Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 10, 2022*

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

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8 SEPT. 10, 2022 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY PATRICK ENGEL A two-letter word littered the section for each secondary position on Notre Dame's initial 2022 depth chart. The word that keeps mystery on a list de- signed to offer some clarity. An "or" sat to the left of two names at each cornerback and safety position, designating two players as possible starters. It conveys more ambiguity than there really is around Notre Dame's secondary — not all four of these were tightly con- tested preseason battles or will be true 50/50 timeshares — but it also rein- forces the idea the Irish will frequently rotate players at those spots. That was head coach Marcus Freeman's plan not only in the opener against No. 2 Ohio State, but likely beyond. One "or" on the Week 1 depth chart was hardly a surprise and a hint of a possible tag-team more than a strict starter-backup situation. Graduate stu- dents DJ Brown and Houston Griffith had been battling for one safety spot all preseason in a competition that ap- peared to stretch into the final week of camp. "You look at DJ and Houston at the safety spot last year, it could have been 'or,'" Freeman said. "I don't know if we had them listed as 'or,' but both of them played probably the same amount." Griffith played 524 snaps to Brown's 432 last year, a much more even dis- tribution than Griffith's 12 starts to Brown's one would indicate. Griffith often left the field in nickel packages but played on run downs. Even if one had been named the starter or is given that label later, the other will still likely be involved in a notable way. The "or" at the other safety spot lines up with position coach Chris O'Leary's belief that Notre Dame has four start- ing-caliber safeties, but not with the apparent reality that nobody else has performed at senior Brandon Jo- seph's level since his January trans- fer from Northwestern. Yet he was listed as a co-starter with junior Ramon Henderson. "If we could start four guys, they'd all start," O ' L ea r y s a i d . " B u t we'll put the best two out there and every- body is playing a role." Joseph's ball skills, t ra c k i n g a b i l i ty a n d man coverage skills are unique among safeties in col- lege football, not just at Notre Dame. The Irish took him hoping he could be a high-end playmaker and fill the void safety Kyle Hamilton left there. So far, he has looked the part. He showcased his range and ball skills with a recent interception he made in an open pre- season 11-on-11 practice. All told, it's hard to imagine a world where he's not one of the team's best two safeties, and therein leaving Hen- derson with something less than a co- starter role. That's not to say Henderson has no place — especially against the up- tempo, explosive passing offenses on Notre Dame's schedule like Ohio State, North Carolina and USC that will burn out any secondary that lacks depth and trusted rotation pieces who can spell starters. Oklahoma State did exactly FREQUENT SHUFFLING Notre Dame thinks its improved back-end depth will help it rotate more in the secondary all season "We've been working on vertical depth, which is natural — ones, twos, threes. But the other part of it is just trying to make sure guys are playing with different guys all the time so that we don't just get locked in." NOTRE DAME DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR AL GOLDEN UNDER THE DOME

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