Notre Dame will enter the 2013 season deeper in the secondary than at any point in recent memory. The defensive backfield is also the deepest position grouping for the Irish this season.
This, of course, is barring one or two injuries in fall camp (which we saw in 2012). The Irish are sitting at 4 deep across the defensive back depth chart, and have 8 returning players that have logged significant playing time in their careers.
|Bennett Jackson SR||Mathias Farley JR|
|Lo Wood SR||Nick Baratti SO|
|KeiVarae Russell SO||Austin Collinsworth SR|
|Jalen Brown JR||Elijah Shumate SO|
|Josh Atkinson JR||Chris Badger SO|
|Cole Luke FR||Eilar Hardy JR|
|Rashad Kinlaw FR||John Turner SO|
|Devin Butler FR||Max Redfield FR|
Let the battle begin.
One of the better conversations this offseason has been about this Irish secondary. The Irish defensive backfield completely played above expectations last year, and return 3 of the 4 starters from that unit in Jackson, Russell, and Farley. So, the talk should center around the "one" safety spot left by the departure of Zeke Motta- right?
No, not really. There is still some debate about all of this.
While it should be a given that both Russell & Jackson are the top two corners on the team, I still keep hearing Lo Wood's name brought up as a possible challenger for Russell's starting job. No offense to Mr. Wood, but if this happens it will only be because of another Greek tragedy during fall camp. Russell earned that spot last year, and shows much more ability to do the job AND now has 13 games of starting experience under his belt.
At safety, much of the same things that are said about Russell can be applied to Mathias Farley. Farley has earned the right to be the presumed starter right now, but there is some very good talent sitting right next to him.
While some may view the depth chart battle for that open safety spot as a 3 man race between Baratti, Shumate, and Redfield, it may be more of a 4 man race for both spots. It certainly isn't a bad thing to have good talent fighting for their jobs, but it can be a little frustrating for everyone involved.
In my opinion, the best possible combo could be the starting 4 of Russell, Jackson, Shumate, & Redfield with Farley coming in at safety in the Nickel as Shumate drops down as the NB. If a Dime package is used, either Wood or Baratti would fall into place.
That, of course, is just my opinion and most likely isn't what we will see out of Notre Dame's defense in the beginning of 2013. We must remember that in a Bob Diaco defense, the strength lays more into the scheme and to fulfilling assignments rather than pure athletic talent. And that's absolutely OK.
Most likely, we will see Jackson, Russell, Baratti, and Farley in the beginning of the season with Shumate or Wood coming in to play the Nickel and/or Dime. How long that lasts will remain to be seen.
At any rate, it's pretty tough to predict anything right now without the benefit of Fall Camp. Regardless of the lineup, it's safe to say that the Irish are sitting pretty from a pure talent standpoint with 16 scholarship players in the defensive backfield. The upgrade is massive compared to what we had seen in the not so distant past and should wipe away some of the humiliation that this position group had as one of the laughing stocks of college football (whether they were that bad or not, the stigma was horrible).
This group will benefit from their friends Nix, Tuitt, and Shembo up front, as they should apply much needed pressure on the opposing quarterback. Whatever the combo ends up being, the defense could actually be better than the dominant unit it was in 2012 because of the play in the secondary.
It'd tickle the shit out of me to see our defensive unit end up on par with last year's, let alone actually be better, but I just don't see it. Don't get me wrong, I hope I'm wrong and our boys are dominant. I just don't see it.
I can understand your doubt about the possibility of this defense being better than the 2012 one that was so dominant. Still, the defense returns a ton of starters and role players back and the scheme is so "scheme" oriented that losses like Te'o, Motta, and Kap are softened. The front 7 will be vicious against the run and provide that pressure needed to continue to help our improving secondary.
Call me a little optimistic, but I think it's very doable this year. And if not... they won't miss by much.