Our series on potential breakout candidates for Notre Dame in 2014 continues today with a move to the defensive backfield as we profile sophomore safety Max Redfield.
Max Redfield came to Notre Dame amid a lot of hype as a consensus 5-star prospect with offers from many of the nation’s elite programs such as Ohio State, Oregon, USC, UCLA, and Oklahoma. Redfield originally committed to USC early in the recruiting process but kept Notre Dame in consideration before switching his commitment to Notre Dame at the Under Armor All American Bowl.
There were not many more sought after recruits in Notre Dame’s class a year ago than Redfield. In any other year though Redfield would have been the absolute headliner. Instead, he was one of four 5-star recruits to sign a letter of intent for the Irish in 2013 joining Greg Bryant, Jaylon Smith, and the since transferred Eddie Vanderdoes.
Prior to landing Redfield, Notre Dame had not signed a 5-star prospect at safety since Gerome Sapp all the way back in 1998.
Why Redfield Will Breakout
Heading into his freshman season, many pegged Redfield as a potential instant impact player for an Irish secondary that was looking for a replacement for Zeke Motta. Redfield did see the field from day one but primarily in a supporting and special teams role. As he heads into his sophomore campaign, a starting job is Redfield’s to lose.
After toiling around in a reserve role through 11 games, Redfield was thrust into the starting lineup against Stanford after the suspensions of Eliar Hardy and Elijah Shumate. Redfield stayed in the starting lineup for the Pinstripe Bowl and through Spring practice. By the time the whistle blew in the Blue-Gold Game, Redfield had his name pretty much etched into the starting line for the fall.
At this point, it will take an injury to keep Redfield from starting this fall and after his rapid ascent at the end of 2013 and throughout the spring, Redfield looks primed for a big sophomore campaign for the Irish. The only other safety who can even rival Redfield’s athleticism is Elijah Shumate – Redfield’s potential battery mate at safety. Shumate, however, has a fight on his hands with Austin Collinsworth to lock up that spot.
Why Redfield Might Not Breakout
While Redfield looks to have a stranglehold on a starting position heading into fall camp, there are some things outside of his control that could keep him from really having a breakout season – mainly the other question marks on the defensive side of the ball. Notre Dame should have an excellent secondary in 2014, but questions along the defensive line and in the linebacking corps could cloud just how good that secondary – Redfield included – really is.
If Notre Dame’s defensive line is not able to generate much of a pass rush, the secondary will be forced to hold their coverage too long. If the linebacking corps isn’t able to keep up in coverage, the safeties are going to be making a lot of their tackles down field. Now, both units have enough talent for neither of those things to become major problems, but they also have enough inexperience that both scenarios are also very possible.
The other wild card here for Redfield and the rest of the Irish defense are the normal bumps in the road that come with the installation of a new defense such as the one Brian VanGorder installed this spring after taking over for Bob Diaco. Redfield has a slow start to the spring as he learned his second defense in less than a year on campus, but by the end of spring ball things started to slow down. Still, Redfield has yet to play any live downs against real opponents in VanGorder’s new more aggressive defensive.
Notre Dame hasn’t had elite play from the safety position really since Harrison Smith graduated. Zeke Motta was really, really solid and it was pretty clear in 2013 that Notre Dame fans didn’t realize how good he was until he was gone, but he wasn’t the athlete that Smith was. Redfield has the opportunity to change that and become an impact player at safety for the Irish in 2014.
Redfield will still make a few mistakes in 2014 despite having a couple starts under his belt just like all young players make, but he is also going to make some athletic plays at the safety position that Notre Dame fans are not used to seeing be made. Look for Redfield to make a couple of game changing turnovers for the Irish defense in 2014 and to provide excellent support against the run. As with most of the defense, I worry about the new scheme and all of the new starters stepping in for some mainstays from the last few years who are now collecting NFL paychecks, but Redfield is a rare talent that Notre Dame just hasn’t had a lot of at his position in the last 10-20 years.