Our yearly Now or Never series continues today with one of the more intriguing players on the 2017 roster – former cornerback turned safety Nick Coleman. The junior has played plenty over his first two seasons, but a position switch has his status a bit up in the air.
Coleman is the second player we have profiled in this series this year. Last week we took a look at one of the most enigmatic players on the Notre Dame roster – Jerry Tillery.
Will Coleman turn his career around at a new position or will he end up falling back down on the depth this fall as he learns a new position? Let’s dive in.
Nick Coleman didn’t have the kind of offer list out of high school that would make anyone think he was a can’t miss prospect. In fact, he had the kind of offer list that would make a lot of Notre Dame fans bemoan that Brian Kelly wasn’t recruiting at Cincinnati anymore.
On top of offers from Notre Dame, Coleman held offers from Michigan State, Duke, Pitt, and Miami… of Ohio. Michigan State was the only other offer that stands out. What was encouraging for Notre Dame, however, was that the Notre Dame staff made Coleman a priority pretty early on in the recruiting process. Coleman committed to Notre Dame in June of his senior season shortly after being offered.
Reason for Doubt
The last time we saw Nick Coleman in extended action, we primarily saw the back of his jersey against both Texas and Michigan State. Coleman was near the top of the depth chart at the start of the season, but didn’t stay there long. Once the Brian Vangorder experiment was finally put out of its misery following the loss to Duke, Coleman’s time in the lineup went to freshmen Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride Jr. The then sophomore was not heard from much for the rest of the season.
When Mike Elko was hired as Notre Dame’s new defensive coordinator, Nick Coleman moved to safety – a position that he hasn’t played since high school. Even in high school though, Coleman played safety sparingly.
On the surface, having a safety with corner skills sounds appealing, but at the same time, Coleman was weighing in at just 200 lbs. That’s not ideal size for a safety. As a corner – especially one in Notre Dame’s previous defense – tackling has not been at the top of Coleman’s top traits. That skill is kind of important at the safety. With a new position that he is a bit undersized for, there is plenty of reason to doubt that this experiment will pan out. In fact, it’s fair to wonder if Coleman would even have been moved to safety had Notre Dame not had such a glaring lack of depth at the position.
Reason for Optimism
Despite the deck being somewhat stacked against him, Coleman took his position switch in stride and thrived this spring. Devin Studstill started 9 games as a freshman at free safety for Notre Dame in 2016, but it didn’t take long for Coleman to unseat Studstill atop the spring depth chart. Coleman had some staying power in the spring too. When Notre Dame concluded spring practice, Coleman was still top dog at free safety.
Before Coleman’s rough start to the 2016 season, Coleman had a strong fall camp and earned his spot in the lineup. Once he lost his confidence following this rough games it was tough to get it back mid-season. Even before a strong camp as a sophomore, Coleman impressed in limited action as a freshman. Against Pitt in 2015, Coleman saw some extended time due to injuries higher up on the depth chart and he held his own.
With a new defensive coordinator and a new position, the 2017 season is a completely fresh start. If there was any chance for Coleman to rebound from last season, it’s the exact scenario in which he now finds himself. Coleman’s new defensive coordinator is also coaching the Notre Dame safeties so he will be getting some up close and personal coaching from the man who know best exactly what he wants from the safeties in this new defensive.
Nick Coleman’s 2017 Outlook
At the end of the spring Cole and sophomore Jalen Elliot were the top two safeties in the Notre Dame defense when Drue Tranquill was the top ROVER. Tranquill is still officially listed as the starter at strong safety though. Coleman was so good this spring that Studstill even saw some time at strong safety but Elliot appeared to be the leader there at the end of spring practice.
Coleman’s 2017 outlook is tough to predict because of how fluid the safety situation is. How much will Tranquill play ROVER vs. strong safety? Will Studstill mount a challenge to Coleman at free safety or Elliot at strong safety? Brian Kelly even hinted that Julian Love could see some time at safety this fall. So there are a lot of variations in play here.
While Coleman spent a lot of the spring as the top safety, this all still has the feel of a classic Brian Kelly move of motivating Devin Studstill heading into the fall. We’ve seen this happen many times before. One player either ends the spring or starts the fall camp at the top to motivate another player. Remember when Andrew Trumbetti was listed as the “starter” the summer of his freshman year? By the fall though, he was a situational player.
Notre Dame’s safety position feels destined for a committee. Expect to see Nick Coleman getting plenty of reps this fall. Will he get the lion’s share of them? Unless he absolutely crushes fall camp – which is possible – I still expect to see Coleman rotate in with Studstill at the least.
If Coleman isn’t able to lock down a starting position this fall, he could be relegated to being a depth player with the most highly rated safety to come to Notre Dame in a while – Derrik Allen – waiting in the wings in the class of 2018.