Resetting The Notre Dame Secondary Following The Ashton White Departure

Yesterday, junior safety Ashton White declared he was leaving the Notre Dame football team, while still enrolled with the University, to concentrate and his degree before transferring to another program to complete his eligibility. News like this is usually met with well wishes to the player, and an analysis of what it means to the program going forward. There was some confusion as to whether he was a corner or a safety in the Twittersphere, so I figured since we were all talking about it, lets just do an overview of the secondary in general.

Impact Of White On The 2017 Team

Barring the unforeseen and the unfortunate, White was not likely to make an impact on the 2017, which probably figured into his decision to leave. For clarity, the reporters on the Notre Dame beat referred to White as a safety, and looking at the depth chart at both spots, it shows White had quite a hill to climb.

Junior Nick Coleman and sophomore Jalen Elliott ran with the first team at safety in the Notre Dame spring game. Freshman Isaiah Robertson and sophomore Devin Studstill ran with the second team. White was a third teamer along with junior Nicco Fertitta. He was running with the third team after a position switch, behind several players who were recruited to play the position.  Notre Dame also has sophomore DJ Morgan who Rivals rated a 4-star prospect out of high school.

In addition to his third team status, three of the players ahead of him on the depth chart are younger than he is, making his climb up the depth chart all the more difficult. That doesn’t include incoming transfer Alohi Gilman, who has three seasons of eligibility remaining, incoming freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath, or current 2018 commit Derrik Allen who is a top 100 prospect and is making one handed interceptions on the summer camp circuit.

From White’s perspective, getting his degree then moving on to a school with a quicker route to the field makes a lot of sense.

Overall At Safety

As highlighted above, this is a group that is both high in numbers and uncertainty. Coleman has never played the position, sophomores Studstill and Elliott played as freshman, but that was out of necessity, Morgan was the only frosh DB to redshirt last fall, and Robertson and Genmark-Heath are true freshmen this year. The player who I’d feel most comfortable with out there against Temple on September 2nd is Gilman, who started for Navy last season (insert poaching a starter from Navy joke here). Things could be better. (Note: while Gilman has requested a waiver for immediate eligibility following his transfer, no ruling has been made yet)

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Fortunately, the savior of the defense, Mike Elko, specializes in working with safeties. But, seriously, this is good news. Can you imagine a worse situation for young safeties like Elliott and Studstill to be in than the one they endured last season? They never worked on tackling, they only did walk through, and it took running Joe Schmidt out there every week to keep the thing from falling apart. Not great.

There is tremendous youth at safety and also tremendous potential. As noted above, if that youth makes the strides we all hope, that’s not good news for White and his playing time?

Corner Depth Is Still An Issue

Corner is basically the opposite of safety. Five guys we know can play, but it’s only five guys. And one of them has had major surgery two seasons in a row.

In a perfect world, Notre Dame starts Nick Watkins and Julian Love at corner while Shaun Crawford is a utility guy while he gets his football legs under him again. Crawford might be Notre Dame’s best corner on paper, but we can’t just pretend his injuries didn’t happen. And we also can’t assume he’s going to be the guy who I loved coming out of high school. So that’s a wait and see.

We saw both Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride on the field last season, with the former showing better than the latter overall. Again, both have good potential, and neither would give me a heart attack should they be counted on, although a lineup of Vaughn, Pride, Coleman, and Elliott would be lacking in playmaking, experience, and dependability and I’d just as soon not see it while the game was still in doubt.

Overall depth at corner is a place where White theoretically could have helped out, because he played that position his first two years at Notre Dame. But, I suspect that if Elko needed that body, he’d move Nick Coleman back there before White. And after that we’d be talking about five injuries to a position, which, not impossible given what we’ve seen at Notre Dame injury wise, but unlikely.

Overall

The move of White doesn’t change much functionally, but it did bring the conversation back to the secondary and how things are a little more unsettled than we’d all like.

Things I’ll be watching for as fall camp kicks off are:

  • Does Shaun Crawford have the same explosiveness he had pre-achilles tear?
  • Is Isaiah Robertson a real option for meaningful playing time at safety?
  • Is Alohi Gilman eligible?
  • Do the coaches experiment with Julian Love at safety?
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