Notre Dame picked up a physical, in-the-box safety this week when 5-foot-10, 195-pound Avery Sebastian – who missed the 2013 season with an Achilles tendon injury – signed with the Irish to use his final year of eligibility after earning his undergraduate degree from Cal-Berkeley.
Sebastian, who went to Eagles Landing Christian High School in McDonough, Ga. – the same high school that produced Irish junior-to-be defensive end Isaac Rochell – is a physical, I’m-going-to-try-to-knock-you-into-next-week safety.
While at Cal, the Bears used him in a variety of fashions, including in the box, on the edge (less often), and as a single-safety patrolling the middle, sometimes even creeping into a middle linebacker alignment.
Sebastian’s greatest asset is his physicality and desire to strike. Despite (or perhaps because of) his lack of stature, Sebastian compensates with an extremely aggressive approach to defensive football, willingly throwing his body around the football field, which at least partially explains some of the injury issues that he’s encountered the last two seasons.
This kid is a true pad popper who gives the Irish a physical presence on the back end of the defense, or at the line of scrimmage where he will jump the point of attack. His fearlessness goes hand-in-hand with his physicality. He plays with an excellent pad level, due in part to the fact he has little choice as an undersized safety.
Sebastian does a nice job of getting into the lower body of ball carriers/pass receivers. When he’s not lowering the boom with his battering-ram shoulders, he’s attempting to take offensive players out at the wheels, which again, is the best way to maximize (or compensate for) the length of his frame. Cal would occasionally blitz him on run downs to create a numbers mismatch in the backfield, but he had just two tackles for loss over 33 games of action.
Another area where Sebastian should be able to help the Irish is on kickoff coverage, which he seems to attack with gusto. He isn’t necessarily the first guy downfield on coverage, but he is a maximum-effort player who selflessly throws his body around to break up wedges/make tackles.
You can anticipate the strong possibility of Sebastian holding down a starting spot the first time the Irish kick off against Texas in the ’15 season-opener. It starts with his desire to be on the kick-coverage unit.
Sebastian’s strengths center around moving toward the line of scrimmage as opposed to laterally or in a backpedal. He can be very deliberate coming out of a backpedal or in a change-of-direction situation, which is why his strengths are maximized vertically. (For those wondering, he does not react to sudden changes of direction well enough to be a cornerback candidate.)
Due to his lack of height, he can be leveraged by bigger blockers, particularly linemen. He has to guard against lowering his head on tackles and/or committing too early when attacking vertically. He can get into the feet of a ball carrier, or he also can make that early commitment and miss a tackle. His big-hitting penchant sometimes leads to a poor job of wrapping up.
Sebastian’s strengths as a collegiate safety are predominately in the running game. He had just two interceptions and three passes defensed in 33 games with Cal. He is not at his best moving away from the line of scrimmage, unless he’s ready to lower the boom on a pass receiver. He is not a burner.
All things being equal, he’s unlikely to beat out Max Redfield or Elijah Shumate from the standpoint of a pure physical-trait comparison. He does not come bearing the assets of a Cody Riggs, who was a ready-made corner who could step into the starting lineup.
How Sebastian adapts to coverages and defensive adjustments – compared to Redfield and Shumate, who both have struggled in that area – will help determine what his role will be for the Irish. He is not as athletically-gifted as those two Irish safeties, but he’ll arrive with an extra-effort attitude and a physicality that can be utilized against the run and on coverage teams.