When Notre Dame signed seven defensive backs in February it was expected that some of them would be needed to play right away for the Irish this fall. Brian Kelly confirmed that the frosh members of the Irish secondary will indeed be called upon early in their careers.
When asked which freshmen would play early on Friday, Kelly didn’t take long to single out his defensive backs. “I think your eyes have to look towards the corners and the safeties,” Kelly said. “In particular, that group, we have got some players there, that are going to play this year as true freshmen and impact our football team positively.”
With limited depth in the secondary – especially at safety – and the sheer number of bodies the Irish brought in this year Kelly’s comments shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone. Notre Dame signed seven recruits who have the ability to play defensive back and two of them – Spencer Perry and Devin Studstill – enrolled early and have already gone through spring practice.
2016 Notre Dame Freshmen Defensive Backs
|18||Pride Jr., Troy||CB||5-11||180|
While Studstill and Perry have a head start on their classmates, Kelly only mentioned one frosh defensive back by name and it wasn’t either of his early enrollees.
“Donte Vaughn, 6-2 corner,” said Kelly. “And he is not a safety playing corner. He is a corner playing corner. Here is a long, athletic guy that maybe he complements Shaun Crawford, you know, at different times, at different places on the field.”
Vaughn had been erroneously listed as a safety on the official 2016 roster handed out to the media, but Kelly made no mistake that Vaughn was a corner for the Irish.
Notre Dame has just three healthy corners on the roster with game experience currently – Cole Luke, Nick Watkins, and Nick Coleman. Devin Butler will be out for at least a couple months and could end up redshirting this season. Ashton White redshirted as a freshman. Shaun Crawford looks like he’ll start opposite Luke but he missed his entire freshman season. That will love opportunity for not just Vaughn, but his classmates as well.
The official roster also lists Troy Pride Jr and Julian Love as corners and according to Kelly, the staff is comfortable with them all. “Obviously some of the freshmen we’ve been impressed with; there isn’t a (freshman) corner that we don’t like; that we don’t believe right now as we speak can’t play for us,” Kelly said.
It sounds like they all will have the opportunity to earn some immediate playing time. “And you’ve got some interesting opportunities there.”
While not mentioned specifically by Kelly on Friday, keep an eye on Troy Pride, Jr throughout fall camp. Pride was a late riser in the class of 2016 moving into 247Sports final Top 100. When all is said and done, Pride could very well end up being the best corner among the current freshmen.
Corner isn’t the only position where the freshmen defensive backs will be called upon though. Jalen Elliot. DJ Morgan, and Spencer Perry are listed as safeties. Kelly didn’t single out any of his safeties, but it would be hard to imagine any scenario where at least one, if not more, play this fall.
Studstill received some first team reps in the spring and whether or not that was done just to light a fire under Redfield, he’ll still very likely be called upon early in his career. Given the injury history of Drue Tranquill and Avery Sebastian, Notre Dame will need at least one of Perry, Elliot, and Morgan ready to play as well.
Playing true freshmen in the secondary could sound like a scary proposition, but remember, back in 2012 Notre Dame was forced into playing a true freshman corner who had just converted over from wide receiver named Keivarae Russell. That ended up working out alright for the Irish.
If Notre Dame is able to get any production from any of the freshmen defensive backs that comes close to matching what they got from Russell four years ago, the secondary should be in pretty good shape.