It’s going to be a bittersweet season for the UHND blog. In all likelihood, the final Kyle Hamilton installment at safety for the Irish. We’ve been writing about him since the spring of 2018, and he’s one of those players that instantly lived up to the hype, even when it came to his performances in practice. There is an excellent chance he is selected to be a captain in 2021, Brian Kelly talked about his leadership increasing even last season, and he’s going to be a pre-season first team All-American.
We can save the rest of the Hamilton talk for later in this piece, and Kyle is one of two, maybe even three safeties that will be on the field at once for Notre Dame, so there is non-Kyle ground to cover as well.
Notre Dame Safeties Leaving
- Shaun Crawford– 123 tackles, 12 passes broken up, five interceptions, seven tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, one forced fumble for the ages
Shaun Crawford played in 36 games for Notre Dame, essentially three full seasons in six years due to major injuries, and say what you want about his liabilities, but he had a ton of production, which kept him on the field. The key to him fulfilling his potential was his speed, which he displayed in high school, and that was never the same following two torn ACLs and a torn Achilles throughout his career. It’s amazing he was able to play at the level he was given what his body went through, and he will be a tough loss to the roster in general and the safety position. He could play either corner spot, in the slot, and in the back. He was always the solution, but never quite the preference. His nickel roles in 2017 and 2019 were best for him, full-time safety was probably a bit much, but as he does, he made the most of it.
Notre Dame Safeties Returning
- Kyle Hamilton (2)- 104 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, five interceptions, 12 passes broken up, one touchdown
- Houston Griffith (2)– 33 tackles, one tackle for loss, three passes broken up
- DJ Brown (2)- 15 tackles, two passes broken up
- KJ Wallace (3)- four tackles, one tackle for loss
- Litchfield Ajavon (3)- special team appearances
The headliner is obviously Hamilton, who really needs to be an all-timer for the university in 2021. He has everything you want; size, speed, playmaking, experience, football IQ. He led the team in tackles despite playing in 9 1/2 games due to an injured ankle suffered at the start of the second half of the first game (that Brian Kelly said bothered him the rest of the season) and a targeting penalty. A talent like Hamilton doesn’t pop up very often and it is incumbent on new defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman to figure out how to best utilize his skills. He’ll be a pre-season All-American, he needs to be a post-season one as well. (They could help this cause by putting him on offense as well, but that’s another issue for another day.)
Houston Griffith famously entered his name into the portal and then pulled himself out to stay at Notre Dame, to most people’s delight. We love to root for highly ranked guys, even if it seems they aren’t panning out. Griffith’s career was negatively affected by the trials and tribulations of Shaun Crawford, specifically in 2018, when Griffith moved to nickel after Crawford tore his ACL in fall camp. Griffith had been playing safety, but moved into Crawford’s spot, which wasn’t natural for him, and struggled. Then he moved back to corner post-Julian Love in 2019, only to be moved again to safety, but with Jalen Elliott, Alohi Gilman, and Kyle Hamilton ahead of him.
Injury and COVID slowed him in fall camp 2020, and things never quite took off for Griffith with Crawford and Hamilton mainstays in the lineup. Can Marcus Freeman revive Griffith’s career? Can he thrive next to Kyle in 2021? Hopefully, a smooth 2021 spring can show he can.
DJ Brown brings some experience, less pedigree, and an overall steady if unspectacular player. So far he’s shown to be capable of being in the lineup, the question remains how high of a gear he has as a player.
Litchfield Ajavon is on a “might forge a role as a special teams player” track, and KJ Wallace could stay at safety or move to corner or nickel.
Incoming Notre Dame Safeties
- Khari Gee– three star, #393 overall
- Justin Walters- three star, #569 overall
Gee gets a lot more hype than Walters at the moment because a.) he joined the class literally on early signing day and b.) he was first committed to LSU. The two safeties are similar in rank, but there is more excitement towards Gee. There is also the fact that he’s a Georgia player and Notre Dame plus Georgia at safety has been a splendid combination recently.
The thing about these two is because of the uncertainty after Hamilton, there is a spot for the taking opposite of him. It’s probably unlikely because neither Gee or Walters is seen as a Hamilton-type talent, but stranger things have happened, and there is a possibility that either of these two could be the first off the bench in a rotation. Physically they are both impressive enough to where if the mental aspect is good enough, their bodies should be ready to compete.
This feels like it’ll come down to whether or not Griffith hits as far as how good this safety unit is. You want a guy Freeman has confidence in next to Kyle because if they don’t, Hamilton has to play clean up, a la Jaylon in 2015, and everyone complains about his use that season and it would be a travesty if Kyle spent the majority of 2021 cleaning up for his running mate next to him. Griffith is where the upside is and he’ll be the one to watch this spring and into the fall.