With the 2018 Notre Dame Fighting Irish football season behind us, we can start to look towards the future. Next up in the grand scheme of things is spring football. This series will provide a quick look at all the position groups for Notre Dame football as we enter winter workouts, and spring practice.
Forgive the pun here, but it’s safe to say that the safety position was a welcomed and pleasant surprise in 2018. Even though we were certain that Alohi Gilman would be a starter, his partner remained a mystery. Nick Coleman was the name that kept coming up, and then there were those that felt freshman Houston Griffith would work his way into the starting lineup.
As it turned out — and it turned out magnificently. Jalen Elliott was probably the surprise player of the year for Notre Dame in 2018. Elliott grabbed 4 interceptions, had 7 pass breakups, and was the 4th leading tackler on the team. It was the very definition of a “complete turn around” in the back end of the defense.
That turn around was, of course, also aided greatly by the play of Alohi Gilman. The Navy transfer was graded out as the best safety in the country in 2018 by Pro Football Focus, and brought an intensity and toughness to the position that we haven’t seen since Tom Zbikowski. Gilman was the second leading tackler on the team with 95 tackles.
DEPARTURES FROM 2018
The Irish are blessed in 2019 as both Gilman and Elliott return. I suppose you could throw Nick Coleman into the conversation as he leaves Notre Dame, but I don’t believe he recorded a snap at safety in any game. Coleman was in on Nickel and Dime packages, and played pretty well. I was surprised at the shortage of snaps that Coleman ended up having in 2018 after receiving a ton of praise during fall camp.
RETURNING FOR 2019
As we have already stated, the Irish will return both starters at safety in Gilman and Elliott. They represent the top two tacklers coming back this season — as well as the top two interception leaders from 2018.
Returning Safety Production From 2018
|11 Alohi Gilman (SR)||13||59||36||95||3||0||2||5||3||0|
|11 Jalen Elliott (SR)||13||36||31||67||1||0.5||4||7||1||0|
|3 Houston Griffith (SO)||11||10||4||14||0||0||0||2||0||0|
|14 Devin Studstill (SR)||6||4||0||4||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|13 Paul Moala (SO)||8||1||0||1||0||0||0||0||0||0|
|7 Derrik Allen (SO)||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP||DNP|
With Gilman and Elliott in place, it’s difficult to know exactly where Houston Griffith fits in. Griffith may be forced to play some corner this spring, but that still isn’t a natural fit for him, and will most likely see a lot of nickel action. The X-factor involves cornerback Shaun Crawford who will probably return to his role at nickel in 2019.
The Irish added two more options at safety in the 2019 recruiting class with Kyle Hamilton and Litchfield Ajavon. Hamilton is a tall and smooth athlete that will probably be given 5 Star status soon enough. Kyle has the ability to make an instant impact on the field, but given the level of play returning — I’m not quite sure how much or where. Ajavon is a physical specimen and uses that physicality well. Litchfield will probably see a lot of special teams action because of that style of play.
I think it should be pretty clear by now that Gilman and Elliott will be the starters at safety with Alohi destined for a “C” on his chest. The real question involves those behind them. Will Notre Dame move the talented Derrik Allen to linebacker? Allen didn’t see any action at all in 2018, and that would cause me to think that a position change could be coming.
The departure of Julian Love at cornerback and the health of Shaun Crawford makes the Nickel a very uncertain position right now. It could be Houston Griffith’s to lose, or Kyle Hamilton could come in and wow the coaches into a role there.
Paul Moala will probably see the same type of role that he had in 2018, but could push for a #2 spot by the time the spring game ends. Devin Studstill remains a mystery, and one I’m not sure is solved in South Bend.
I like the way we look. It’s basically Men’s Warehouse back there.
RANDOM RANDOMNESS TO PONDER
Never forget... Mike Elko's defense in 2017 produced ZERO interceptions by Notre Dame safeties. In 2018, Clark Lea's defense grabbed 6 interceptions via the safety position.— One Foot Down (@OneFootDown) January 15, 2019
How do you feel about Notre Dame’s Safety situation in 2019?