And here for Part II reviewing the potential addition of Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) DE/Cat prospect Alquandin Muhammad to the same line.
In Search of: QualityWhen Notre Dame safeties coach Bob Elliott joined the program last winter, he took control of a safety unit with just three players who'd played a meaningful down from scrimmage at the college level. August camp brought an influx of talent and its since evolved into one of the deepest, though still-unproven positions at the program heading into 2013.
Four-star safety and former USC pledge Max Redfield (6'2" 195) is a player of need for the Irish because of his talent, frame, head for the game, fit with the University, and potential. The position he plays, is not.
Redfield thus ranks as my third most-important target to fill Notre Dame's final three to four spots in the 2013 class. Separate from that opinion; he appears the most likely prospect to join the Irish, set to announce his intentions at the January 5 Under Armour All-America game in St. Petersburg, Fla.
Below is a look at the safety position Redfield could join heading into Spring Ball 2013.
2013 Safeties and Remaining EligibilityBelow is a look at the collection of young safeties that currently populate the Irish roster. Injured 5th-year senior Jamoris Slaughter, senior starter and the team's Defensive Player of the Year Award winner Zeke Motta, 5th-year special teams contributor Danny McCarthy, and former walk-on turned special teamer Chris Salvi will exhaust their eligibility with the BCS Championship game January 7.
Senior Austin Collinsworth (2): Sat out the 2012 season with a torn labrum suffered in the spring game last April. Collinsworth reportedly returned to practice for bowl preparations including contact drills. He will not play January 7 vs. Alabama but enters the spring as a major candidate for a starting job. Collinsworth had locked down the No. 3 safety role prior to his injury last spring.
Junior Matthias Farley (3): One of the team's most pleasant surprises and important players in relief of 5th-year safety Jamoris Slaughter (lost for the season due to an Achilles injury), Farley's head for the game, toughness (he played three days after surgery against Pittsburgh) and goal line defense efforts made him a fan favorite in this, his first season of competitive college action.
Junior Eilar Hardy (3): Toiled on the scout team in 2012 after losing his true freshman season of '11 to a torn ACL. Spring ball and August camp will be huge for Hardy who'll be a full two years removed from surgery for the latter.
Sophomore Nicky Baratti (3): Joins Collinsworth as the lead candidate to replace Zeke Motta in the starting secondary. Developed into a special teams coverage star late in the season, his best moment one of the unit's best this fall -- a one-on-one tackle in space of USC punt returner and former All-America, Robert Woods. Baratti earned crucial time from scrimmage in close wins vs. Michigan and Pittsburgh, recording an interception in the former to save a touchdown.
Sophomore Elijah Shumate (3): Performed as the team's nickel back this season, averaging just under five snaps from scrimmage per game. The 6'0" 198-pound Don Bosco Prep-product was technically listed as a cornerback in 2012. It would be a surprise if he doesn't receive his initial spring evaluation at safety, regardless of Redfield's decision.
Sophomore C.J. Prosise (4): Moved to Dog linebacker out of necessity in August but worked at safety following the return of Dog starter Danny Spond in mid-September. He and Shumate are likely the most athletically gifted among the current eight-man group.
Sophomore John Turner (4): Like Hardy, spent most of his time on the Scout team this season after a solid first few weeks of August camp. Listed at 6'2" 207 and likely not as fleet as his position mates, Turner could be a Dog 'backer candidate for future seasons.
Sophomore Chris Badger (3): A Scout Teamer in 2012 as he worked his way back into shape following a two-year religious mission to Ecuador. Badger's first breakthrough will likely be on special teams.
Final ThoughtsNotre Dame's kickoff and punt return units ranked 84th and 115th in 2012. Their kickoff and punt coverage units were a disappointing 79th and misleading 49th, respectively. (The punt coverage unit allowed just 10 punts to be returned; one of consequence. But that 31-yarder vs. Pittsburgh greatly impacted the team's average allowed.)
After speaking briefly with safeties coach Bob Elliott Monday, it appears the bulk of the team's young defensive backs will work their way into the mix this spring. With the likely exception of Farley, look for all of the players listed above to make a special teams impact in 2013, with at least five pushing for a two-deep role deep into August camp.
Notre Dame is no longer hurting for back end athleticism, and its overall safety play in 2012 was the best at the program since 2002 when Glen Earl and Gerome Sapp roamed the secondary. But we still don't know which of these promising athletes, Redfield or those already on board, can play at a level befitting a championship defense.
As expectations change, so too does a team's standards for recruiting safeties. Redfield would be a luxury addition to an already great recruiting class.