2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 105 of 163

104 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW DEFENSIVE BACKS D uring the 23-3 run the past two years, safeties Jalen Elliott and Alohi Gilman — both team captains last season — made all 52 possible starts between them, while cornerback Troy Pride Jr. answered the bell on 25 of those 26 starts. Without them, no position group for the 2020 Fighting Irish finds itself in more flux than the defensive backfield. This includes two graduate transfers — Ohio State's Isaiah Pryor and North Carolina State's Nick Mc- Cloud — at safety and corner, respectively; six cornerbacks with four years of eligibility remaining; and even a first-year cornerbacks coach in Mike Mickens, the lone addition to the on-field staff. Oddly, strictly from an on-paper perspec- tive, safety might be considered even stron- ger in 2020 because the undrafted Elliott will be replaced by a potential future first- rounder in Kyle Hamilton. Meanwhile, the former two-star recruit Gilman's successors are former four-stars Houston Griffith and Pryor. Thus, third-year defensive coordinator Clark Lea does see the makings of "a special group" at safety. "We know a little less about this squad than we do about the one last year, but I've got a lot of confidence," he said. Cornerback is laden with less certainty, although the return of Shaun Crawford for a sixth year was a boost and junior TaRiq Bracy's progress remains encouraging. "He has the skill set to be a featured guy," Lea said of Bracy. "He's got to earn it, just like they all do." Sophomores Isaiah Rutherford, KJ Wal- lace and Cam Hart, who began his career at wide receiver last fall before switching in October, will vie for action. "These are great examples of guys who are going to need some time and need to continue to develop," Lea said. "Isaiah changed himself from last summer to this point, he can help you win games. KJ has a skill set, love his competitiveness, he's such a great short-space area [corner]. He can cre- ate a role for himself. "The thing about the corner position that allows for early assimilation is the fact that if you have the personality and skills to press and to play man, then you can play. Play man and know where your help is. If you have it, you have it — and some of those guys have it. Two years ago, Lea utilized more three- corner sets on the back end. Last year, it was more three safeties, which could be the case again this year, although not just because of extreme youth at cornerback. "[It's] more belief in the fact that we have guys who are going to step in at the safety position and enhance that depth and allow us the flexibility to play multiple safeties on the field," Lea said. "Part of that is also an adaptation to modern football. "You want to have enough skill in that room where you can line up against these teams that are going four wide and spreading the field out." ✦ MAJOR MAKEOVER The Irish secondary is in a state of transition As a sophomore last season, TaRiq Bracy led Notre Dame in passes broken up (seven) despite making only two starts. PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER SCHOLARSHIP PLAYERS (14) Listed after the class year is the years of eligi- bility remaining. Boundary Cornerback — Nick McCloud (6-1, 190), 5th-Sr./1 16 KJ Wallace (5-10, 185), So./4 9 Cam Hart (6-2½, 205), So./4 21 Caleb Offord (6-1, 184), Fr./4 Field Cornerback 28 TaRiq Bracy (5-10, 180), Jr./2 20 Shaun Crawford (5-9, 180), 6th-Sr./1 15 Isaiah Rutherford (6-0½, 189), So./4 11 Ramon Henderson (6-1, 182), Fr./4 — Clarence Lewis (6-0, 180), Fr./4 Stud Safety 3 Houston Griffith (6-0, 204), Jr./2 10 Isaiah Pryor (6-1½, 199), Sr./2 23 Litchfield Ajavon (6-0, 198), So./4 Free Safety 14 Kyle Hamilton (6-4, 216), So./3 12 DJ Brown (6-0, 194), Jr./3

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