2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 101 of 163

100 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE BACKS H ad 2018 consensus All-American cor- nerback Julian Love returned for his senior year this season, one would have been hard-pressed to find a better secondary in the country. Pressing harder is just what the Notre Dame defensive backfield plans to do in 2019, even without Love. Three of the team's top strengths this year are senior laden with a number of future NFL defensive ends, a productive and play-making safety tandem in Alohi Gilman and Jalen Elliott, and cornerback Troy Pride Jr. — one of the nation's fastest players. Thus, more press coverage by the corners was emphasized this spring to help max- imize the perceived team strengths. That comes from trying to avoid situations such as the 2018 regular-season finale at USC, when Trojans freshman quarterback JT Daniels completed 16 of 17 passes for 138 yards in the first quarter alone. After falling behind 10-0, Notre Dame adjusted and won 24-17 to qualify for the College Football Playoff, but this year it will be facing more experienced and savvy quarterbacks. "We gave up a lot of free access throws last year," head coach Brian Kelly said late this spring. "We did some great things struc- turally defensively which we're not chang- ing, but some things we're adding to take away some free access throws. "Press coverage is going to allow us to do that." Last year Notre Dame added first-year coach Terry Joseph to exclusively mentor the safeties, while 1989-90 consensus All-Amer- ican Irish cornerback Todd Lyght instructed the corners rather than the entire secondary. This teamwork helped Notre Dame finish No. 6 nationally in pass efficiency defense. "When I coached the whole secondary, with the NCAA 20-hour rule, we'd watch film and do 50 clips for both the corners and the safeties over a five-day period while getting ready for the game," Lyght recalled. "Now, we split that up. The safeties are get- ting 50 clips, and the corners are getting 50 clips. "Their learning is doubling just by watch- ing themselves play, seeing that repetition on the film and also being able to do a lot more technical work with the corners. "Being able to just address that, their fundamentals and the application of the technique, has really helped them im- prove, which has helped our overall group improve." Replacing the ball-hawking Love and shoring up the nickel position will be cru- cial elements in 2019 after highly recruited freshman Houston Griffith underwent grow- ing pains there last season. Junior Avery Davis and senior safety El- liott worked at nickel this spring, and fifth- year senior Shaun Crawford — who started there in 2017 before missing 2018 with a torn ACL — is expected to challenge for playing time. Rovers Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, a ju- nior, and Paul Moala, a former safety and a sophomore, also might not to be taken off the field in the nickel package. "We've left Paul and Jeremiah in some of those situations, too, and they've held up fine," defensive coordinator Clark Lea said. "When you have a little more athletic safety body at the rover position, that expands your playbook in base situations. "And then in third down, it could be Shaun, it could be Avery, it could be some combination with TaRiq Bracy. … We want to respond to whatever the opponent dictates for us." Yet still try to press the issue at the same time. ✦ PRESSING THE ISSUE Notre Dame attempts to improve upon its strong secondary performance last year Combining his 4.32 speed in the 40-yard dash — the fastest on the team — with his production, senior cornerback Troy Pride Jr. could vie for All-America honors. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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