Now that spring ball is over and we've witnessed an early glimpse of the 2014 Fighting Irish Football team it's time to assess the roster heading into the summer.
Are we better or worse? First up is the secondary.
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2013 Secondary (prediction from 4/30/13)
Making predictions at the positional unit level is a cruel game. Some of these predictions aren't going to be very fun to re-visit. Here's what I had to say about last year's secondary as it was shaping up after the spring:
Wood and Collinsworth return from injury to fill out the two-deep behind a trio of starters---one of which just finished a freshman All-American season and could be the best corner at Notre Dame in a decade. Losing Motta and his 77 tackles (to say nothing of his leadership) hurts but a pair of young safeties in Shumate and Baratti likely offer more playmaking ability and a higher ceiling athletically.
In addition to undervaluing Zeke Motta's strong senior season we didn't have much else go right last year. The freshman All-American (Russell) got off to a slow start, Bennett Jackson took a significant step backwards, Elijah Shumate took a smaller step backwards, Matthias Farley and Austin Collinsworth struggled mightily at times, while Lo Wood was a complete non-factor coming back from injury and Nicky Baratti missed the season with an injury.
The best we could say is that Russell eventually rounded into form and both Cole Luke and Devin Butler did some nice things as true freshmen. Besides that, the depth we were lauding wasn't there, the defensive line causing havoc and helping the secondary didn't happen, and the highly touted 5-star recruit Max Redfield made virtually zero impact.
Losing a 2-year starter like Bennett Jackson hurts the experience factor as does the fact that a true sophomore without a ton of playing time is predicted to be his replacement. However, with the incoming transfer of 5th-year transfer Cody Riggs from Florida the Irish now return 6 players in the secondary with starting experience and 3 others who have seen the field with some regularity.
The depth took a little bit of a hit with the loss of Rashad Kinlaw from the team but you'd be hard pressed to find as many bodies with varying degrees of experience at Notre Dame under the 85 scholarship rules. Maybe the 2010 squad was a little better in terms of the depth at the top but this 2014 roster might have more options beyond the projected starters.
The addition of Cody Riggs and the defensive scheme installed by Brian VanGorder will surely improve a unit that could have been a little more versatile last year but simply was not under former DC Bob Diaco.
Where I'll throw some water on the increased rankings is at the talent level, and subsequently my expected productivity ranking. I've said before that Russell is a very good corner but I don't think he's earned SDC (Shut-Down Corner) status quite yet. His career trajectory looks immensely promising, but you need to be garnering All-American status (1st-team, most likely) for me to throw out a SDC label.
Where I'm more concerned is developing Cole Luke (he's talented but still a youngin' with much to prove), figuring out what we're supposed to get out of Farley, and most importantly figuring out the pieces at safety.
It's really the situation at safety that has me most concerned and I can't in good faith increase my projection from last year. Even though my projection from last year was far too high and this 2014 secondary could end up being better they still have much to prove at the back end of the defense.