Second Season Trio

Our stream of consciousness series continues, today turning its focus to a sophomore threesome poised to play key roles in 2013.

For stream of consciousness thoughts on 49 previously previewed Irish players entering 2013, click the links below:

10 in the Trenches: Both sides of scrimmage

Sunday Sampler (Hodgepodge of Players)

Five Freshmen

Six on the Spot

The Returnees (Injured Irish from 2012)

Three Key Juniors

The Quarterbacks: Three to Make One?

Senior Trio

Through the Ranks: one per class

Early Impressions? Four in need of a strong summer/August camp.

Safety Elijah Shumate

One of my favorite players for 2014 and the main reason I feel Notre Dame will yield more touchdowns in 2013 than it did last season…Shumate will likely be a better sophomore safety than was his predecessor Zeke Motta (or was Jamoris Slaughter). He'll also probably be a better junior than were both, and potentially an All-America candidate as a senior, but a first-time starter at free safety -- and a player new to the position, to boot -- is bound to commit more mental mistakes in his first go-round than did the surprising top-tier Motta last fall as a senior leader…

If Shumate can work through the inevitable mental mistakes, he'll be among the nation's best sophomore safety prospects at season's end, because the former Don Bosco Prep (Ramsey, N.J.) prospect can run and hit -- expect some serious knockout shots on the sidelines this fall…

Defensive coordinator's admonishing tone of a writer suggesting Shumate was the breakout player of the spring seems to offer a portent for what could be a challenging September for the back end of the Irish defense. Asked if Shumate was the most improved, Diaco stated, "I wouldn't say so, no." Then later elaborated: "I would say we're pleased with Elijah. He's a very talented player, but he's a long ways away from functioning and driving our defense. Light years away."

Added Diaco of the position group as a whole: "We're going to be re-starting at safety in the fall of 2013, and then we'll look forward into working into '14 '15, we'll have a bunch of guys that have been around here doing it for a long time. That'll be exciting, but we won't' be there in '13."

My two cents: If Shumate can hold up in Ann Arbor (no touchdowns or plays that lead to touchdowns the result of plays over the top of the secondary), his confidence should escalate. Look out. But if he struggles at the expense of the rest of the squad early, I fear he'll continue to be hamstrung by thinking rather than reacting "on every snap" as he admitted he still did near spring's conclusion.

I'm surprised Shumate will play to the field rather than the boundary this fall, but questioning Diaco, Kerry Cooks, and Bob Elliott and their use of personnel is ludicrous -- the trio is top-notch.

Defensive End Sheldon Day

The best Notre Dame football player most of America doesn't know, and also among the team's most important not to mention indispensable in the wake of five-star prospect Eddie Vanderdoes' defection…Day and fellow starter Stephon Tuitt will be backed ably by junior Tony Springmann -- and who else?

Never in over his head as a true freshman (albeit early enrollee) last fall, Day made the top 10 vs. Purdue, Michigan State, and Wake Forest and its honorable mention list vs. Michigan following game film reviews -- not bad for a rotational player…Didn't look the part vs. Alabama, then again, neither did the program's best defensive player of the last decade...

Look for the precocious sophomore to line up all over Mike Elston's defensive front, playing his standard 3-4 end spot, nose guard in passing situations, a three-technique tackle when the front shifts even (4-3), and as a major component of every line stunt and blitz package -- Day is one of the team's smartest football players before his second season officially starts.

Cornerback Keivarae Russell

Struggled famously vs. Alabama, his tackling technique seemingly lost in the extended time off between season's end and the BCS Championship contest…Was nonetheless a lifesaver for the bulk of the 2012 regular season, never beaten deep following the opener in Dublin and saving multiple touchdowns with hustling, diving ankle tackles downfield…Has the athletic ability to play at least three positions for the Irish but his future as a Cover 2 corner appears set…Was outstanding in a prime time matchup vs. Oklahoma, awfully good vs. Miami, Stanford, and Pittsburgh, and held his own vs. the nation's best wide receiver, Marqise Lee, to close the season in the Coliseum…

Like his senior challenger Lo Wood, Russell seems eminently coachable and adherent to Diaco's overall charge of "keeping the points down"…The duo, along with senior Bennett Jackson, should show well over the 2013 season as tacklers on the perimeter, regardless of the Russell/Jackson series of ankle-breakers in space both suffered at the hands of the Crimson Tide…

Could Russell shift inside to play nickel (slot) corner in passing situations, allowing Wood the field and Jackson the boundary? Can any of the three corners fill that role, or will we see a true three-man rotation at field/boundary, with a safety (or freakish freshman linebacker?) filling the nickel role?

A candidate for the dreaded sophomore slump due largely to his challenging position (not to mention good fortune in 2012), but Russell will, at one point in his Irish career, be a tremendous, playmaking cornerback, not dissimilar to 2002 standout and fellow former high school running back, Vontez Duff. Top Stories