Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 32 of 55 APRIL 2021 33 DEFENSIVE BACKS 2021 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW N otre Dame's single best player in 2021, junior safety Kyle Hamilton, headlines a secondary that otherwise remains under construction. With Hamilton likely out of commission this spring, it is an opportu- nity for other safeties — particularly se- niors Houston Griffith and DJ Brown — to assert themselves and grab a long-sought starting job. Ranked as the top recruit (No. 43 nation- ally by Rivals) in Notre Dame's 2018 class, Griffith has been auditioned in various roles the past three years and is being counted on to have the type of late breakout campaign that wideout Javon McKinley — another former top-60 recruit — achieved last year after seldom playing his first four seasons. Cornerback remains the single top ques- tion mark on the team. North Carolina State graduate transfer Nick McCloud helped fill the void with a quality season in 2020, but more help is needed for soph- omore Clarence Lewis and senior TaRiq Bracy, who lost his starting job to Lewis. There are eight corners on the roster with four years of eligibility, including early en- rollees Philip Riley and Ryan Barnes. Riley, who originally committed to USC, is the lone four- star cornerback recruit on the team. With his size and physicality, though, he could project at safety and maybe even rover. Barnes did not have a senior season of football in Maryland because of the pandemic. BY THE NUMBERS 1 Interception recorded by Notre Dame corner- backs (Nick McCloud) in 2020 after snaring only two in 2019. The overall secondary totaled only three last year. 7 Passes broken up by Clarence Lewis, the most by a Notre Dame freshman cornerback since freshman eligibility began in 1972. Safeties Luther Bradley (1973), Bobby Taylor (1992) and Kyle Hamilton (2019) had 11, nine and seven, respectively. 63 Tackles by Hamilton last season, one more than Butkus Award winner Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. It was the first time in the 11-year Brian Kelly era that someone other than a linebacker paced the team in total stops, and that was despite missing about two games worth of action. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH The boundary corner position will have a fourth different starter in four years, succeeding Nick McCloud (2020) and fourth-round picks Troy Pride Jr. (2019) and consensus All-American Julian Love (2018 and 2017). Sophomore Clarence Lewis and se- nior TaRiq Bracy are on the field side, but if they are deemed the two best corners on the roster, then maybe one can switch to the short side of the field, where the matchup gener- ally is against the larger, more physical receivers. This spring should be an opportunity for junior Cam Hart to seize the bound- ary spot. The former wideout took 88 snaps at corner last season. WHO'S GONE S Shaun Crawford After six years in the program, three lost to injury, the lionhearted nickel/corner turned 12-game starter at strong safety in 2020 has moved on. He was tied for third on the team with 57 stops and intercepted one pass in his final season. CB Nick McCloud The graduate transfer from North Carolina State be- came a vital 2020 stopgap figure as 12-game starter at boundary corner before becoming Hula Bowl MVP. He posted 33 stops and a team-best nine passes defended in his lone season with the Irish. WHO'S BACK Senior CB TaRiq Bracy After leading the team in passes broken up (seven) in 2019, he was supplanted by Clarence Lewis in the second half of 2020, but he will be counted on in 2021 due to his experience. Senior S DJ Brown and Senior S Houston Griffith As 2020 reserves in sub-packages, Brown recorded 242 snaps and Griffith 215, with both excelling when Kyle Hamilton was ejected in the second quarter at North Carolina for targeting. Griffith temporarily en- tered the transfer portal in January before getting convinced by the staff to return. Junior S Kyle Hamilton He was tabbed as an All-American by various outlets as a 2020 sophomore. The premier talent will mostly rehab this spring from a minor procedure on his ankle, per The Athletic's Pete Sampson. Junior CB Cam Hart The rangy 6-2½, 207-pounder — a former wide re- ceiver — played just 88 snaps in 2020, but will have an opportunity to break into the lineup this fall. Sophomore CB Clarence Lewis The relatively unheralded recruit became one of the top 2020 surprises while taking over as starting field corner as freshman, tying for fifth in tackles (33) and finishing second to McCloud in passes defended (seven). CORNERBACKS COACH Mike Mickens — Second Year An All-American cornerback at the University of Cincinnati in 2007-08 with Brian Kelly as head coach, he flourished at his alma mater as the corners coach under coordinator Marcus Freeman, who he is now reunited with at Notre Dame. SAFETIES COACH Chris O'Leary — First Year A graduate assistant at Notre Dame since 2018, he was pro- moted to the position this Febru- ary after Terry Joseph left to take a similar job at the University of Texas. His previous stints were at Division II Florida Tech (2017) and as a graduate assistant at Georgia State (2015-16). PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS KYLE HAMILTON

Articles in this issue

Links on this page

Archives of this issue

view archives of Blue and Gold Illustrated - April 2021