The tag-team duo of Max Redfield and Elijah Shumate--two of the highest rated Irish safety recruits in a decade--has to be broken up in 2016. However, the former will get one more chance for glory with Notre Dame this fall. But who will he play with?
Returning Snaps from 2015: Redfield (642), Tranquill (108), Baratti (34)
No Snaps Last Year: Sebastian, Turner, Fertitta*, M. Williams
Lost Snaps: Shumate (848), Farley (393)
Early Enrollee: Studstill
Summer Arrival: Vaughn, D.J. Morgan
*Played on special teams only
Redfield's Last Ride
One glance at the safety position and it becomes frighteningly apparent that Max Redfield needs to be a huge presence for this unit. Thanks to a largely minimal impact as a freshman and a benched-filled sophomore year the rising senior is suddenly near the end of his career when it feels like just yesterday he was putting on that ND hat at the high school all-star game.
This spring is going to be about two areas for Redfield. One, how good can he really be in his final year? How much will he improve? Can he develop into a senior safety that VanGorder can build the back end of his defense around?
Two, what kind of leadership role can Redfield accept and how will that decide the structure of the secondary and the trust needed to turn around a back end that was atrocious at times in 2015?
As much as we could write about how this is an important spring for the defensive coaching staff to fix the defense I'm not sure anything is as important to the success of such a mission than getting a quality season out of Redfield in terms of production, leadership, and communication.
Find Another Starter
Assuming that Redfield is a starter and remains at free safety there is major work to do this spring finding someone to play next to him. While we can see a competition at safety--with rotating positional battles much more common on offense--we're likely to see one of two scenarios. First, immediately the strong-safety competition zeroes in on two competitors. Or secondly, someone outright grabs the position early on with minimal snaps from someone else.
A third, but less likely option in my opinion, is a 2-way contest that slowly becomes a 3-man competition thanks to a (probable) young player excelling over the latter portion of spring.
Wait, isn't everyone really excited about early enrollee Devin Studstill? Can't he be that young player who becomes the third member of the competition? Yes, but I think he might be good enough to leap-frog immediately into a two-deep situation.
We don't know if Turner or Baratti will be participating in spring, Tranquill isn't likely healthy yet, and Fertitta is probably always going to be too small to become a starter. For spring that leaves Avery Sebastian, Mykelti Williams, and Devin Studstill as the major candidates.
Infusion of Youth
The impact of Studstill this spring may signal a new future at this position which could juxtapose nicely with Redfield's final season. In some ways, this may be the last spring where the 'old guard' will have a major part with the position. Redfield is obviously graduating, Sebastian exhausts his eligibility, and we don't know where Tranquill will fit in the long-term due to his size.
A common theme throughout these spring previews is assessing the development of certain players before summer and fall camp. In some cases, players gain a leg up on injured players or freshmen who are not on campus yet. In other examples, the real competition doesn't begin until August.
This could be a spring where the Irish come out of practices feeling good about who the starters will be for 2016. They may even feel good about the backups. Still, there is going to be a lot of young players in the mix during fall camp. We don't expect all of the recruited freshmen (Perry and Elliott in particular) to begin their careers on the back end but it's always a possibility.
The safety position feels like it could swing either way. The two-deep could be completely locked down by summer or there could be complete chaos and even Max Redfield fighting for his starting position.