Blue and Gold Illustrated

Sept. 19, 2016

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

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32 SEPT. 19, 2016 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED N otre Dame's young defensive backs are out of time. That's the message senior cornerback Cole Luke is preaching to the Irish freshmen after the team's latest setback in the secondary. "We've got to go now," Luke said. "We don't have time to wait around and get a year to get adjusted. We have to go; we have to move now." Yes, the matter is that urgent in a depleted secondary. Notre Dame sophomore corner- back Shaun Crawford (torn Achil- les) is the latest casualty among the group, joining a growing list of pro- jected impact players that the Irish have lost in the past two months. It began with junior cornerback Nick Watkins. After he broke his arm during spring practice, his recovery was slowed when he re-fractured it early in preseason practice. He un- derwent an "aggressive procedure," according to head coach Brian Kelly, but his return is not expected for a few more weeks. Then came the dismissal of senior safety Max Redfield following an Aug. 19 arrest. Redfield, while in- consistent throughout his career, had seemingly turned a corner before the personal setback. That same night, senior cornerback Devin Butler was also arrested. But- ler, who was possibly going to medi- cally redshirt with a broken foot, is currently indefinitely suspended from the team. Add in the loss of Crawford — a versatile defensive back with the ability to slide between cornerback and the difficult nickel position — and the Irish are now without four key projected figures in the secondary. All that's left among the veterans is Luke, junior strong safety Drue Tranquill and sixth-year senior safety Avery Sebastian. Tranquill has been plagued by in- juries the past two seasons, tearing ligaments in both of his knees. Se- bastian has had his own injury woes and is simply not the same player he used to be. Crawford was supposed to be a major part of last year's group until a torn ACL in August sidelined him. "If anybody can get through it, Shaun can," Luke said. "It's just super frustrating because he went through it last year and he has to go through it now again. He's a tough kid, so he's going to get through it. "Shaun's a great player. He's just a freak of nature. He's just one of those guys that just loves the game, and he comes out to work every single day. "Obviously he's hard to replace, but we try to harp that on the young guys. You never know when your last play's going to be, your last rep's going to be. You have to treat it like it's your last." The only option is for Notre Dame's young defensive backs to play larger roles. Freshman Devin Studstill is now the team's starting free safety, and freshman Jalen Elliott is his backup. Freshman Julian Love is the No. 1 nickel. Sophomore Nick Coleman, who struggled against Texas, is cur- rently the team's starting cornerback opposite Luke, and freshman Donte Vaughn is Coleman's backup. "These guys have to play," senior linebacker James Onwualu said. "There are injuries. The freshmen come in expecting to compete." According to Luke — Notre Dame's best and most consistent performer in the secondary — devel- opment must be accelerated, ready or not. "We don't have time to have your freshman year," Luke said. "We don't have time for you to have your ad- justment year and your sophomore year." Luke called it a "wake-up game" for Coleman, who was exposed re- peatedly at Austin. But with limited options due to the attrition, the Irish will need him to bounce back like he did against Nevada. "It's the next man up," Kelly said of the secondary. "I thought Nick did some really good things. Nick played with much better technique, a lot bet- ter confidence. He's got to be that kind of player for us with Shaun now lost for the season." By the nature of the position, the young players are expecting to have numerous growing pains. Minimiz- ing those errors is the key. "We still had a few minor mistakes in the secondary, but the young guys did a good job," Luke said of the Ne- vada game. "At our position it's dif- ficult because one mistake can lead to a touchdown. It was definitely better than Texas." The marching orders are clear, Luke said. Although a majority of Notre Dame's defensive backs are inexperienced, the Irish — who still have playoff aspirations — don't have time to wait for their secondary to mature. "We need this to be your senior year, and play like you're a senior," Luke said. "Age doesn't matter at this point at all to anybody." ✦ ON THE IRISH BEAT MATT JONES Matt Jones..... Blue & Gold Illustrated since July 2016. He can be reached at mjones@blueand- Notre Dame's Thin Secondary Takes Another Hit Sophomore Shaun Crawford, now out for the year with an Achilles tear, is the fourth defensive back the Irish have lost this season. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA

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