You don’t have to look too far back in Notre Dame football history to find a supremely talented and athletic safety whose career got off to a rough start before completely turning around. One just needs to look to Harrison Smith. As the Irish get ready to resume spring practice this week, Notre Dame fans are hoping Max Redfield is about to make a similar transition.
Harrison Smith came to Notre Dame in 2007 as a 4-star prospect with all the athletic ability in the world. After a redshirt season, he moved into the starting lineup in 2008 as a safety before moving to linebacker in 2009. After two seasons of making more infamous plays than impactful ones, most Notre Dame fans were ready to run him out of the starting lineup.
Two years later Harrison Smith heard his name called on the first night of the NFL Draft as a 1st round of the Minnesota Vikings – the first Notre Dame secondary player to be drafted in the first round since Jeff Burris in 1994.
With two years of eligibility remaining for Max Redfield, Notre Dame fans can only hope for a similar career turnaround from the one time 5-star recruit. Like Smith, Redfield didn’t make an immediate impact as a freshman. While Smith redshirted, Redfield played sparingly on defense and on special teams as a frosh before making his first career start in the Pinstripe Bowl against Rutgers.
In 2014 Redfield began the season in the starting lineup, but following Notre Dame’s defensive meltdown in the desert against Arizona State, Redfield found himself on the sidelines and playing behind an injured Austin Collinsworth and a 3-star freshman in Drue Tranquil.
Redfield returned to the starting lineup against LSU due to injuries and he ended up turning in the best performance of his career so far. “Max Redfield, obviously as you know he had a terrific bowl game,” Brian Kelly said when he kicked off spring football last month. “It all came together for him in that game where we saw the realization of athletic ability with football knowledge.”
Kelly and the Notre Dame coaching staff are hoping that Redfield continues to build on that momentum with hardly any depth behind Redfield and fellow defacto starter Elijah Shumate – another one time highly rated recruit who was demoted last year.
Like Harrison Smith, athletic ability has never been a problem for Max Redfield. The former Under Armour All-American mentioned during his high school senior year that he was thinking about playing wide receiver at Notre Dame. Last year though, Redfield looked lost at times as he tried to learn his second defensive system in two seasons at Notre Dame.
Playing in multiple defensive systems was a problem for Smith as well. In 2008 Corwin Brown was the defensive coordinator for the Irish before Charlie Weis handed those duties over to Jon Tenuta and his blitz happy attack. Weis’s grab bagging on defense not only ultimately cost him his job, it also nearly derailed the development of Smith before he found some stability with the arrival of Brian Kelly and Bob Diaco as his defensive coordinator over his last two seasons.
For Redfield, he went from Bob Diaco’s bend, not break attack to Brian Vangorder’s much more aggressive defensive system in his first two years. The results for Redfield were as mixed as the rest of the defense. He had his highs such as the Music City Bowl, but he also had his lows like his benching against Arizona State. With another year of Vangorder’s defense under his belt and some stability heading into his junior year, there is still a lot of reason to believe that Redfield can live up to that 5-star ranking.
Despite that continuity in defensive schemes, however, Redfield and the rest of the secondary do have a new defensive backs coach this year with Todd Lyght replacing Kerry Cooks. Early returns on Lyght, however, have indicated that the former All-American and National Championship winner at Notre Dame has been a great addition to the Notre Dame coaching staff.
Just last week Brian Kelly remarked on how much improvement he’s seen out of both his safeties that he benched in Tempe last fall. Kelly described where Redfield and Shumate were this spring by saying, “so much different than were they were at this time last year or anytime during the season.” He later remarked that the staff isn’t seeing the number of missed assignments that resulted in the duo’s benching.
If Notre Dame can get anywhere near the production from Redfield in 2015 that they got from Smith in 2010, the Irish defense will take some huge strides this fall. Remember, Smith entered his third season without a single career interception and ended the year with seven including the game clincher against USC. If Redfield can continue to build on his Music City Bowl performance and strong spring thus far, a turnaround could be in the cards for him – even if he doesn’t end the 2015 season with seven interceptions like Smith did five years ago.