Notre Dame seemingly struck gold in last year’s cornerback recruiting, with freshman Benjamin Morrison intercepting five passes in November and classmate Jaden Mickey looking like a fellow starter of the future.
Repeatedly, Irish head coach Marcus Freeman credited cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens for his ability to evaluate players in recruiting, finding undervalued players that became NFL players back at Cincinnati and adamantly insisting Notre Dame chase Morrison and Mickey in the class of 2022.
Mickens found two more cornerbacks in the class of 2023, joining two safeties for the Irish. In order of their initial commitments to Notre Dame …
But before that, note that said “two safeties,” with no further qualifier. Midday Wednesday, five-star safety Peyton Bowen flipped his commitment from the Irish to Oregon, a close recruitment over the last few months, with Oklahoma also giving chase to the Texas safety.
Peyton Bowen chooses Oregon.
The five-star Denton Guyer safety flips from Notre Dame to the Ducks. pic.twitter.com/597uOxGqFn
— Shawn McFarland (@McFarland_Shawn) December 21, 2022
Irvington High School; Irvington, N.J.
Measurements: 6-foot, 190 pounds
Accolades: While rivals.com considers Shuler only a three-star prospect, other recruiting services list him as a four-star and he will play in the All-American Bowl next month.
Other notable offers: By committing to Notre Dame in August of 2021 — yes, as in 16 months ago — Shuler cut down on some potentially aggressive recruiting and perhaps diminished his overall rankings. Nonetheless, the safety held offers from Alabama, Georgia and Ohio State, to give an idea of his initial recruiting momentum.
Projected position: Shuler should be a safety in the long run, but if his body packs on muscle rather than staying lean, a move up to linebacker would not be unprecedented.
Quick take: A small claim, but Shuler will go down in history as the last defensive player to commit to Marcus Freeman before Freeman had coached a single game at Notre Dame, even as defensive coordinator.
Short-term roster outlook: Safety may be the position on Notre Dame’s roster in the most flux. Brandon Joseph and DJ Brown could both return, but neither has declared any intentions yet. If they return, then the Irish wil have four safeties it can turn to in 2023 without having to tap the freshmen. If they depart, suddenly Shuler could be looking at a rotational role behind Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts.
Long-term depth chart impact: In the two classes ahead of him, only Justin Walters is a safety. There may be ample playing time for Shuler in the not-too-distant future.
The Kinkaid School; Houston
Measurements: 5-foot-11, 165 pounds
Accolades: Bell’s recruiting rankings are difficult to nail down, as he is officially classified as an “athlete,” but the consensus four-star recruit still ranks No. 141 overall in the class, per rivals.com.
Other notable offers: Texas schools chased Bell, rather common for Lonestar products. And he visited them, in return, namely Houston, Baylor and, of course, Texas. Furthermore, six Big Ten schools chased the athlete, as did eight SEC programs.
Projected position: Speed like Bell’s belongs on the perimeter. His size should not be a deterrent, but if it is, then a nickel role may be in his future.
Quick take: Speed can be taught, but only to an extent. Just like you cannot turn a five-minute miler into a four-minute miler through training alone, you cannot turn an 11.5-second 100-meter dash into a 10.5-second 100-meter dash without some natural progression, the type that comes from genetics more than weights. Bell has run a 10.45-second 100-meter dash and a 20.89-second 200-meter dash. His speed is the type rosters need; coaches can then find ways to use it.
Short-term roster outlook: The successes of Morrison and Mickey may lead to early optimism around Bell, but it is more likely he takes time to learn the nuances of the position. While he is widely projected at cornerback, he spent most of his high school career at running back. Mickens will have work to do.
RELATED READING: Speedy Texas cornerback commitment launches Notre Dame into holiday weekend
Long-term depth chart impact: The return of Cam Hart next year lengthens the runway available to Bell. If he ends up at nickel, that will be behind Mickey next season. Then in 2024, if Mickey becomes Hart’s cornerback replacement, Bell may step in at nickel back. Of course, there are others in the mix, so even then he will have time, but speed like his is unlikely to stay off the field for too long.
𝐁𝐥𝐞𝐬𝐬𝐞𝐝 𝐚𝐧𝐝 𝐓𝐡𝐚𝐧𝐤𝐟𝐮𝐥 to have our guy @8_franchise joining the squad. ☘️#ThinkBig x #GoIrish pic.twitter.com/naqqcTfvW0
— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) December 21, 2022
De Smet High School; St. Louis
Measurements: 6-foot, 174 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star recruit, Gray is ranked as the No. 10 cornerback in the class of 2023, per rivals.com, and the No. 78 overall prospect.
Other notable offers: When Gray committed to Notre Dame on July 4, he had narrowed his choices down to the Irish, LSU, Ohio State and USC. Back-to-back June weekends saw Gray visit Baton Rouge and South Bend.
Projected position: Gray looks like a boundary cornerback of the future, his skills at the position fine-tuned enough already to garner early faith, his 75.25-inch reported wingspan the kind of size to enhance those skills.
Quick take: Like speed cannot be taught, neither can wingspan. Those long arms help Gray in press coverage as much as they break up passes, and that press coverage fits Marcus Freeman’s preferred aggressive defensive schemes.
RELATED READING: Notre Dame’s commitment-filled holiday weekend concludes with four-star cornerback and a No. 1 ranking
Short-term roster outlook: Mickens may have another stud on his hands. If Gray slides in alongside Morrison and/or Mickey, then Notre Dame’s defense may ascend to a new level in the near future.
Long-term depth chart impact: The Irish secondary was in dire straits just a couple seasons ago. Three players from last year’s recruiting class and the likes of Gray and Bell now will give Notre Dame the kind of depth it needs to contend with the playmakers sparking the country’s best teams.
Lakota West High School; West Chester, Ohio
Measurements: 6-foot-1, 180 pounds
Accolades: A consensus four-star recruit, rivals.com ranks Minich as the No. 29 safety in the class of 2023.
Other notable offers: Minich visited Cincinnati, Duke, Wake Forest and Notre Dame in June. The visit to South Bend was a camp, so the Irish coaching staff got an up-close look at him on the field. When a lower-ranked recruit commits following such a camp evaluation, it usually speaks to what the coaching staff was looking for and, apparently, found on its own campus.
Projected position: Minich was sought late in the cycle seemingly partly because Notre Dame worried about Bowen’s commitment. Thus, yes, he’ll be a safety.
Quick take: Again, speed. Minich has been clocked in the 100-meter dash in less than 11 seconds.
RELATED READING: A sprinter of a safety
Short-term roster outlook: Most of Minich’s power comes from his legs, which allows for surer tackling than 180 pounds usually would suggest. His combination of speed and willingness to be physical should make him an early special teams contributor, though some added weight will be needed for more than that role.
Long-term depth chart impact: Minich and Shuler will play no later than 2024, one has to think.
SIGNING DAY COVERAGE
Consensus four-star QB Kenny Minchey, former Pittsburgh commit
Consensus four-star running back Jeremiyah Love, No. 4 RB in the country
Five offensive lineman signees continue Irish trend up front
Four receivers fill greatest Irish need
Irish secondary boosted by four signees, speed included, despite Signing Day disappointment
Three linebackers continue Marcus Freeman’s defensive emphasis, led by Drayk Bowen
Four defensive linemen, led by consensus four-star Brenan Vernon
Consensus four-star tight end Cooper Flanagan
Brandyn Hillman, athlete who may end up on defense