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Notre Dame Football Spring Positional Overview: Defensive Backs

With Julian Love leading the way, Notre Dame’s Defensive Backs look to take another step forward in 2018.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Matt Stamey-USA TODAY Sports

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish have already finished an early signing day, concluded their season with a bowl win over the LSU Tigers, and wrapped up the final signing day. Now, it’s time to begin the transition to Spring Football. To prepare for that, we’re going to take a look at each positional group heading into spring. Early enrollees will be included in this, but signees who did not enroll early will not be included. Without further ado, let’s get right into it.

Defensive Backs

  • Houston Griffith (FR)
  • Jordan Genmark Heath (SO)
  • Isaiah Robertson (SO)
  • Alohi Gilman (JR)
  • Julian Love (JR)
  • Troy Pride Jr. (JR)
  • Devin Studstill (JR)
  • Donte Vaughn (JR)
  • Nick Coleman (SR)
  • Shaun Crawford (SR)
  • Nicco Fertitta (SR)
  • Nick Watkins (5th-Yr)


Julian Love is about as sure a thing as they come.

He will be a solid, sometimes spectacular contributor. Aside from Love, however, nobody jumps off the page as a definite impact player. Nick Watkins is the most senior of the defensive backs, but in his playing time he has proven inconsistent and indubitably beatable on the opposite side of Love.

Troy Pride is the logical next step, as he took over for Watkins multiple times last season and flashed some of the potential he showed in high school. Donte Vaughn is another option here, although he has not shown enough yet to put him ahead of Pride, let alone Nick Watkins.

At slot, Shaun Crawford seems to have the position more or less locked down. He has shown the ability to make big plays when healthy and lock down opposing slot receivers. Houston Griffith — the early-enrollee son of former NFL player Howard Griffith — will also train at cornerback initially. He was projected by many to be a better safety prospect than corner, so its possible will cross-train there as well.

NCAA Football: Citrus Bowl-Notre Dame vs Louisiana State Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

Griffith is a convenient segue into the safeties, so let’s take a look at this position group as well.

Alohi Gilman has been pegged as an early favorite to start in 2018. This is a safe assumption, as Brian Kelly has raved about the Navy transfer ever since he arrived at Notre Dame. Kelly’s compliments don’t always yield positive results on field, but that’s all we really have to go on regarding Gilman.

Beyond Gilman, Nick Coleman also has the potential to retain a starting job in 2018. Experience would be the main factor here, although it would be a “quantity over quality” situation as Coleman did not always prove effective. Jalen Elliot also started last year, but don’t expect him to remain in that position unless he makes serious strides in his game. He was often a liability last season, and while he no doubt has solid potential, the on-field product has been far too frequently below par.

And then there are young guns Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark-Heath. Robertson supposedly has struggled to adjust to the mental aspect of the college game, but he is a player who is fully capable of being an impact player for the Irish. Athletically he’s solid, and if he can get the cerebral aspect of the game down, he will play. Genmark-Heath is more proven. He played well against LSU in the Citrus Bowl, and there is hope for him in 2018. It wouldn’t be a surprise if he were able to nab a starting spot come the September 1 game against Michigan.

The defensive backs, as a whole, weren’t lights out last year. Love was very, very good. Outside of his play, the DB’s were questionable, especially at safety. Steps will have to be taken this spring if that is to change in 2018.