When it comes to the cornerback position for Notre Dame in 2019, there is one thing we know: Troy Pride is going to start at one of the spots. It may be at boundary, it may be to the field, it may be that he moves around. Wherever he is, he’ll be out there.
Beyond that, it seems to be choose your adventure time.
A lot of this is Julian Love’s fault. He could have come back for his senior season, he and Pride could have been the best corner tandem in the country, and this isn’t even a talking point. Instead he decided to “get paid to be an NFL football player.” So selfish.
Seriously though, the loss of Love early has only exacerbated the problem of striking out at corner in 2017, which led to a relative lack of depth behind Notre Dame’s junior corners from last season. The myriad injuries to Shaun Crawford have also contributed to the struggles, although had those injuries not occurred there is a good chance he’d have moved on as well.
Linebacker is generally seen as the biggest question mark on the defense, with at least two positions completely up in the air, but the second corner is just as uncertain.
Pride On The Boundary?
Where exactly Troy Pride is going to play has been one of the biggest low key mysteries for the team this offseason. During winter drills, Pride was going to play the boundary. When spring practice kicked off, Pride was to the field and Houston Griffith was on the boundary. During the spring game, Pride took every snap on the boundary with Griffith to the field. Now, according to Brian Kelly, Pride and Griffith will be playing the boundary.
There is wisdom to Pride playing either spot, so it isn’t ultimately that important as it pertains to Pride and playing him at his best spot. Generally, the best receiver lines up to the short side, and Pride is Notre Dame’s best corner, so naturally the Irish will want that matchup whenever possible. But, the field gives Pride more space to work with and has less run responsibilities, not currently a strength to his game.
But, where Pride lines up has big ramifications for who is sharing the field with him.
Bracy In The Driver’s Seat?
If it is the case that Pride will play to the short side this fall, one would think TaRiq Bracy will be in the driver’s seat to start at the field spot next season. He’s already played meaningful snaps there, the coaches have been high on him from the start, and he has reportedly had a nice offseason in the weight room.
He’s also aided by the fact that the nearest challengers to his path to the field don’t play his position. Houston Griffith and Donte Vaughn, two other players with real game experience, are slotted to backup Pride on the boundary at this point. That leaves Shaun Crawford, who the coaches very likely want to save for the nickel spot, and freshman Isaiah Rutherford, and you’d have to think Bracy has a leg up on him.
What To Make Of Shaun Crawford
Crawford is a huge wild card at this point. We’ve seen him come back from serious injury before, once from a torn ACL and then a torn Achilles, to play at a high level, but a second torn ACL obviously has people skeptical as to how well he can perform with a surgically repaired lower body.
As mentioned above, Notre Dame really wants him at nickel, it seems he’s the only one capable of playing the position they’ve had on the roster since 2015. Every time he leaves the lineup the nickel defense is either a dumpster fire or they just scrap it all together. Obviously, in the day of the modern offenses, this has been a problem.
Reports on Crawford have been scarce, so this is something to track when fall camp opens. It’ll be apparent early whether or not he’s a viable player for Notre Dame this season. It’s either happening or it isn’t. Hopefully for the sake of the player, it’s happening. Seeing someone lose years from their athletic prime stinks and Crawford has done so much to give what he can to the team. Heck of a talent too.
Griffith Sticking At Corner Or Moving To Safety?
From the moment he signed, most recruiting analysts had Griffith eventually moving to safety, a position he seemed perfect to play. A few practices last spring as an early enrollee, he made that move and immediately looked good. Then Crawford got hurt last fall, and they moved him to nickel, which did not go well for him. Never looked comfortable, never played with freedom or confidence.
With Julian Love’s departure, the coaches moved Griffith to the boundary, a move that made sense because of his size and willingness to tackle. Now that Pride is back to the boundary, what does that mean for Griffith and his future?
The natural move seems to be moving him back to safety. It may be his most natural position, accentuates his strengths, and if he has to be a backup this year, do it at the spot that is most natural to him to allow him to grow as a player. Of course, Troy Pride will also be off the roster after this season and corner is not a deep position. Is it more valuable to groom Griffith to take over at corner for his junior and senior seasons while learning behind Pride? Again, this is something to track throughout fall camp. Wherever he ultimately ends up, it will likely take most of camp to decide on his final destination. The coaches will want to see how Bracy looks at the field, how Derrik Allen and DJ Brown look at safety and ultimately where Griffith fits. He would seem to be too talented to simply be a backup.
So many questions just to figure out who the second corner will be.