Benched in mid November. Seriously injured in late November. First-team All-America candidate per Phil Steele, the respected college football aficionado in June.
That’s the working career arc for Notre Dame’s ultra-talented free safety Max Redfield, one of the team’s most indispensable players for 2015.
Irish Illustrated continues its preview of each member of Notre Dame’s 2015 roster with the self-assured safety from Mission Viejo, Calif.
After a 2014 season that – aside from a curious mid-November benching – could be best described as “nondescript,” Redfield makes good on the projection of many and enjoys a standout 2015 campaign.
Notre Dame’s only viable free safety for the season (they’re well-stocked with strong safety competitors), Redfield stays healthy for the 12-game grind and performs at a level similar to that of Zeke Motta in 2012 when the Irish senior patrolled the back line with aplomb, allowing just one touchdown pass in excess of 14 yards.
Additionally, Redfield’s unique athleticism affords him opportunities for ample interceptions and/or passes defended after posting just one and three, respectively, in those categories last season.
First-team All-America status might be a reach, but Redfield’s name needs to resonate on multiple, hotly contested Saturday’s next fall.
How about 2014? That is, intermittent flashes of his potential mitigated by poor communicative efforts and multiple coverage busts that plague a defense looking to create confusion up front while maintaining sound principles on the back end. When the latter doesn’t complement the former…
A quality tackler from a chase position (he saved countless touchdowns last year with ankle tackles), Redfield falls back into his late-season 2014 habit of clutching and grabbing rather than striking the ball carrier.
Much was expected of Redfield as a true sophomore starter last season. In 2015, it’s essential he rises to the fore, and few that viewed Spring Ball 2015 expect anything but.
Though their methods differed, Redfield’s career arc resembles that of former Irish three-year starter and four-season contributor John Covington (1990-93). Like Redfield, Covington appeared in every game as a rookie, primarily on special teams. And like Redfield, Covington emerged as a sophomore year starter, earning seven starting assignments while playing in all 13 games and recording 63 tackles to go with (like Redfield) a trio of passes defended.
Covington’s career took off thereafter as he recorded 132 tackles with 12 passes defended and five picks over the final two seasons of his Irish career – for a team that finished his junior and senior campaigns with a combined 21-1-2 record.
A four-star prospect per Scout.com and ESPN.com, Redfield received five-star designation from both Rivals and 24/7. After a freshman season spent on special teams (10 combined kickoff and punt return stops), Redfield started 11 of 13 games as a sophomore, appearing in each.
His impact has not yet matched the lofty expectations bestowed upon him, but with 80 career tackles, an interception, and three passes defended, including a career-best 14 stops in his most recent outing, a 31-28 victory over LSU, Redfield’s ascent has begun.
Though he produced 14 total tackles in Notre Dame’s Music City Bowl victory over LSU last December (that performance coming just 31 days after fracturing a rib during a loss at USC), Redfield’s best outing in terms of back line communication, playmaking prowess, and sound defensive principles came against rival Michigan more than three months prior.
Redfield finished with six tackles and an interception (one that he returned for 17 yards through a handful of Michigan defenders) while also patrolling a secondary that allowed just one completion in excess of 16 yards – and the Irish led 28-0 at the time.
Redfield’s vicious block on Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner during an end-game interception return by teammate Elijah Shumate would have been applauded for the first century-plus of football played at the school – it was instead flagged as unnecessary roughness last September.
“The first thing you notice is they're much more vocal. You can hear them back there. Last year you couldn't even hear them. There's much more communication. There's confidence. They know they can make plays. They know they're capable of playing at a high level. A lot of that is confidence. You make plays when you have confidence. They're feeling very confident in their ability to go back there and be playmakers and communicate effectively. They have a better grasp of the defense, there's no question about that.” – Kelly on the safety tandem of Redfield and Shumate this spring.