Boundary Patrol

Junior safety Matthias Farley is the only experienced member of Notre Dame's now six-deep group of safeties. And with experience comes responsibility.

Ask Matthias Farley why his position, the boundary safety, has been tasked with greater responsibility this fall by the defensive staff and the unassuming athlete offers his typical, glib response:

"Probably because Zeke (Motta) graduated, and he was on the other side."

It's more than that, of course, for wherever Farley moves, the role of quarterbacking the defense's last line of defense -- not to mention its middle zones -- is sure to follow.

"Last season, I'm not sure he really understood the whole defense," said safeties coach Bob Elliott. "He understood what he had to do and his side of the field. That's where he's made the most progress, he now understands the whole defense. And he really directs traffic, he is the guy that's directing traffic for us with the secondary and the linebackers. He drives the defense for us. He has a broad knowledge now of what we're trying to accomplish, so he and coach (Bob) Diaco now can get on the same page with things that Bob wants."

What Diaco wants is a coach on the field -- or at least a conduit.

"What Bob wants is a safety that can think how he thinks as much as possible," said Elliott of Diaco, his former mid-90s pupil while the pair were at Iowa. "Harrison Smith was that. So Bob could do little things with Harrison, with the entire secondary through Harrison, that were really important. I'm not sure we had that a year ago, we had to stay pretty basic. But I think Matthias gives us that option for him to think the way Bob thinks on the field, which is really a great gift."

Farley's gifts aren't only from the neck up. The former high school soccer star turned 2011 scout team slot receiver turned 2012 season-saving safety starred last fall in run support -- especially during the team's myriad goal line stands -- and in zone coverage. But no matter how much success Farley has on the field this fall, his personality and demeanor off it will doubtless draw the lion's share of media attention.

"Matthias is a lot of fun, he really is a lot of fun to coach," said Elliott, a coach of more than three decades in the college game. "I've had a lot of really good guys, maybe not as good of a player as Matthias. I really like him, and all the guys that play for me. It's really a good group. That's one thing about Notre Dame, you can really count on being able to like your players. That hasn't always been the case in my career."

Boundary vs. Field

Notre Dame's defensive nomenclature can be confusing at times, but the basis of the designations is merely in its alignment.

Unlike in the NFL, college football's hash marks are split far apart. Rarely is the football marked in the middle of the field to start a play. When the ball is placed on a hashmark closer to the sidelines, that's the boundary. The "Field" is therefore the vast open space that exists between the ball and the opposite sideline.

Farley, the "Cat" linebacker (Prince Shembo), the Will" linebacker (Carlo Calabrese), and the boundary cornerback (Bennett Jackson) play to the near side hashmark, or "boundary" while the field safety (Austin Collinsworth), the "Drop" linebacker (Jaylon Smith), the "Mike" linebacker (Dan Fox) and the field cornerback (Keivarae Russell) operate in greater space to the wide side, or "field." (Joining them on the field side is defensive end Stephon Tuitt, dubbed the "Stud" position by head coach Brian Kelly. Sheldon Day is therefore to the boundary.)

Checks and Balances

Farley notes the field safety has to carry part of the pre-snap burden of checks and adjustments as well.

"No matter who's at safety you still have to have the same clear line of communication," he said. "A guy like Austin knows everything, you don't have to say a whole lot. (Elijah) Shumate, he's gotten drastically better since they moved him to safety so you don't have to say a whole lot either. With (rookies) like Max (Redfield) or John Turner or Eilar (Hardy) you just have to make sure to double check that you're on the same page. At the end of the day, you need a real clear line of communication depending on who it is."

At the season's outset, Collinsworth and Shumate appear to have both earned snaps opposite Farley. Because Farley and Collinsworth know both positions, there can be a three-man rotation between the two positions as well.

Farley said of the sophomore Shumate, a high school outside linebacker and nickel cornerback last fall as a freshman in South Bend: "It's really remarkable, honestly, how well he's done with the whole switch to safety. When I switched, I was going with the threes (third string) so I'd get two practice reps, and that's all I had to worry about. He went from playing corner/nickel to going with the ones (first string), and getting six or whatever.

"I remember being extremely frustrated with my two reps, it's really easy to get discouraged and he's been very upbeat and made huge strides throughout spring ball, summer, and especially in camp. It's apparent he's getting more comfortable back there."

Elliott is confident both Shumate can perform the tasks asked of the position.

"I would say right now the two guys [Collinsworth and Shumate] are listed as even in our minds," said Elliott one day prior to Notre Dame's staff evaluations. "Collinsworth has worked with the ones and the twos and he's worked at dime. So both of them are going to play, but as to who starts, they'll earn that. (Collinsworth earned the opening start.)

"I think the other one knows even if he's not the starter he's still going to play a lot of football."

Along with the constant and quarterback of the 2013 secondary, Matthias Farley. Top Stories