Welcome to Part 5 of this series.
Better or Worse: Wide Receivers & Tight End
Better or Worse: Offensive Line
*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).
2014 Secondary (Prediction from 4-18-14)
Things were looking up heading into last year. Here's what I had to say last April:
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 only major loss going into last year was 2-year starter Bennett Jackson at corner so there would be plenty of bodies, returning starts, and players with on-field experience coming back. Then, things did not go according to plan.
First, the suspension of corner KeiVarae Russell cost the Washington state native the entire season. Safety Austin Collinsworth tried to play with one arm and was limited to just 2 starts. Nicky Baratti injured his shoulder and never made a tackle in 2014. Drue Tranquill was thrust into the starting lineup in game 9 and then went out with a torn ACL in the 11th game. Plus, the depth never stepped up to the plate as John Turner moved to linebacker where he had a minimal impact, with the likes of Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, and Eilar Hardy gave the defense very little help.
Thank goodness for the transfer of Cody Riggs who was able to notch 11 starts and help out a lot in the secondary.
There's very good depth and experience in the secondary with Cal transfer Avery Sebastian adding 31 games and 6 career starts to the group. However, both corner and safety lack starting quality backup options. Is that a huge deal? For most teams it's really not, and someone can certainly step up and prove they are worthy of being a starter from the backup ranks.
Yet, this looks to be the defenses, and perhaps the entire team's, biggest weakness right now.
Obviously, corner is in a much stronger position with the return of Russell to form one of the top duos in the country along with Cole Luke. I don't think anyone expects either Nick Watkins or Devin Butler to be in the same zip code as soon-to-be NFL ready corners even if they provide sufficient quality depth.
Safety has a lot to prove frankly and was the reason why I lowered the expected talent and productivity heading into 2015. The skeptic in me thinks we might be facing the prospects that Shumate and Redfield just aren't that good.
Shumate has played 35 games and been okay at times since moving to strong safety in 2013 but I feel like it'd be stretching things to say he's been better than that. Redfield has 25 games and 12 starts in his career and has not been able to play consistently at a high enough level in addition to carrying a small highlight reel coming into his junior year. What worries me more is that we haven't seen 5-star athleticism and play-making ability from Redfield.
Not exactly a ringing endorsement at the back end I know, but I do believe there needs to be improvement from the starters in order to get to consistently good. Stay healthy and improve--two necessary goals at safety this year.
The shuffling of the depth at safety and nickel corner should be interesting with hopefully a surprise or two. The team desperately needs a third safety to prove they can be the starter in 2016 with a strong 2015 and the staff has to like what they saw out of Farley last year with the ability to use Watkins and/or the perfectly built top freshman Shaun Crawford at nickel, as well.
Bottom line, the secondary has some nice pieces but not a whole lot of room for error. The recruiting has been okay and the productivity outside of the top two corners not great. If the team remains inside the Top 15 by the end of the season they'll have answered a lot of questions in a very positive manner.