Lasting Impression?

Irish Eyes offers its Pre-camp Assessment of senior safety, Dan McCarthy.

If first impressions served as the final measure of a college football player, Notre Dame senior safety Dan McCarthy would already be an Irish fan's household name.

In his first extended bout of varsity action, McCarthy, then a high school junior, helped undefeated Cardinal Mooney (Ohio) to a state championship as a safety/quarterback. One year later, the first imprint McCarthy placed on Irish fans was that of a versatile 4-star prospect – one of the nation's six best according to on National Signing Day, 2008.

More important and relevant to his future prospects, McCarthy made an immediate impression on head coach Brian Kelly, who, following the first padded practice with his new squad in Spring 2010, offered this positive when asked about the hand he had been dealt.

"The McCarthy kid can tackle…"

But that first impression on a demanding head coach didn't have a chance to manifest in front of 80,000-plus on Saturdays last fall, as McCarthy's star-crossed career again succumbed to the injury bug: first a hamstring strain midway through August camp, then a shoulder injury that required November surgery and more time on the sidelines – time that coincided with the team's season-defining four-game winning streak.

This following 2007 November neck surgery that truncated his final high school season…one that concluded with another championship for his Cardinal Mooney squad.

McCarthy's first impressions have been stellar across the board – it's his lasting impression and college legacy that will be defined by what could be his final fall in South Bend.

Swan song delayed?

At present, Dan McCarthy ranks somewhere between the eighth and eleventh of the 14 classmates in question: 14 seniors that have two, rather than one year of collegiate eligibility remaining entering 2011.

McCarthy will begin camp as a second string safety, the fourth member of a three-man rotation that includes 5th-year senior Harrison Smith, senior classmate Jamoris Slaughter, and junior Zeke Motta.

Smith, the team captain and one of its most improved players over the last 16 months, will not be unseated from his starting role. But at the conclusion of Spring 2011, the safety spot opposite Smith appeared to be a two-horse race between Motta (8 starts last year) and Slaughter (5), with Slaughter still slightly behind due to a lingering ankle/foot injury that plagued him throughout 2010 (Slaughter won the starting job, but was injured in the season-opening win vs. Purdue).

McCarthy can wrest the starting role from both, especially if Slaughter remains at less than full speed, though he'd likely need to rank as the clear-cut August winner to unseat either of the experienced pair. Yet his starting status and potential is not as important as his ability to consistently contribute, at least by the season's final month, as a key member Notre Dame's seemingly solid secondary.

As important is the need for McCarthy to cement a full-time role on Irish specialty units: both on the stout punt and kick coverage groups of which he was a part-time competitor last fall, and perhaps as a punt return candidate – one that could infuse a bit of life into what was a dormant, absurdly poor unit in 2010.

First and only impression

I wasn't shocked when Brian Kelly offered McCarthy's name as the first positive of the team's first practice: the words "McCarthy" and "tackle" have a familiar ring for recent Irish fans, and Dan McCarthy's name was often the first offered by recruiting mavens searching for the team's next breakout star.

And since high school highlight films lose all relevance once a prospect concludes his first collegiate season (if not his first practice), my only real impression of McCarthy – yet another first – was a player delivering a vicious goal line hit in spring practice 2010. He followed that with a fumble recovery, and a post-practice interview that included a spent McCarthy layered in black FieldTurf "pebbles" (infill) following a strong showing in front of a staff looking for toughness from its then .500-riddle ranks.

McCarthy possesses that trait in spades, but he needs to carve a role, remain healthy, and grow with what should be a standout Irish defense in 2011 to earn his spot for a 5th season, and fitting swan song in 2012.

Review: McCarthy Notes – Spring 2011

My notes on the senior safety following April's Blue Gold Game:

"An August hamstring strain and subsequent shoulder injury destroyed Dan McCarthy's 2010 season – unfortunate in that the Irish operated with two healthy safeties from the second half of Game One through Game Nine and McCarthy could have earned valuable playing time in relief of both Motta and Smith…McCarthy's November 2007 neck injury in high school was the first in a string of career-altering injuries, and the presence of a red jersey over his pads during the 2011 Blue Gold Game indicates the summer months will be crucial, as the senior completes his rehab from off-season shoulder surgery…

"The competitive McCarthy displayed obvious disgust when forced to "tap" Blue team runners (rather than engage in tackling) during the spring scrimmage – the Irish could use his contributions next fall, both on special teams and as a safety pushing Motta/Slaughter for scrimmage time."

Related relevance: The elder McCarthy, Kyle, had just 4:27 of playing time entering his junior season, though he then broke through with a start and 12 games played while ranking third on the squad in special teams appearances. K-Mac broke out in 2008, his senior season, and thus earned a 5th year.

Numbers of note: 1 tackle (Washington State) in 1:08 total playing time as a sophomore (redshirt-freshman) in 2009…Totaled 22 snaps in 2010, compiling 5 tackles, including one for lost yardage with a forced fumble, and all during a relatively healthy three-game stretch against Boston College, Pittsburgh, and Western Michigan…Has appeared in 12 games over the last two seasons.

Outside the Box: opportunity knocks: McCarthy has, at best, an uphill climb in his fight for a September starting spot, but roles in the oft-used nickel (5 defensive backs) and dime (6) defensive packages remain for the taking. His apparent skill set: open-field tackling and knack in zone coverages, could be invaluable as a dime safety next fall. Top Stories