Elijah Shumate exited the Gug on Saturday afternoon and spotted his family. The safety strolled down the sidewalk to his father, Maurice Williams, and more family, in town for the Blue-Gold Game. Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley joined the confab, a group exhale with spring practice complete and the sun shining.
It was the most comfortable bench of Shumate’s college career.
It might be the last one too.
As Shumate prepares for his final season at Notre Dame, he does so with a feeling of preparedness at his back. The Irish can’t live without him as Drue Tranquill wraps ACL rehab and incoming fifth-year transfer Avery Sebastian enrolls in June. Spring feedback suggests something better for Notre Dame, that Shumate and Max Redfield won’t just survive at safety, they’ll thrive there.
“Last year I was still questionable on a lot of things,” Shumate said. “Now I feel I just need to work on my game. I feel so comfortable, I feel so confident in the defense now. I just want to go out there and just play.
“Now I feel I can just run this defense.”
Technically, Shumate and Redfield are both returning starters despite each getting benched during Notre Dame’s slide through November. The coaching staff seemingly tried to pull the plug on both last season, which proved to be another part of the system-wide short-circuit.
Redfield returned from internal injuries at USC to post a career-high 14 tackles in the Music City Bowl. Shumate had just two stops in the bowl game, but chipped in a pass breakup in a defense that allowed just seven completions. That did include a 75-yard bust off play action.
“I would say the biggest factor is just comfortability in the system,” Redfield said. “That NFL scheme, after a year we feel a lot more comfortable in it. The communication is a lot more apparent and a lot more evident.”
It was hard to judge the communication angle from the stands during spring, although Redfield was not shy about talking a brand of trash reserved for players who know what they’re doing. Shumate may have found his voice too after three inconsistent seasons.
Paired, Shumate and Redfield give Notre Dame its most athletic safety tandem of the Brian Kelly era. Now those measurables have the experience to match.
“In-the-game experience is a lot better learning tool than being on the sidelines learning concepts,” Redfield said. “As far as concepts, it’s really something they harp on and try to engrain in everybody on the defense. I feel me, as well as Shumate and the other guys on the defense, are starting to do that.”
Now Notre Dame needs the pair to take over a position that’s been more backstop than playmaking post.
“I feel we can run this defense,” Shumate said.