Safeties -- Battle RoyaleNone 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.
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 QuestionsShumate 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 ThoughtsI'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.