2013 Dog Linebackers (3+)Senior Danny Spond (1), junior Ben Councell (3), freshman Jaylon Smith (4/5). Others include sophomore Romeo Okwara (3) -- Okwara is assumed to be a Cat/DE in the future. Potentially sophomore safety John Turner (4) or sophomore safety C.J. Prosise (4).
Chance of Defection: Not high among the current 'backers, though Councell has a fight on his hands with a returning senior and wunderkind incoming freshman. Considering the team's glut at safety and likelihood of position movement from that group, the chance of future transfer naturally increases.
Strength at Present: In great hands, especially if Smith debuts here as projected.
Need for addition to 2013 class: None if Smith is a Dog.
Need for addition in 2014 class: One is necessary, otherwise the second string Irish defense would rely on bulked up safeties to hold the edge vs. power running teams.
2013 Safeties (8+)Seniors Austin Collinsworth (2) and *Chris Badger (3); juniors Matthias Farley (3) and Eliar Hardy (3); sophomores Nicky Baratti (3), C.J Prosise (4), John Turner (4); incoming freshman Max Redfield (4/5).
Sophomore nickel Elijah Shumate technically worked at cornerback in 2012. He has an ideal frame and skill set for safety, but a glut of bodies at the position will impact the decision on his 2013 slotting.
5th-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter could be granted a 6th-year by the NCAA. That decision is expected in the next 10 days.
*(Badger took a two-year religious mission in 2010-11 to Ecuador. He enrolled at Notre Dame in January 2010 and took part in spring practice that semester before departure.)
Chance of Defection: To be blunt, extremely high and nearly guaranteed. Depth charts such as the one above don't maintain status quo in college football.
Strength at Present: In terms of depth its astounding, but only Farley is proven. The spring and fall safety competition will be fierce and it should be a position of strength for Notre Dame in October, November, and January, if not next September as the unit develops and gels.
Need for addition to 2013 class: None, Redfield was the ideal addition to a class that needed only a standout at safety, not another prospect.
Need for addition in 2014 class: Its always good to add one, especially if focused on a top tier talent. A two-year cycle with just one safety isn't ideal, but two standout prospects on the heels of the 2011 haul that included four safeties would suffice.
Dog and Safety ObservationsDanny Spond was a revelation in 2012, a key component in the team's base 4-3, 3-4, and nickel packages. But on the game's biggest stage in Miami, he, along with his fellow 'backers, played several levels below their collective abilities against the Crimson Tide. The group's utter collapse should open every competition once again, though I expect Spond to bounce back.
Smith's unique blend of coverage skills, explosion, size and raw speed is ideal at the Dog position -- if he's not evaluated there first, the position shouldn't exist. Smith could serve at the Cat as well, but Shembo is ensconced as a starter with capable backups already in tow (See Link #2 above).
Councell has an uphill battle for playing time in 2014 if he doesn't emerge in 2013 -- its relevant to note that the Councell/Spond competition was purportedly close into August (per Brian Kelly). Believe what you will regarding camp battles and their revelation to the media.
Notre Dame's safety competition has a unique mix:
- Raw athletes: Redfield and Prosise, maybe Shumate
- An impressive returning starter in Farley
- A blossoming freshman athlete that received valuable playing time in Baratti
- A returning competitor in good graces with the staff in Collinsworth
- Three more prospects in Turner, Hardy, and Badger that could challenge for special teams roles next fall.
- Maybe Jamoris Slaughter, whose presence would change everything
I have no idea who'll emerge, but my guess is Farley and Baratti are the starters post-spring. And that's truly a guess -- it's January, man.
Among the Spond, Smith, Farley, Baratti, Prosise, Collinsworth, Redfield, and possibly Shumate/Slaughter grouping, safeties coach Bob Elliott and defensive coordinator Bob Diaco have ample talent to mold a formidable two-deep for 2013.
Neither position is one of tremendous need in the 2014 cycle; adding one elite athlete to both is, as always, advised.
Next in the series: A breakdown of the team's cornerbacks entering 2013-14