Mickens, Freeman Continue Notre Dame Secondary Recruiting Overhaul

Former Notre Dame football cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght did a fine job coaching the Fighting Irish defensive backs during his time at Notre Dame, but it is no secret that his shortcomings as a recruiter left Notre Dame in an undesirable situation filling out its depth chart over the last few seasons.  Mike Mickens, in his second season on the job, and Marcus Freeman, just months onto the job, however, have completely turned things around and, after the recent commitment from Benjamin Morrison, are nearly finished completely overhauling the Notre Dame secondary with impressive recruiting. 

Over the last two cycles (2021 and the current 2022 commitments), Notre Dame has a combined eleven commitments/signees in the defensive secondary alone. It’s a talented, and maybe more importantly, a versatile group that will give Freeman and Mickens the kind of options Notre Dame football has not had in recent years when they’ve had to do things like that a natural nickel in Shaun Crawford and move him to safety almost exclusively out of need.  

Of the eleven Notre Dame has signed/committed, only two could really be classified as “pure safeties”, while only four could probably be classified as “pure corners.”  The other five?  They could play multiple positions – both offensively and defensively – which gives Mickens and Freeman a lot of options when trying to fill out the future depth chart.  

The “Safeties” 

  • Khari Gee – Notre Dame pulled off a late flip of Ghee who is one of the two safeties between the two classes though there is some thought that he could grow into a ROVER eventually.  He’ll start at S though and could be in the mix this fall already.
  • Justin Walters – The early enrollee had an impressive spring and looked good enough in the Blue & Gold Game to think that he too could be in the mix for a spot in the two deep this fall already. 

The Corners

  • Philip Riley – When he signed, he was the highest-rated CB Notre Dame landed in years, but has since been passed by Mickey.  
  • Benjamin Morrison – Notre Dame’s most recent corner commit might just have the highest ceiling of all the defensive backs in the last two classes.  
  • Jaden Mickey – Class of ‘22 commit was the first defensive back in the class and is the highest-rated corner Notre Dame’s signed the last few years.  
  • Ramon Henderson – Late signee last year had a good spring this year and will be in the mix for playing time this fall.

The Swing Guys

Some of these players were recruited for a specific situation, but of the eleven defensive backs, they have the most versatility and ability to play multiple positions. 

  • JoJo Johnson – Late addition to the class of 2021 who played multiple positions in high school, including wide receiver.  Was recruited as a corner, but has the versatility to move around.  
  • Chance Tucker – Also recruited as a corner but has the size to play safety as well. He will start as corner.
  • Ryan Barnes – Another corner signee who has size and athleticism to play either safety or corner. 
  • Devin Moore – The ‘22 commit has the length Notre Dame wants at corner, but range to play safety.  
  • Jayden Bellamy – Plays safety for Bergen Catholic, but some think corner might actually be his best position.  

Between the 2019 and 2020 classes, Notre Dame signed a total of eight recruits for the secondary, four of which were considered composite 4-star players, and one of them, Isaiah Rutherford, has already transferred.  Of the remaining seven, three are now working at safety – Kyle Hamilton, Ajavon Litchfield, and KJ Wallace.  That leaves four corners from two classes – Caleb Offord, Clarence Lewis, Ramon Henderson, and Cam Hart. Of that group, none were considered composite 4-stars.     

Notre Dame needed to do a few things in order to rebuild the secondary depth chart with these last two classes, and they’ve done just that.  They added numbers, talent, and versatility that will give them more options for filling out future depth charts than they’ve had in the past.  

The theme of the Notre Dame secondary the last few years has been more “making the best of a bad situation” than putting everyone in the best position.  Shaun Crawford probably should have been the nickel last year because it’s his best position, but he shifted to safety out of need.  Avery Davis should have never needed to temporarily move to corner a few springs ago just to fill out a depth chart.  Cam Hart was originally recruited as a receiver but is pretty much a lock to be in the two-deep at corner this year.  Luckily for Notre Dame, Hart looked good at corner in the spring, but banking on moves like that is not a good long-term plan.  

With all of the talent Notre Dame has added or will be adding with the class of 2022, the Notre Dame defensive staff should be able to let them all get on campus, compete, and see where they all best fit the Fighting Irish defense.  

And they might not be done adding talent just yet.  Notre Dame is locked in a tough battle for top-50 safety Xavier Nwankpa.  Should the Irish beat the Buckeyes for Nwankpa, they’d have even more options with the talent they’ve accumulated because Nwankpa is definitely a safety – and a high-end one at that.  Landing Nwankpa means it’ll be even less likely Notre Dame would find itself in a similar depth chart position like they’ve been in in recent years. 

Acquiring talent is still just one end of the equation, the staff now needs to put these talented players in a position to succeed and see them produce on the field.  They’ve done about as good of a job as anyone could have hoped for in rebuilding the secondary on the Notre Dame football recruiting trail so far though.  

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  1. Ramon Henderson . . . safety? corner? transfer portal next year?
    I remember reading about how his long stride was an indicator of his deceptive speed and coverage ability.
    He came with a lot of hype potential . . . has he not lived up to it or has he not been given the chance ?

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