An Expanded Defensive Role for Torii Hunter?

Torii Hunter - Notre Dame CB/WR
Photo: Derik Hamilton-USA TODAY Sports

When Notre Dame had to play the first half against Pitt without starting safety Max Redfield, Notre Dame shuffled nickel back Matthias Farley to safety and gave wide receiver Torii Hunter most of the snaps at nickel in his absence.  With Redfield being sent home on Tuesday from the Fiesta Bowl, will the junior wide receiver see an expanded defensive role once again?

Hunter had been cross training at nickel throughout the season although it wasn’t reported at the time.  When the Irish lost Redfield against Pitt because of that awful targeting call the week before, we saw Hunter’s debut on defense over corners like Nick Watkins and Nick Coleman who hadn’t trained at the nickel.  With Watkins filling in for the injured Devin Butler who was filling in for the injured Keivarae Russell, Notre Dame’s only options at the nickel appear to be Coleman and Hunter.

Hunter drew a lot of praise in the summer for his work on offense and started to make his mark in the Irish passing attack, but at this point still isn’t a vital cog.  He caught 24 passes for 311 yards and two touchdowns this season.  Solid numbers, but only good enough to be the fourth most productive wide receiver for the Irish behind Will Fuller, Chris Brown, and Amir Carlisle.  All three of those wide receivers are available for the Irish on Friday so it would only make sense if we saw #16 on the field trying to contain the Buckeyes passing attack more than we see him trying to haul in passes from Deshone Kizer.

When Hunter played the nickel spot against Pitt he wasn’t completely held off the field on offense.  Against the Panthers Hunter hauled in one of his two receiving touchdowns on the season so even if we see Hunter line up more on defense against Ohio State, it’s likely we would still see him on offense as well unless the staff is ready to five freshman CJ Sanders some snaps at the slot position behind Amir Carlisle.

How and where Hunter plays in the Fiesta Bowl could end up determining the role he has permanently in 2016.  Notre Dame will be losing Farley and potentially Russell from the secondary.  If Hunter plays the nickel spot and plays well, would Notre Dame consider keeping him on defense?  Notre Dame will have projected 2105 starting nickel back Shaun Crawford back in 2016, but if the Irish were to lose multiple members of the secondary and Hunter excels on defense, perhaps we see him stay there moving forward.

At the same time, Notre Dame could be replacing all three starting wide receivers in 2016 if Will Fuller decides to leave for the NFL following the Fiesta Bowl.  Fuller has reportedly received his NFL evaluation but hasn’t revealed what it said just yet.  He will meet with Brian Kelly after the bowl game to discuss his future.  Should that happen, Hunter most likely would stay on the offensive side of the ball regardless of how well he plays on defense.

The 2016 season, however is a long ways away at this point.  How Hunter can help the Irish upset Ohio State in the wake of losing half of its starting secondary this week is the more pressing issue.  Brian Kelly knows what’s on the line for the Irish in this game – even with it not being a playoff game – and will likely do whatever it takes to come out with a W.  Playing Hunter on the defensive side of the ball more than he has in his career could be one of those things.


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  1. Shove that sunshine back where it came from, bb.
    Another team suspension, Tillery! Chewing gum at the team meeting? Or was he one who was also late for the team meeting who Redfield referenced in his instagram post when he said he wasn’t the only one late for the team meeting- revealing BK targeting Max, so he had no choice?
    Couldn’t have been too criminal, as he was out with the team during warmups this morning.
    After following ND for fifty years, it’s more about when and which student-athlete will be overreacted to than if. Discipline and following rules are necessary. But after being in education for nearly forty years, I learned letting the punishment fit the crime is more important-and sorely absent too often at ND.
    “While their loyal sons going marching onward to suspension!”
    Another injury to a leading tackler, Sheldon Day.
    Here’s betting DLC Gilmore wishes he had actually used more than 6 DL this season.
    Tough game to learn w/ little or no in-game experience against tOSU. Maybe it’ll work out and “next-man-in” again proves the staff had the wrong guy on the bench (Kizer) or not playing the right position (C.J.) all along.
    Wonder if BVG is suspended for blowing the Stanford game w/less than 30 seconds to go by calling his prevent-your-team from winning D’ ? Not important- he wasn’t late for any team meetings.

    More bitterness, Alley O’?

  2. Admittedly, I’m struggling to push sunshine out of my ass on this one…But, maybe it’s a good thing. Our safety play has been poor in coverage, and the issue with interior coverage against TE’s and slot recievers wasn’t going to get any better. Cajuste, predictably, gashed ND horribly – and he’s no Braxton Miller. So, in the glow of my own plume, let’s suppose that Torii Hunter is the guy on the team with sufficient athleticism to play man coverage in nickel, and possibly SS in 3rd and long situations. Otherwise, it’s going to have to be Devin Butler moved over…or, it’ll be a heyday for Miller atop the scrambling yardage of Barrett.

  3. Not withstanding Michael’s comments, it (the reason) has to be something more than being late for meetings …twice. What HC would send home his best tackling back, just before going up against the 2015 Heisman winner, for being late? You’ll be missed, but not buying it Max. What’s the rest of the story?

  4. Great post, MTA. I don’t know what the hells wrong with all these people who get so much pleasure out of ND players being suspended.

  5. Two more DBs out (Devin Butler to injury and now Redfield) for the OSU game, prompting the need for Hunter to expand his role for at least this game.
    re: Max Redfield:
    “Rules are implemented for a reason and not following them is unacceptable, which I completely understand,” Redfield said in a post on Instagram. “Although I was not alone in my 2 incidents of being punctual, I SOLELY take responsibility for my actions. I will continue to grow and learn from this as well as continue to contemplate how to become the absolute best version of me while giving everything I have to make it happen daily. My heart goes out to everyone who is effected or has to hear about this incident to whatever extent. The focus and dedication needed to be great is being better comprehended by me everyday and this situation only helps the realization of exactly what it takes to be the best…what hurts the most is not being able to be with my teammates and not getting to lay everything on the line with some of the people I love the most. I am profoundly sorry.”

    In his statement, note: “Although I was not alone in my 2 incidents of being punctual”, he accepts responsibility for his actions. That subordinate clause may come back to bite him, as it might further fuel the repeated unhappiness from the fan-base and, more importantly, the coaching staff towards Redfield, a target of blame thrown under the bus publicly as much as any player these past two seasons post Golson.

    I’m ready for the onslaught of posters who praise ND for being so tough on their athletes. And how “two strikes and you’re out” makes ND so special. When I attended ND, students who were late for class twice weren’t sent home, but they weren’t scholarship athletes there. Letting the punishment fit the crime is an historic recurring lost reality regarding their athletes. I’m not as impressed as other ND fans are about their prideful tough image toward student-athletes, treating them more like they’re fresh out of prison and on parole than college student-athletes. Winning programs: not-so-much!! Case-in-point: Dabo Swinney at Clemson for the upcoming playoff game, whose three suspended players were finally dealt with, but only after being repeat offenders for far more than being late. Or Urban Meyer, with his history at Florida, and then his generous tolerance for his star RB Eliot. This might be considered a big game for ND fans, but Urban obviously sees it as bigger, and refuses to put his team at a disadvantage by disciplining Eliot in any way, shape, or form, regardless of Meyer and his staff being called out by Eliot after the MSU loss, then his latest event.
    In memory of the ‘frozen five fiasco’ and now this, let”s all sing-a-long:

    “Although the odds be great or small,
    old Notre Dame will obstruct winning them all,
    while their loyal sons go marching onward to suspension.”

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