly nursing a left wrist injury, sophomores Devin Studstill and Jalen Elliott are the primary remaining challengers in the position group. Sophomore D.J. Morgan may be among the rovers.
“Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill are still in that programming mode in terms of doing the little things right for us,” Kelly said. “Fundamentally, they’re getting better. I know Mike Elko really likes those two kids, likes their toughness and their want-to to play the game. They’re going to be there for us.”
There could conceivably include both of them on the field at the same time, not merely complementing Coleman, per Kelly. He indicated both Studstill and Elliott will be expected to know both the field safety position as well as the boundary safety position.
Early enrollee freshman Isaiah Robertson may not be neck-and-neck with his elders, but he remains in the mix thanks to his rapid improvement.
“[Robertson] started at a level of really not knowing much and he’s grown considerably over the last few weeks,” Kelly said. “He’s done a nice job of picking things up. We’re making progress there. We’re going to need more time, but I’m pleased”
With more time will come freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath and possibly classmate Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah, though the latter is more likely to join the group at rover. At 6-foot-2, 205-pounds, Genmark-Heath is not far from the ideal safety Kelly described Friday when discussing the lack of desirable depth at the position.
“I don’t know that anybody is going to walk in the door that’s 6’2”, 215 pounds and can a 4.5 (40-yard dash) anytime soon,” Kelly said. “We know who our guys are. We think there’s some more flexibility coming, and with the players that we have that we’ll be able to come up with a really good solution by the time we kick it off against Temple.”
SPENCER PERRY TRANSFERRING
Kelly confirmed what rising sophomore safety Spencer Perry announced via Twitter on Thursday: He is transferring. Due to his good standing in the football program and at the University, Kelly said he will not restrict where Perry transfers.
“He’s done everything we’ve asked him to do,” Kelly said. “He expressed to me that he felt like athletically he needed to find a place that would better suit him.
“I guess if you read between the lines, maybe he wasn’t seeing the position in which he was playing, nor the area of reps suitable for where he is right now in the program. You’d have to ask him to get a clear understanding of that.”
Like Tranquill, Perry had moved from safety to rover, but Tranquill and junior Asmar Bilal have separated themselves from other possibilities at the position, leaving little theoretical playing time for Perry.
JAMIR JONES TO DEFENSIVE LINE
To Notre Dame’s young options at defensive line, add sophomore Jamir Jones, formerly a linebacker. Jones will most likely contribute among the ends.
“We’re even going to get Jamir Jones activated a little more,” Kelly said. “He’s up to 242 pounds. I don’t know that we’ll ever be able to hold him back from being a bigger guy.”
Jones joins four other sophomores in competition with seniors Andrew Trumbetti and Jay Hayes for playing time on the end. Hayes has two years of eligibility remaining.
“I really believe that those young players and Andrew are going to continue to develop and give us the kind of edge presence that we need,” Kelly said.
BLUE-GOLD GAME FORMATTING
The Irish will scrimmage in private this Sunday, only 13 days before the final spring practice, better known as the Blue-Gold Game. Kelly indicated the April 22 exhibition will split Notre Dame into two teams, rather than rely on an arcane offense vs. defense method of scoring. The coaching staff will begin dividing up those teams Monday following the 60-play scrimmage in the 11th spring practice.