Blue and Gold Illustrated

Preseason 2016

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

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32 PRESEASON 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY MATT JONES N otre Dame defensive backs coach Todd Lyght's position group is young but talented. Now it's all a matter of that potential translating to the field. "How will they react under the bright lights and on the big stage — that's another thing," Lyght said at Notre Dame's media day Aug. 17. "But these are big-time high school players that came to Notre Dame to play in big-time situations, and I think they'll be ready." The Irish signed seven defensive backs in the 2016 recruiting class, a group that includes a quartet of four-star prospects and a trio of three-stars. With Notre Dame replac- ing 2015 starters Elijah Shumate at strong safety and KeiVarae Russell at cornerback, plus third corner Devin Butler (who is out with a broken foot and also suspended from the team), the young defensive backs are ex- pected to challenge for major action. Through the first two weeks of camp, the mental aspects took a toll on the freshmen, defensive coordi- nator Brian VanGorder said. That's especially the case for the safeties, a rookie class that includes Jalen El- liott, D.J. Morgan, Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill, with the latter two early entrants who went through 15 spring practices. "For our middle linebackers and safeties, our system is difficult," Van- Gorder said. "I've found the same thing in pro ball when I had rook- ies — it's a lot of football for those guys. I'd say they're pretty typical of young players that have been thrown in there right away. "They're working on the mental toughness part to continue to grow like they need to. That freshman group is really talented." Lyght said once Notre Dame opens the season, its offense will have pre- pared the secondary well. "Practicing and training against our offense is tremendous. We do so many things offensively in regard to scheme, so they're going to see a ton," Lyght said. "When they get in a game against other opponents, they'll be well prepared." Studstill, a 6-0, 198-pound three- star prospect, was limited during the first weeks of preseason practice with a hamstring injury. "Devin is behind the eight ball a little bit, but he's the type of player that can catch on really quickly be- cause he's a fast learner," said Lyght, a two-time Notre Dame All-Amer- ican (1989-90) who played for the Rams and Lions in the NFL. "He's one of those guys that'll have a lot of production. He's just a ball hawk and makes a lot of plays. Those are the type of guys that you're looking for." With the dismissal of senior Max Redfield, Studstill is likely to see plenty of action when the Irish open the season at Texas Sept. 4. Elliott, a four-star prospect and a former two-way star at quarterback and safety at Richmond (Va.) L.C. Bird High School, has also impressed Lyght early on. "There's a lot on Jalen's plate as far as what he has to learn, but he's im- proving every day," Lyght said. "He comes in to watch film. He's very aggressive with his learning, and he wants to take it all in." At cornerback, Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr. and Donte Vaughn appear to have proved to the coaches they are worthy of action as rookies. Vaughn is the most physically imposing of the group, standing 6-2 and 200 pounds with long arms. Lyght com- plimented the four star 's flexibility and one-on-one ball skills that could translate to the field this season. "Three years from now, Donte Vaughn is going to be an elite player," Lyght said. "He's the type that can make plays at the end of the route due to his length. He can really give offenses problems. We really like his ability to match up on key guys and take them out of the game. He'll be one of those shutdown corners when it's all said and done. "If he just comes along and im- proves in the mental and physical toughness area, he'll be a guy that we can rely on, especially down in the red zone where the fade ball comes into play. "With a greater understanding of what we're doing defensively and improved technique, he'll be a pro- ductive player for us this year for sure." MEDIA DAY MUSINGS Notre Dame's assistant coaches discuss their position groups Todd Lyght leads a Notre Dame defensive backfield that features seven rookies in 2016. PHOTO BY ANDREW IVINS

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