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Where Notre Dame was and is: Cornerbacks

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Entering the spring, it was clear Notre Dame would learn only so much about its cornerbacks, as two veterans continued their career-long trends of batting injuries, two veterans that may be needed in the fall.

WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
With consensus first-team All-American Julian Love off to the NFL, senior Troy Pride’s chance to star has arrived. Alongside him, a few names were in the mix: senior Donte Vaughn, sophomores Houston Griffith (pictured at top) and TaRiq Bracy, perhaps even their classmate Noah Boykin. But Boykin has decided to transfer and Vaughn missed all of the spring recovering from a shoulder injury that may have impaired him in the Cotton Bowl loss to Clemson.

Similarly, the move of junior Avery Davis to cornerback from running back could shed only so much light, especially in a nickel back role, while fifth-year Shaun Crawford continues to recover from an ACL he tore days before the 2018 season began.

WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
As long as Vaughn and Crawford were (are) sidelined, the focus was on Pride and Griffith. The latter may not end up the starter along the boundary, but he was the front-runner for the role while the competition was reduced this spring. No matter what, though, Pride will start at field (the wide side). The Irish kept him there to better utilize his speed, offering safety help to the youngster in one-on-one coverage opposite.

“Troy has speed that everyone wants,” Notre Dame defensive coordinator Clark Lea said days before spring practice concluded with the Blue-Gold Game. “God gave him that. What we can help Troy with is where his eyes were, how he displaced the route laterally, or how he gets into a fit position with his legs.

“His ability to isolate the result and focus on the feedback is going to be an important part of his progression. I’m excited about Troy. I think Troy has a chance to be an elite corner. I really love where he is from a mentality right now. He’s setting a course for a really good fall camp and a great year.”

Irish cornerback Troy Pride took a moment after Notre Dame’s 30-3 loss to Clemson in the College Football Playoff semifinal to soak in the moment, no matter how poor the taste. (Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images)

If Pride has some development yet ahead of him (he does), Griffith has much more so. The former safety has plenty to learn about his new position’s finer points.

“Houston has things he is really good at as a corner and things he is still getting a feel for,” Lea said. “Part of our experience in the spring is we go against a really good quarterback and some really talented receivers. He’s still learning physically how he presses, how he plays off man, what are his transition points. … Those are the finer points that at times don’t always come naturally. They have to be learned. Sometimes as a corner, those are learned by the ball going over your head.”

WHERE NOTRE DAME WILL BE
Both Pride and Griffith have immense raw talent, arguably more than even Love had, but it remains raw, particularly for Griffith. Until Vaughn and Crawford can offer their veteran presence, that will remain the case in play. Vaughn should immediately challenge Griffith for the starting role in preseason practice, while Crawford is likely to end up at nickel once again, where his playmaking thrives when he is healthy. If not Crawford, then Bracy or Davis may step forward.

“In third down, it could be Shaun, it could be Avery, it could be some combination of TaRiq Bracy coming onto the field and moving a corner into the slot,” Lea said. “We want to respond to whatever the opponent dictates for us. We don’t do that in the spring, necessarily, because this is about base installations and base techniques and we’re just learning the system.”

No other position endured the front-line injuries heading into this spring as the Irish cornerbacks did, making it a spring with few answers provided, even as Pride and Griffith noticeably developed.

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