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15 Storylines for the 2015 Football Season: Max Redfield, All-American?

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Is Redfield the most likely breakout candidate for the Irish defense in 2015?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

"After waiting his turn, Notre Dame's Max Redfield breaking out as a star"

That headline isn't from the future - although it would be a welcome one to see this fall. It's from last October, before Notre Dame traveled to Tallahassee, and before Redfield was eventually benched in favor of true freshman Drue Tranquill and Austin Collinsworth's patched together limbs.

At the time it seemed like Redfield and the Irish defense had found a new identify under Brian Van Gorder, with disguised blitzes confusing offensive lines and a surprisingly solid secondary despite the suspension of KeiVarae Russell ....oh how things changed.

Over the next few weeks the Notre Dame defense turned into the walking wounded, and Redfield found a spot on the bench for the final two regular season games. The sophomore did end 2014 with some momentum, however, making 14 tackles in the Music City Bowl win over LSU.

So what do we make of Max Redfield going into 2015? The physical tools are all there, and Phil Steele named him a 1st team Preseason All-American, ahead of some proven all-conference safeties. Check out that link and you'll find that although there are three Irish players on that list, there aren't many other surprising names included, so Steele is either secretly Max Redfield's personal hype man or believes everything will click in his second year in BVG's defense.

The track record for five-star safeties is actually fairly consistent - while there have been a few position changes, below are the composite five-star safeties from 2008-2013:

Player

HS Year

School

Results

Will Hill

2008

Florida

All-SEC freshman, off-field issues, '09 NC team

Craig Loston

2009

LSU

Injured early in career, two-year starter

Keenan Allen

2010

Cal

Moved to WR, 1st team All Pac-12, 3rd round pick

Matt Elam

2010

Florida

1st team All-American / All-SEC, 1st round pick

Karlos Williams

2011

FSU

Moved to RB, 5th round pick

Ha Ha Clinton-Dix

2011

Alabama

1st team All-American / All-SEC, 1st round pick, '12 NC team

Shaq Thompson

2012

Washington

1st team All-American / All Pac-12, 1st round pick

Landon Collins

2012

Alabama

1st team All-American / All-SEC, 2nd round pick

Su'a Cravens

2013

USC

LB/S hybrid, All Pac-12 1st team as sophomore

Vonn Bell

2013

Ohio State

Honorable mention All Big-Ten, T-1st Big-Ten Ints. (6), '14 NC

Max Redfield

2013

Notre Dame

Started 11 of 13 games as sophomore

Leon McQuay

2013

USC

Competing for starting role in 2015

Tony Conner

2013

Ole Miss

2nd team All-SEC as sophomore

There's a lot of football left in the careers of Redfield, McQuay, Bell, Conner, and Cravens, but the other names have panned out pretty remarkably, whether at safety or elsewhere. While the start to Redfield's career hasn't been as smooth, it seems early to write off his potential based on an inconsistent two years with two defensive coordinators in very different systems.

It's interesting how recruiting rankings shape our perception of player development as fans - we love to see the unheralded two or three-star players contribute early or turn out to be a diamond in the rough, and the other side of that coin is holding out eternal hope that five-star recruits will break out every season.

Usually it seems reasonable, since the five-star rankings almost always accompany freakish athleticism and physical tools, and I'm pretty sure I never stopped believing Ethan Johnson or Steve Filer couldn't be All-Americans until they graduated. The same probably applies to Ishaq Williams this year - if he has the same playing resume but Romeo Okwara's recruiting background, is there as much interest in his potential return? But just maybe, this is the year he puts it all together...

For Max Redfield, the story has always been that the question marks continue to be mental versus physical - understanding assignments and developing better instincts diagnosing plays and putting himself in the right position on the field. The Harrison Smith comparison here seems like an appropriate one given both safeties' physical gifts and changes in defensive schemes they've dealt with early in their careers.

The secondary is likely the biggest question mark for the 2015 Irish team even with the return of Russell and Cole Luke, and hinges on the ability of Redfield and Elijah Shumate to solidify the back end of the defense. If Redfield can play to his All-American potential, this is a defense that could vault from 84th in defensive pass efficiency into the top-25. If it's more of the same from 2014, Cody Kessler and Deshaun Watson will be relishing the chance to look like Heisman contenders in primetime against a group that's vulnerable in coverage.