Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back

Camping World Bowl - Notre Dame v Iowa State
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-10 ⅛, 180 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, Bracy actually has two seasons left to play entering his senior year despite being a day-one contributor and playing in the vast majority of the games the last three seasons.
Depth Chart: Bracy’s struggles in deep coverage led to him splitting time at field cornerback with then-freshman Clarence Lewis last year. With junior receiver-turned-cornerback Cam Hart exiting spring practices looking like the starting boundary cornerback, Bracy may be relegated to nickel back duties.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, the San Jose, Calif., native chose Notre Dame over West Coast options like Cal, Utah and Washington State.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
A college football player with no public Twitter or Instagram profile is a rarity, but Bracy keeps that breed from extinction.

So instead of focusing directly on him, as name, image and likeness legislation is improvised across the country this week in advance of the gates opening in some (most?) states on July 1, let’s just look forward to what the Irish may put together to help their players.

CAREER TO DATE
Bracy may have arrived at Notre Dame a little-discussed recruit, but the Irish needed him to play from the jump due to injuries to Shaun Crawford and Donte Vaughn. As a freshman, Bracy played admirably, largely handling the demands of the job until USC exposed his inexperience in the regular-season finale.

That exposure dropped Bracy into more of a supplementary role in 2019, starting two games in support of Crawford while Troy Pride handled all boundary cornerback needs.

With Pride off to the NFL and Crawford moving to safety, Bracy was an expected starter last season, and he did start six games, but by the season’s final third, Lewis was getting the field cornerback starts, beginning after Bracy was replaced by Lewis early at North Carolina. By the end of the year, Lewis had played many more snaps than Lewis had, 421 compared to 288.

2018: 11 games; 18 tackles with one forced fumble.
2019: 12 games; 34 tackles with seven passes defended and one forced fumble.
2020: 8 games; 24 tackles with two for loss and three passes defended.

QUOTE
Getting benched as a junior with nearly three years of experience obviously does not bode well for Bracy’s future, but that is where a change in defensive coordinators may turn out to his advantage. It is not that Marcus Freeman’s scheme is better designed for Bracy’s skills than Clark Lea’s was so much as it is that Freeman represents a blank slate.

“He’s had an excellent spring,” Freeman said in April. “… He’s been really consistent and one of our most consistent defensive backs we’ve had on the field.

“I don’t know what he was like before I got here. As I told him the first day I got here, I make my opinion of you from the first day I met you. He’s in here watching extra film, he’s consistently meeting with [cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens] and the corners and trying to get better at his craft. He’s doing the little things off the field that it takes to be a successful player.”

WHAT WAS SAID TWO YEARS AGO
This is quoted, despite being so dated as forced by the pandemic, because Bracy’s flaw discussed herein remains the sticking point to any pondering of Bracy’s playing time moving forward:

“One way or another, Bracy will see considerable playing time this year. He showed enough last season to warrant that good faith. In his good moments, Bracy provided excellent coverage; when he was exposed, it was clearly his inexperience costing him. The Trojans clearly scouted that, targeting Bracy in one-on-one situations early and often to get out to a quick start. Before Notre Dame made a change, Bracy’s liability was so obvious, the press box would, en masse, point out his mismatches long before a play’s snap, and that was inevitably where USC quarterback J.T. Daniels then looked.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Bracy has to take Freeman at his word, because his most recent tape does not set up the senior for an abundance of playing time, particularly in one-on-one coverage. The Tar Heels blitzed the Irish for two quick scores largely because of Bracy’s coverage lapses. When searching Getty Images for photos, the first four all showcase Bracy getting beaten by North Carolina receivers, first Emery Simmons for a six-yard touchdown and then by Dyami Brown for 51 yards, Bracy only taking down Brown one yard from the end zone.

Notre Dame v North Carolina
North Carolina matched Notre Dame touchdown-for-touchdown in the first quarter last November largely by targeting Bracy’s coverage. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

With Notre Dame and the Tar Heels tied at 14, the Irish called upon Lewis, and North Carolina scored only three more points in the final three quarters. The freshman started the next three games, including the ACC title game and the College Football Playoff semifinal.

Notre Dame v North Carolina
Other things changed in the Irish scheme after the first quarter, but nonetheless, the Tar Heels did not score another touchdown after freshman Clarence Lewis took over most of Bracy’s snaps. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

Perhaps Bracy put together such a strong spring as to re-earn a chance at the field cornerback position, but those events late last season make it unlikely, and all spring, Notre Dame trumpeted Hart as the likely boundary starter.

RELATED READING: Home is where the heart is, and for Cam Hart at Notre Dame, that’s CB

That could leave Bracy with nickel back duties. The good news for both him and the Irish: Nickel back work should require less one-on-one coverage, completely isolated from support. Bracy has shown agility and decent hands, so there are tools for Freeman to work with at nickel.

DOWN THE ROAD
Bracy could possibly return in 2022, but unless he has a dominant 2021, Notre Dame is unlikely to invite him back for that fifth season. Instead, a graduate transfer may be in order.

Bracy would find a home in the transfer portal — any former Irish starter should for perpetuity — but there will be players that do not, something to keep in mind the next two years as the universal pandemic eligibility waiver creates an undue number of athletes trying to find playing time.

That domino effect will dominate much of next offseason’s discourse, and in that respect, every Notre Dame player to transfer will contribute to the bottleneck.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on

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