Notre Dame Football Spring ’24 Position Breakdown: Cornerbacks

Injuries and transfers have shaken up Notre Dame's cornerback lineup. With key departures and newcomers, the team faces challenges as they aim for a top-tier defensive unit.

One of the least concerning areas for the Notre Dame Fighting Irish heading into the spring was the cornerback position. That’s because the projected starters in place for the upcoming season and the depth behind them figured to offer plenty of comfort and hope that this group can rank among the top units in the country. A shoulder injury to star corner Benjamin Morrison and a recent transfer of a key depth player, however, have called that depth into question – at least temporarily.


Even though there’s an abundance of talent that remains, the loss of Cam Hart in this department means that one of the remaining players has to step up on that front. Besides bringing athleticism and speed to his position, Hart also exuded the intangible of leadership, something that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet.

The only other pre-spring loss among last year’s squad was barely-used Ryan Barnes, who in three years played in just seven of Notre Dame’s 39 contests. Those appearances came during the tail end of blowout victories or on special teams. Last season, the only games in which he was on defense were the routs of Tennessee State and Wake Forest. Seeing little chance of breaking through the talented logjam ahead of him or making an impact at the nickel spot, he transferred to Massachusetts.

Last week, however, Clarence Lewis decided to enter the transfer portal. Lewis was expected to be one of the top candidates to play the nickel position this season. Lewis appeared in all 13 games last year and recorded a pick-6 against Tennessee State. Overall, Lewis appeared in 50 games, starting 23, over the last four years. Once a starter for the Irish, Lewis lost his starting job to Benjamin Morrison two years ago and has been primarily a depth player since.


One indication of how confident the Notre Dame coaching staff is about what they have when it comes to cornerbacks is that no transfers were picked up during the offseason. Conceivably, some players such as Arizona State transfer Jordan Clark or Northwestern transfer Rod Heard might be inserted here in a pinch, but both players should be locked into a battle for the nickel position.

A pair of true freshmen cornerbacks won’t be part of the spring practices and will very likely be redshirted unless they manage to dazzle the coaches and somehow outplay the current rotation of players. The duo of Karson Hobbs and Leonard Moore are skilled players who are quick studies but expecting much from this season is a stretch.

A Look Back and Ahead

Irish opponents only scored eight times through the air last season and allowed an average of 157 passing yards per game. That latter number was a 41-yard dip from the year before when Benjamin Morrison delivered a dazzling performance as a true freshman. Morrison had another solid year in 2023 with 31 tackles, 10 pass breakups, 3.5 stops behind the line and a trio of interceptions.

However, he did have a frustrating problem when it came to discipline, relating to getting flagged on multiple occasions. Fixing that issue shouldn’t be that difficult, while his slight dip in key stats last year was due in part to being overshadowed by Xavier Watts’ remarkable season. Off the field, Morrison’s selling skills have already paid dividends, thanks to his friendship with Clark.

Morrison is expected to return for the 2024 season though the University’s wording on the release announcing his surgery was vague at best. Best case scenario for Notre Dame, Morrison is available for fall camp and ready to go for the season opener. Should the Irish have to play any stretch without Morrison, however, things could get a little dicey.

Currently set to handle the other corner spot is either Jaden Mickey or sophomore Christian Gray, either of whom will have the challenge of filling Hart’s shoes.

During his first two campaigns. Mickey has come off the bench and largely competed during garbage time. Last year, he had at least one tackle in six of Notre Dame’s last eight contests and also delivered a pick-six in the pounding of Pittsburgh. That effort was in relief of the injured Morrison.

The fact that Mickey absorbed the mentoring that Hart provided and the emotional maturity he gained last season should help alleviate any concerns about his focus on the task ahead. Mickey played in last season’s Sun Bowl, despite having received news of his mother’s death earlier that morning. That type of inner strength should benefit him this season and beyond.

During that Pittsburgh rout, Hart’s injury also required reserve cornerback Christian Gray to take over, with Gray managing to also collect an interception. In that particular case, he delivered a one-handed grab and is set to battle Mickey for the starting spot. Gray has been pushing hard for a starting role opposite Mickey and might even have the upperhand right now heading into the Blue-Gold game.

Chance Tucker has experience but he’s likely to be more prominent on special teams, with an occasional appearance in blowouts. Corners for any team need pressure up front to help them and Notre Dame should be able to maintain an uncomfortable level of heat on opposing quarterbacks. Accomplishing that, coupled with the returning talent, should put the Irish at least in the conversation when it comes to the postseason.

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