Spring Wrap: Safeties

Our 10th and final position review in O'Malley's "Incomplete" series exiting spring ball examines the team's safeties. Who stood out, who's a step behind, and who'll fill out the two-deep as the season progresses?

Safeties -- Battle Royale

None of the team's eight scholarship safeties for 2013 will exhaust their eligibility at season's end. Competition for two-deep roles ill be fierce over the summer, '13 season, and throughout 2014.

Spring Pecking Order: Incumbent Matthias Farley is the only no-doubt starter entering August camp, but sophomore Elijah Shumate ran alongside Farley with the first unit for the duration of spring ball. Senior Austin Collinsworth returned from a season on the sidelines (torn labrum, discectomy) to reclaim a No. 2 spot alongside junior Eilar Hardy. Hardy's spot will immediately be put to the test when injured sophomore Nicky Baratti (shoulder surgery) returns to the fold.

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco noted team's second, third, and fourth-best safety prospects at present are (in no order) Baratti, Collinsworth, and Shumate, with the rest, including Hardy, well behind.

Redshirt-freshman John Turner and sophomore Chris Badger filled out the third string throughout the spring session.

Spring Stars?

It appeared to be Shumate until Diaco offered the following of the purported first-stringer when asked if he was among the most improved players this spring: "I wouldn't say so, no. I would say we're pleased with Elijah. He's a very talented player, but he's a long ways away. He's a long way away from functioning and driving our defense. Light years away."

One of the most improved of the lot was Hardy, who apparently had a long way to go to join the fray for playing time: "We're really pleased with Eilar Hardy, but in saying that, don't put in your mind that you're looking at on the field production," said Diaco. "You're talking about a player whose (previous) evaluation was very, very low. That's just a fact of the matter. And now his evaluation is higher than that.

"To what extent in terms of production for fall 2013, who knows? But he's really focused his energy and life and intensity and effort and he really wants to be a good player, you can see it. He worked at that this winter, and he worked at that this spring. And I'm really pleased with Eilar Hardy."

After struggling to remove a year's worth of rust, the most improved safety from the beginning of the 15-practice session to the end was Collinsworth: "He still has a lot of work to do, but I've been really pleased with how he's been finishing the spring," said Diaco.

Aid on the Way: Highly touted four-star prospect, Max Redfield, who could challenge for playing time in nickel or dime packages if not the two-deep in September.

Remaining Spring Questions

Shumate ran with the No. 1 unit from the outset, but can a player "light years away" from driving the defense hold off classmate Nicky Baratti? Can Hardy hold down a No. 2 role or will Redfield's athleticism end that quest quickly? Will Baratti, Collinsworth, and Shumate all find ample time in support of the position's only given, Farley? Is Collinsworth better suited for Dime linebacker work than a true safety role? Can either Turner or Badger find a role on special teams after being withheld from action last season?

Will Shumate's understanding and instincts catch up to his athletic gifts in time for a prime time date in Ann Arbor? Can Baratti challenge in August after missing the off-season and spring with shoulder surgery? Is Farley a BCS-Championship level safety, or just the best of the young Irish? Are all of the above (sans Farley) keeping a spot warm for Redfield? (a five-star prospect per some services).

Final Thoughts

I'll be surprised is Shumate doesn't join Farley in the starting lineup in Week One…I'll be equally surprised if Baratti doesn't play plenty through September…Look for Collinsworth to find a starting role in sub packages such as the dime, while starring on coverage units…Expect Redfield to do the same as the season progresses -- there's no way someone that athletic can't find a spot in the nickel, dime, or specialty situations…

Hardy's performance in August 2013 is essential to his Irish future. If he ends up the fifth safety in 2013 as a junior (redshirt-sophomore), its hard to imagine a fifth year after 2014….Hardy, Turner, Badger, Redfield -- four of the eight competitors have never played a college snap…If Notre Dame recruits a safety this cycle, he'd better be a fan of daily competition.

Impetus for the Series

A key defensive line prospect. The nation's best high school linebacker. Two punters (phew!). The offense's quickest player. Two of the defense's three best cornerbacks. One of its three best inside linebackers. Two of its five best safety prospects. Two running backs capable of winning weekly roles. Two freshmen pass targets (one already on campus) capable of filling in at the back end of the rotation. Countless special teams contributors.

The list of potential -- and in many cases, certain -- 2013 commodities not involved in Saturday's quirky Blue Gold Game ranks as one of the spring game's most relevant stories, and leads to my final grade on head coach Brian Kelly's Irish as they exit a 15-session, five-week spring:


Just as it did in 2012 -- a national runner-up season and the best in 19 years for the program -- Notre Dame's 2013 football team will be made whole by its first-time scrimmage contributors.

That list last fall included major contributions from the likes of Tony Springmann, Danny Spond, Keivarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, and of course, Everett Golson.

"We're also going to bring in a number of freshmen that I'm certain are going to be involved in special teams, especially some of those bigger-bodied guys," said Kelly during his spring wrap-up press conference. "You've got (Michael) Deeb and (Doug) Randolph and Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield just to name a few. We've got some guys coming in, some DBs, in (Devin) Butler and (Rashad) Kinlaw. There is going to be an influx of talented guys that can help us in that area."

And from scrimmage as well, not only the freshmen, but those returning from injury, little-used players from 2012, and a host of others. The only guarantee for 2013 is that September's lot of key contributors will differ -- perhaps greatly -- from November's.

Over the next three days at Irisheyes.com we'll conclude our review of spring ball 2013 with a position-by-position look at where each unit stands, and from who it will receive aid in August camp and throughout 2013.

Published to Date:

Running Backs
Wide Receivers
Tight Ends
Offensive Line
Defensive Line
Outside Linebackers
Inside Linebackers

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