SafetiesSeven scholarship competitors (including former walk-on Chris Salvi) populate the spring roster. Five more will join this summer including 2010 January enrollee Chris Badger who has completed his religious mission in Ecuador. Of the seven already involved this spring, junior Austin Collinsworth and a pair of redshirt-freshmen, Eilar Hardy and Matthias Farley, can return for 2013.
Given Strength: Jamoris Slaughter – He's the team's best defensive back: the best deep safety, the best coming off the edge, the best supporting the run, the best in man coverage, the most instinctive and well-versed in the scheme. The man they call Ja-Mo will play all over Bob Diaco's defense: Safety, nickel, dog linebacker, rarely coming off the field. Slaughter and Manti Te'o are the two defenders the Irish cannot win big without in 2012.
Emerging Competitor: Austin Collinsworth – "Nine for nine." That's how new safeties coach Bob Elliott explained the former wide receiver's performance through nine spring practices. Though he won't take a starting job, Collinsworth has shown enough that the staff began working with Slaughter as a cornerback (contingency plan and special packages) with AC and Zeke Motta as the technical safeties in some packages.
Look Out For: Elijah Shumate – The incoming freshman seems an ideal competitor for the hybrid Nickel/S/OLB spot often manned by Slaughter. Shumate wouldn't be a regular competitor from scrimmage, but with his size/speed mix, is expected to contribute on special teams next fall, and a season of tutelage in the role could give him a leg up entering Spring 2013, when Slaughter will have exhausted his eligibility.
Said cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks of the position: "To me nickel is a critical spot. We have a perfect nickel in Ja-Mo. I would be very cautious on putting pressure on one of those younger guys at this point. Now if there's a young guy that comes in this summer, and that's all we ask him to train and do, then I'd be more comfortable with that rather than moving a guy here that we're trying to develop on the edges."
Unanswered Questions: Can Zeke Motta control the back line of the Irish defense? In 2008, Harrison Smith took over for David Bruton as the last line of defense in the Irish secondary – the drop-off was significant. Smith, of course, evolved into a top tier safety prospect, and, like Bruton, later succeeded at a post safety's most important task: denying the deep ball. Can Motta step in and keep the deep zones similarly quiet?
Can the 195-pound Slaughter hold up for 12 games in 13 weeks with his myriad responsibilities? Can Austin Collinsworth provide a quality No. 3 in the rotation to give both Motta and Slaughter an occasional respite? Can a fourth veteran safety (at present, its Salvi) do the same? Will 5th-year, oft-injured senior Dan McCarthy have a package from scrimmage? (Perhaps at the goal line where his aggressive style would be a plus.) Can either Matthias Farley or Eilar Hardy progress enough to earn reps by November? Is Chris Badger starting from scratch along with the incoming quartet of freshmen? How many from the group can make an immediate impact and upgrade the Irish specialty units?
Unsolicited Advice: The position will undergo a complete overhaul in the off-season with the loss of starters longtime starters Slaughter and Motta; trusted backup Salvi, and 5th-year McCarthy. Preparing the next wave of safeties to accompany Collinsworth (who'll be a senior in 2013) on the field next fall is imperative. At least two of the group of freshmen (5) and redshirt-freshmen (2) behind them need to assimilate to live bullets or the squad will encounter a similar issue at safety in 2013 as it is currently with untested cornerbacks entering 2012.