Max Redfield's refreshing outlook on life doubtless aided him through a trying rookie season. Though he played sparingly, his experience was one that mirrored that of the quartet of safeties who earned playing time ahead of him:
It was frustrating, it was forgettable, it was inconsistent, and it was, ineffectual.
Billed as one of the nation's most talented rookie safeties, Redfield became an early starter on the Irish special teams, covering both kicks and punts. And though he appeared on the cusp of playing time from scrimmage throughout the 2013 season's second half, meaningful action never came to fruition as the Irish finished a disappointing 8-4, earning a date in the innocuous Pinstripe Bowl.
"I'm not going to second-guess the coaches. If they felt like I shouldn't be on the field, I guess I shouldn't (have). I obviously wanted to, I tried to do everything I could do to change that. I felt like I wasn't good enough which was a tough feeling to have."
It was doubtless a foreign feeling as well. Touted as a potential impact player at both wide receiver and safety on National Signing Day, Redfield watched Notre Dame's highly-thought-of safety unit flailed through a season of missed tackles, blown assignments, and sub-standard play in comparison to the standout efforts of their safety predecessors over the first three years of the Brian Kelly era.
Fast forward to 2014. A new defensive coordinator, a new scheme, and a new chance for a first impression.
"I feel like after VanGorder came in it gave us the chance to all learn the defense together and all grow in the defense together," Redfield said of his comfort level as a projected starter. "We all feel 100 percent confident and comfortable in this defense and we like playing in it.
"We feel like it's a lot more aggressive defense. There's a lot more blitzes for safeties, a lot more chances for us to get close to the ball in the box and we definitely like that."
Asked if the new scheme better fit his individual talents, Redfield, who earned his first career start in the bowl win over Rutgers last season, instead shifted the focus to the whole.
"I feel like this defense is very advantageous for me and the rest of the defense because we're aggressive and athletic. VanGorder knows that and that's why we're playing it.
"The more action the better for me."
Half-MentalAmid the myriad differences between VanGorder's defensive scheme and that employed by former coordinator Bob Diaco is one accepted carryover:
The safeties face the most difficult mental challenge among the unit's positions.
"On a play-to-play basis, you have a certain key and have to decipher whether it's run/pass," Redfield explained. "You're in a certain coverage or alignment; your alignment is based on the receivers' splits; how many receivers are to your side? And you have a different assignment based on the route he's running. It (all of the above) can vary your assignment maybe five to six times on a play-to-play basis."
Though it's been depicted that Redfield's back line running mate Austin Collinsworth is the definitive quarterback, both Collinsworth and Redfield counter that's not always the case.
"I'll say, and probably the rest of the defense will say, that's not the case at all," Redfield stated. "We all communicate the call. We all yell out everything we see on a play-to-play basis. I fix Austin sometimes, he fixes me sometimes. That's just how it is. We're a defense and we all feed off each other."
Asked when he reached the point that he could communicate with and to Collinsworth, and not just play the role of studious pupil, Redfield offered, "We all learned the defense together. It gave us the opportunity to grow within it and learn it together. At that point, I think I learned at the same rate as everyone else.
"The (spring practice) install was very in-depth and detailed," he added. "At first it was overwhelming for us, but we learned it as a defense, we grew in it as a defense, and now we're very comfortable and confident in it.
"Obviously I have a lot of areas where I can get better."
The entire secondary does. Though heavily influenced by a significant drop-off in quarterback pressures and sacks between 2012 and 2013, last year's Irish pass defense was likewise felled by missed tackles and blown assignments (that directly resulted in touchdowns) against Michigan, Purdue, Oklahoma, Arizona State, Navy, Pittsburgh, and Stanford. (The secondary also surrendered passing scores during competitive action against Michigan State, Brigham Young, and Rutgers.)
To a man, the team's secondary believes 2014 will produce far more plays made by the unit than yielded.
Then again, they like to talk. And it's a trait not exclusive to the garrulous collection of cornerbacks.
"Me and Austin are both trash talkers," Redfield admitted when asked why their cornerback teammates seem bent on pre- and post-snap conversation with the Irish skill players. "We love getting after it and hyping each other up. We feed off each other and like to play that way.
"I think that's imbedded in our personalities, that's who we are. We feed off each other, we love playing with each other. We want the best and demand the best of each other on every day."