Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2016

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

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there. With Crawford — and senior cornerback Cole Luke — taking reps at nickel this spring, Notre Dame hopes the position will be an area of strength for the recently maligned defense this fall. Once Crawford suffered the injury last year, Notre Dame essentially abandoned the nickel position. "You've got to play linebacker, you have to know safety and you have to know corner," Crawford said of the position's responsi- bilities. "You have to know it all. … When I got injured I spent a lot of time trying to learn the defense, trying to learn what every position does on the field. "It was just a lot easier for me knowing what my health is and com- ing back from the injury." Crawford's combination of athleti- cism and football knowledge allowed him to quickly master the jack-of-all- trades position. "He's so smart. Just a smart, smart, smart football player," head coach Brian Kelly said of Crawford. "He gets it. … We just want to be careful with his volume. We don't want to give him too much coming back. "We like his ability to play man. He's a very instinctive player. I think you have to have a real good sense of the field. Corners play out by the numbers, and they've got a friend with them called the sideline. The guy that plays inside has got to un- derstand the field a lot better, has got to have an instinct to play inside. "And he has a natural instinct of playing inside. A guy that can play inside is a little bit more unique in the sense that he's got to have really good speed because he's got to cover guys coming across the field, going vertical, and he possesses that speed and instinct." Even if Crawford earns the start- ing cornerback role opposite of Luke, Notre Dame would feel comfortable shifting him inside on third down. " A b s o l u t e l y, " Kelly said. "There's no problem with us moving our start- ing corner inside depending on what the circumstances are. If he gives us that kind of versa- tility — as you know we did it with KeiVarae Russell — we felt like that gave us a better look. We're very comfortable being able to do that if he's the starter." Defensive backs coach Todd Lyght also praised the attributes Crawford brings to the position. "Shaun is a real football guy," he said. "He loves the game, he studies the game, and he works at it really hard. He was going to start for us last year at the nickel position, but had the knee injury. "He did a great job in the offsea- son of working to get back and has been doing really, really well. We're really happy with his progress." So is Crawford, who credits the in- jury for helping him to grow in some ways while being unable to compete last fall. ✦ "IT WAS JUST A FREAK ACCIDENT, BUT IT ALLOWED ME TO GET STRONGER AND BIGGER AND SMARTER FOR THIS COMING SEASON." CRAWFORD ON LAST YEAR'S SEASON-ENDING KNEE INJURY

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