Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back

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Listed measurements: 5-foot-10 ⅛, 177 pounds.
2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Bracy can play this season only due to the universal eligibility waiver granted in 2020.
Depth Chart: Bracy will be Notre Dame’s starting nickel back in 2022, a position that can no longer be referred to as part of a situational package. Per Pro Football Focus, the Irish defense used five defensive backs on more than half its snaps across the last two years. As good as Notre Dame’s linebackers are, and as deep as the Irish defensive line is, one of those front-seven will come off the field more often than not in favor of a fifth defensive back, which will be Bracy more often than not.
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.

CAREER TO DATE
Freshman cornerbacks who play meaningful snaps are rarely only successful. They will be exploited at some point by a strong quarterback and his best receiver. As Bracy moved into the Irish rotation in 2018, that came to be at USC. Yet, he played well enough across the season to help propel Notre Dame into the College Football Playoff.

That kind of backhanded compliment can be applied throughout Bracy’s career. He lost his starting gig as a sophomore and then regained it through much of the pandemic season, a piece of stability for the Irish defense as various defenders entered and exited the lineup due to health and safety protocols.

That was when Clarence Lewis started to chip away at Bracy’s playing time. Now a junior, Lewis will start for Notre Dame alongside senior cornerback Cam Hart, leaving Bracy on the outside looking in … until realizing the nickel back is also very much a starter.

2018: 11 games; 18 tackles with one forced fumble.
2019: 12 games with two starts; 34 tackles with one forced fumble and seven passes broken up.
2020: 8 games with six starts; 24 tackles with two for loss and three passes broken up.
2021: 13 games with five starts; 39 tackles with three passes broken up and one interception.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“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.

“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.”

QUOTES
Last summer’s 99-to-0 entry regarding Bracy then went on to predict a graduate transfer from him this spring. Maybe not at length, but Bracy did at least somewhat consider it this winter.

“I was graduating this spring, and I just wanted to weigh all my options,” he said in April. “But Notre Dame is where I want to be.”

Some of that want likely traces to his presumed nickel role. Playing time comes with it, something Bracy’s inconsistencies have rendered inconsistent throughout his career.

“It shows my versatility,” he said of the position. “(I’m) able to guard receivers inside and out.”

He started to show his fit there last season, working at nickel in most of his playing time.

2022 OUTLOOK
Bracy will play. Notre Dame needs him to. But how much may be up in the air.

Fittingly, an emergence of a freshman may have thrown this fifth-year’s snap count into question. Much hype has followed early-enrolled freshman Jaden Mickey this summer — something that will be dug into a bit at No. 21 in this series — and if he has forced his way onto the field, that is most likely to come at Bracy’s expense.

Lewis and Hart are both clearly ahead of Bracy on the depth chart. With Mickey perhaps there now, as well, suddenly Bracy may be more of a dime back than a nickel back, a package used about a fifth as often, if not less, and one that calls for a third safety as often as a fourth cornerback.

Bracy should fall no further than that, given the absolute youth of the Irish cornerbacks, but his propensity for getting burned deep — USC in 2018 and North Carolina in 2020 both stick in the memory — is not one a defensive coordinator as head coach will tolerate for long.

That was why nickel seemed like a fit for Bracy. The routes run from the slot are less likely to go straight downfield, and when they do, safety help is readily available. He is a physical defensive back not shy from contact inside the tackle box. In those respects, nickel back very much is a fit for Bracy.

It just may not be enough to keep him ahead of Mickey for long. Then again, at some point, a strong quarterback and his best receiver will target that freshman — Notre Dame could not have a tougher season opener in this respect — and the experienced veteran will be needed to staunch the figurative bleeding before it permanently stunts the rookie’s growth.

DOWN THE ROAD
Bracy has plenty of physical tools, but it is still difficult to imagine him getting much of a chance in the NFL. He will certainly go through the requisite combine drills, and perhaps a strong testing day will push him into coveted undrafted free agent status.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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