Julian Love: Much More than Notre Dame’s Safety Net

Heading into the 2016 opener, true freshman defensive back Julian Love was a third team corner looking to make his mark on special teams. His role was not a surprise, he was a three star corner from Illinois with Shaun Crawford, Cole Luke, and Nick Coleman all ahead of him on the depth chart. His time would come later.

In the coming weeks, everything changed.

Crawford was lost in the first series against Nevada to a season ending Achilles injury, and Coleman struggle mightily against Texas. Enter Love, who saw his first extended action against Nevada and was a mainstay on the Irish defense for the rest of the season.

He finished 8th on the team with 45 tackles playing corner, and one game of safety against Army. He recorded an interception, recovered a fumble against Stanford, and broke up three passes. It’s safe to say he acquitted himself quite well to major college football.

Heading into the 2017 season, Love has not only solidified himself into the lineup, but looks to be one of Notre Dame’s most important players, cross training between corner and safety. Let’s take a look at Love’s qualifications for such a role, and what it means for the Notre Dame defense.

Julian Love As Mr. Versatility

Writing for UHND I followed the 2016 recruiting cycle very closely and I gravitated toward Love immediately. I saw him as part of the “baller club”, i.e. guys who you can tell just know how to play the game. I view Shaun Crawford the same way, and anyone who has followed me knows Crawford is one of my favorites as well. In high school, Love played all over the place. He was a running back, a slot receiver, a corner, a safety, and at times lined up in a linebacker position. Wherever he played, he played with instincts, as if he was playing the position he was meant to play all along.

I wrote this about Love in my Hidden Gems article on signing day 2016:

[quote_regular name=”” icon_quote=”no”]He also has something else in common with Crawford when comparing the two players: Julian Love is a baller. When watching his film, it’s hard to tell what his best position at Notre Dame might be, as he was incredibly dynamic out of the slot and in the backfield on offense. On defense he played all over the field; free safetyslot corner and even right over the center as a hybrid type middle linebacker. He also returned kicks for the back to back state champions in Illinois, and there are unconfirmed reports he was also responsible for the halftime orange wedges. He was clearly the team’s alpha dog, he was the leader both vocally and by example, which is a trait that is often overlooked, but extremely important. The best player on back to back state champions carries with himself a ton of confidence and the expectation of excellence, which is the type of attitude Notre Dame needs on its football team.[/quote_regular]

My view still holds up today.

The 2017 Defense

Love might just be the best corner on the Notre Dame defense. He also could be the teams best safety. So where should he play? Brian Kelly answered that question last weekend: he’ll play both places. They like him to stay at corner on standard downs, while moving him over to safety on third down.

That would likely mean Love replacing one of the strong safeties, Devin Studstill or Jalen Elliott, in the lineup with either Donte Vaughn or Shaun Crawford coming in for Love. You could make the case in that scenario all three players would enter, with Crawford replacing Tranquill at the Rover position and playing his nickel role.

It remains to be seen whether Love would move to safety permanently, but such a move would make sense given the dynamics of the roster.

Notre Dame has more good corners than good safeties and they can afford to lose a corner to the safety position and bring in someone like Crawford or Vaughn to replace Love with a smaller drop off, if any, than you’d have at safety.

My suspicion a permanent Love move is not in the plans at the moment because there just aren’t the numbers at corner to make such a move palatable. If Love moves over to safety, that pushes either Crawford or Vaughn into a full time role, and just two corners on the bench to be used in case of injury. And in a nickel defense of Love, Vaughn, Watkins, and Crawford, poor Troy Pride will be over there all by his lonesome.

The idea that the majority of Notre Dame’s corner group will be on the field in every nickel situation is a little frightening. But, the fact remains that Love at safety plus two corners gives Notre Dame its best lineup on defense and if we see struggles in the back end, how long can Mike Elko be ok with keeping his best 11 players off the field?


It’s a testament to Love’s ability that he’s able to add this type of flexibility and provide solutions to problems for this coaching staff. He was far from the most heralded prospect in his recruiting class, he was their 14th ranked player, but he is proving to be one of the most valuable. A big part of the success of the Notre Dame defense, and the team as a whole, rests on his shoulders and all indications are he will be up to the task.

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  1. I’m not sure of your reasoning on the Love to safety thing. If there is an injury to a corner this year there are still three other corners to choose from. It’s not like they moved Love off the team or something. Just rotate him back to corner and put in Elliott at safety. Personally, I would like to see a Crawford/Watkins, Coleman/Love backfield start against Temple this year. I think it would be a truly dynamic combo and could finally provide some much needed turn overs.

  2. Notre Dame has everything in place to return to the top 15 or top 10, EXCEPT a coach. Elite teams require a celebrity coach (HOF Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders, Barry Sanders) to attract 5-STARS Supermen. Unfortunately, Notre Dame’s coach Kelly is hated by ALL 5-STARS studs. They abhor his vitriol directed exclusively towards a specific segment of the American population. College champions require collective SPEED. Notre Dame is collectively slow due to its slow bench. The starters are never relieved, because Notre Dame has NO bench. All of the top 10 teams have 5 STARS studs and collective team SPEED to relieve the starters in the 4th quarter. Will Kelly get fired at mid-season when Notre Dame is 2-4 and heading towards 5-7 for the year? America wish to see Notre Dame return to the Lou Holtz Era and not fall apart as a Kelly hollow log. Only a HOF coach (Bruce Smith, Lawrence Taylor, Deion Sanders) can attract 5-STARS studs back to Notre Dame. Kelly is poison to 5-STARS studs whom won’t go near Jim Crow Kelly.

  3. Greg , good take on the D-back field. Julian Love is a member of that recruiting class–of Elliot , Vaughn , Studstill , Pride—thrown to the wolves last season — these kids got their feet wet and learned on the job —sure they made mistakes — and are on board for 2017 to kick some ass as sophmores. Crawford and Watkins are back and can only add to the strength of D- back field whether at corner or safety. Shoot , Crawford might only play back up — depending on how these young up/coming whipper snappers perform.

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