In the past month UHND’s “Now or Never” series has previewed the offensive side of the ball, from quarterback Malik Zaire, wide receivers Torii Hunter and Corey Holmes, tight end Durham Smythe and running back Tarean Folston. This week UHND moves to the defensive side of the ball to take a look at the up-and-down career of senior safety Max Redfield.
Max Redfield was one of the crown jewels of Notre Dame’s 2013 recruiting class. A 5-star prospect from Mission Viejo, Cal., with scholarship offers from the likes of LSU, Nebraska and Oregon, Redfield committed to the USC Trojans during the summer of 2012 but began to hedge after visiting South Bend for Notre Dame’s dramatic goal line stand victory over the Stanford Cardinal. The visit made a major impression.
“During the game and after the game it was pretty moving to see how into the game the crowd was and how dedicated they were to the team and cheering them,” Redfield told the South Bend Tribune’s Tyler James. “Through all the pouring rain they were still there for hours and hours. Throughout the game they had the same excitement.”
The official visit was enough to put the Irish over the top, and Redfield decommitted from the Trojans in October before officially joining the Notre Dame class the following January.
Reason for Optimism
Irish fans should be excited for Redfield’s 2016 campaign due to his athleticism and the fact he has already proven his ability to produce at a high level. Redfield’s athletic ability was praised coming out of high school to the point many scouts felt the talented 6-foot-3 recruit was a better prospect on offense than defense, although his coverage skills and ability to recognize plays were coveted by Notre Dame and led to his placement in the Irish secondary.
Redfield had his breakout performance against LSU in the Music City Bowl in 2014 where he displayed incredible range while recording 14 tackles. The California safety continued to show up in big games for Notre Dame in 2015, racking up double digit tackles against Clemson and Stanford.
The biggest reason for optimism, however, is his experience. Redfield has started 23 career games for the Irish and is the lone returning safety from Notre Dame’s original starting lineup in 2015.
Reason for Doubt
Max Redfield has experience and has performed well in several big games for Notre Dame throughout his career, but one of the biggest reasons for doubt is his inability to string together consistent performances. Redfield followed up his 14 tackle game against Clemson by not recording a single tackle against USC – although he did manage one interception – and only 3 tackles against the Temple Owls. His scattershot production is something head coach Brian Kelly has hammered home to Redfield time and again.
“What we have to have from Max is consistency from week-to-week,” Kelly told the media when discussing his huge game against Clemson. “We brought him in and talked about that. That’s the kind of football he’s capable of, and we need to see that kind of performance week-in and week-out.”
After slumping against USC and Temple, Redfield began a steady rise during the latter half of the 2015 season, increasing his tackles each week before culminating in a 10-tackle performance against Stanford. Just when it appeared the safety had turned the corner for good, however, another curveball was thrown when Redfield was suspended from the Fiesta Bowl due to a violation of unspecified team rules. His absence was harshly felt as the Ohio State Buckeyes unloaded 44 points on the Irish defense.
Another reason for doubt is the emergence of early enrollee true freshman Devin Studstill who has quickly earned praise from the coaching staff and ran with Notre Dame’s first-team defense often throughout the spring practice session.
Max Redfield’s 2016 Outlook
The senior safety has been hitting all the right notes in recent months, indicating he knows what will be expected of him to be the starter this fall.
“Harnessing those details on and off the field,” Redfield said to the media this spring when explaining what is expected of him. “Being conscious of basically everything you’re doing at all times to move forward and benefit your game on and off the field is something I need to be more conscious of, and make other people conscious of in order to be a leader on this team.”
The sentiments are there but, entering his senior season, it’s hard not to feel that we’ve heard this all before. While Redfield was hampered by an injury during the spring which allowed Studstill to receive more playing time, the reality is the coaching staff’s effusive praise of the young safety is far from a case of spring hyperbole, and it’s never a positive sign for an incumbent starter when a true freshman is able to seriously challenge a senior with 23 games of starting experience.
The starting job is still likely Redfield’s to lose, but Irish fans should expect to see Studstill often in 2016.
Scott Janssen is a blogger for The Huffington Post and has authored several nationally-featured articles, including an appearance on MSNBC as a sports contributor. He talks football 24 hours a day, much to the chagrin of his wife and those around him. Scott can be reached at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter.