In the film room...C.J. Pollard
• Stats: Credited with 58 tackles as a junior for the Cavaliers.
• Assets: Energetic, confident football player with nice frame/length and a strong desire to excel. South-to-north break out of a backpedal makes him a dynamic run supporter. Explodes out of backpedal vertically into long, loping strides, narrowing ground between him and a receiver quickly. Fills the hole with great enthusiasm for contact.
A talented run supporter with a solid base. Stays balanced, doesn’t over-commit. Won’t lunge before it’s time to make a tackle. Gets into the lower body of receiver/ball carrier. Outstanding pad level (when he tends to details). Uses length/balance to leverage open-field blockers.
Has tools to be an upper-level special teams coverage man. As he does defending the run, he stays square and maintains balance without over-committing in the open field. Outstanding length works to his advantage in terms of covering the width of the field against kick returners.
• Room for improvement: Inconsistent pre-snap set-up. Much better when he bends at the knees as opposed the waist. Not a natural when it comes to footwork in man-coverage. Shows difficulty with balance in his backpedal. Does not emerge from backpedal laterally in catch-up mode. Unproven as a pass-defending safety.
• Top offers: Notre Dame. ACC: Boston College, Duke; Big Ten: Illinois, Michigan, Wisconsin; SEC: None; Big 12: None; Pac 12: Arizona State, Cal, Colorado, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, Utah, Washington State; Interest: UCLA
• Early line: Pollard established a top five of Arizona State, Michigan, Oregon, USC and Utah, but after Notre Dame extended a scholarship offer last week, his top group has expanded to a top six with the Irish possibly inching ahead of the Utes.
“It surprised me a lot,” said Pollard to Scout’s Anna Hickey regarding Notre Dame’s interest. “I saw that Coach (Mike) Denbrock was stopping by and we had our first greeting, although I couldn’t really talk to him. He said he was going to come back that afternoon and watch me practice.”
Pollard expressed respect for Notre Dame.
“It’s a very prestigious school,” Pollard said. “It’s great academically. I know they have a long history of tradition on the football field and they put a lot of players in the NFL.”
Pollard also understands the situation on Notre Dame’s last line of defense.
“They need players in the secondary, so they’re pretty high on my list at this point,” Pollard said.
The Pollard plan is to make a verbal commitment at The Opening in July, although it doesn’t sound like it will be binding.
“As of right now, that’s my plan,” said Pollard of a July commitment. “I will be committed but not signed. I’ll still take my official visits in the fall.”
Also part of his plan is to make visits to Cal and possibly Oregon before The Opening. He frequently mentions Michigan, Arizona State and Michigan prominently. USC, however, will remain the team to beat with a) a large contingent of Junipero Serra grads matriculating to USC and b) the fact his father, Marvin, was a Trojan cornerback from 1988-91.
• ND’s 2016 safety recruiting: A huge need for the Fighting Irish with more questions than answers at the present time.
The top realistic safety catch on Notre Dame’s offer list is Craig Watts (St. Petersburg, Fla.), who lists the Irish and Florida State prominently. Watts is a dynamic run-supporter. Notre Dame has tried valiantly to get three-star Ikenna Okeke (Smyrna, Tenn.) and four-star JoeJuan Williams (Nashville, Tenn.) on campus this spring to no avail.
The Irish did receive visits from three-stars Chacho Ulloa (Corona, Calif.) and D.J. Morgan (Bellflower, Calif.) in April with the former landing a scholarship offer. Three-star Devin Studstill (Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.) hails from the same high school as early-entry linebacker Te’von Coney and reportedly has a legitimate interest in the Irish. He intends to participate in Notre Dame’s Irish Invasion.
• ND’s 2016 safety depth chart: Elijah Shumate and one-year fill-in Avery Sebastian will be gone, and many believe that if Max Redfield parlays his junior season into a standout 13-game performance, he’ll bypass his final year of eligibility, although Redfield is far from a finished product at the present time.
Nicky Baratti would have a fifth year of eligibility, but his health (shoulder) is a perpetual concern. John Turner also would have a fifth year of eligibility, and yet he hasn’t established himself at the safety position. That leaves Drue Tranquill, who will be a junior, and 2016 sophomores Mykelti Williams and Nicco Fertitta.
• Summary: Pollard says he’s a cornerback, but there’s a reason Junipero Serra uses him at safety. One, because the Cavaliers almost always has major-college cornerback talent, and two, Pollard’s talents point more toward safety than cornerback.
This is a long, athletic defensive back that plays with great energy and enthusiasm. He’ll need to fine-tune his man-coverage skills and the fundamental techniques that go with it. But in terms of moving south-to-north out of his backpedal, filling the gap, maintaining balance and pad level, and getting into the lower body of a ball carrier, Pollard has the skills to check each one of those boxes.
He also has the length to be a difficult safety upon which to throw with the balance and lateral movement against the run to be a challenging last line of defense to circumnavigate, although there remains a shortage of pass-coverage footage to fully substantiate his ball skills.
At least at this stage of the process, the Irish are struggling in their efforts to recruit/land safeties. If Notre Dame can’t close on Florida’s Craig Watts and/or Tennessee’s JoeJuan Williams, they’ll have to cast a much wider net at safety, a process that already has begun. Chacho Ulloa – one of a few California products who has expressed an interest in Notre Dame – has much to prove in terms of fulfilling the needs the Irish have at the safety position.
At this point, we still have seen a safety offered by the Irish who is a better prospect than incoming freshman Mykelti Williams, who will arrive as an underrated three-star prospect.
From now until signing day – because of the critical nature of Notre Dame’s needs at the position – we’ll be on safety watch for the Irish. There’s plenty of time to right the ship, but there’s also plenty of work to be done.