One of the more low key developments following Notre Dame’s win over Bowling Green this weekend was Brian Kelly telling the media that sophomore Houston Griffith moved to safety and freshman wide receiver Cam Hart moved to cornerback. The moves, though minor on the surface, make a lot of sense for Notre Dame both presently and even more so in the future.
Houston Griffith came to Notre Dame as a top-100 prospect as a corner, but many felt safety was the position where he could make a more significant impact. When he reported to campus as an early enrollee in early 2018, Griffith got some work at safety before ultimately moving to nickel when Shaun Crawford suffered a torn ACL in the final days of fall camp 2018.
The move to nickel didn’t work out well for Griffith or Notre Dame. He ended the season out of the starting lineup and started spring as the leading candidate to replace Julian Love as the boundary corner. That move didn’t work out that well either, and through the first four games of the season, Griffith was a non-factor.
With Notre Dame’s cornerback depth chart solidified ahead of him, playing time wasn’t coming for him this fall. The move to safety, however, opens up an excellent opportunity for Griffith to potentially get snaps as the backup strong safety and long term it positions Griffith to move into the starting lineup in 2020 assuming Alohi Gilman leaves for the NFL, as expected, since the move sounds like it could be permanent.
“I would be careful about anything permanent, but right now our focus is working him inside,” Kelly said on Monday. When asked if he still viewed Griffith a contingency at corner, though, he added. “We would rather not. We need him at safety and playing inside for us. We would not be doing him a service if we are moving him outside.”
Notre Dame will most likely be replacing 3/4 of its secondary next season, but if they replace Gilman and Jalen Elliott with Griffith and Kyle Hamilton, they will at least not be losing any athleticism at safety.
Cam Hart Faced a Loaded Depth Chart at Wide Receiver
Notre Dame’s recent failures recruiting corners, which have carried over to the 2020 class, has left Notre Dame in need of corners moving forward. Cam Hart, a lanky wide receiver, was one of a few internal candidates who could provide some help.
“Balance, agility, change of direction,” were the traits that Kelly mentioned on Monday when asked about what makes him capable of playing corner. “The ability for somebody long to transition from backpedal. Because that’s the biggest thing, how you can flip your hips and then break out of your backpedal on the football,” he added.
“Then there has to be a natural kind of easy movement, if you will, in doing so,” Kelly said. “There was a lot of ease to that movement, those transitions. Terry and Todd and Clark and myself all felt like this was going to be an easy transition for him.”
Aside from having the profile for playing corner, Hart may have been open to the position move because of a loaded depth chart ahead of him – a depth chart that will receive an influx of talent in 2020 with Jordan Johnson, Xavier Watts, and Jay Brunelle part of Notre Dame’s recruiting class.
“In this instance, we were suggesting to Cam it may be in his best interest to play corner,” Kelly said. “If he balked totally and said, That’s not for me, that’s not what I want to do, that doesn’t sound right to me, we would have maybe had a subsequent conversation to lay out to him why we thought.”
Hart agreed with Kelly and staff when approached. “Today I think it’s really about trying to have a genuine conversation with your players about why you think it’s in their best interest, and then they have to commit to it. So in this instance, Cam was committed to making that switch.”
Notre Dame has had success moving wide receivers to defensive back in the Brian Kelly era. Bennett Jackson immediately comes to mind because he too, was a lanky wide receiver with some more explosive receivers ahead of him. Keivarae Russell is another prep receiver who moved to corner and had a very successful career in the Irish secondary.
With Notre Dame trying to strategically redshirt Donte Vaughn this year, the Irish could use some more depth at corner to round out the depth chart – especially in games where they are just looking for some reserves to finish out games like last weekend’s.
Long term, the holes in Notre Dame’s recruiting classes at corner in recent years, offers Hart a more direct route to future playing time as well. If Hart’s transition is anywhere close to as successful as Jackson’s or Russell’s, perhaps those recruiting misses won’t end up hurting Notre Dame in the future as much as some think they ultimately will.