One of the first freshmen to make an impact for the 12-1 Irish of 2012, Elijah Shumate began his Notre Dame career as the team’s nickel defender, a role he won in early September, starred in shortly thereafter, and maintained through ups (Michigan State 2012) and downs (Alabama, MSU 2013) for more than a calendar year.
Shumate’s second season included a trio of mid-season starts as the squad’s strong safety, but a hamstring injury and one-game suspension (Stanford) thereafter stunted his sophomore season growth.
Last August, Shumate regained his starting role following an end-camp injury to captain Austin Collinsworth. After an unexpected mid-November benching, Shumate returned to help lead the Irish defense in tackles at USC (a career-best 14) and to a tooth-and-nail victory over LSU in the Music City Bowl last December.
Now in his second year in defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s system, Shumate is expected to not only hold down the fort at strong safety, but to excel as a battle-tested senior for his last season in South Bend.
Shumate’s strong spring performance carries over through August and the veteran safety not only serves as a conduit in communication among the back seven, but is likewise able to put his athletic skills on display on a consistent basis.
A sure tackler and Notre Dame’s most enthusiastic hitter, Shumate is able to provide top tier run support as a react and attack player rather than experience the paralysis by analysis that obviously plagued his efforts last fall. Shumate would likewise provide a physical presence patrolling the secondary’s seams against tight ends while offering enough pad-cracking pops to deter the dig routes and slants that are the lifeblood of today’s spread passing attacks.
Shumate should finish third or fourth in total tackles and improve upon his combined 10.5 “Big Plays” (tackles-for-loss, interceptions, sacks, forced or recovered fumbles, pass breakups, blocked kicks) from last season with at least a handful of additional momentum-changing plays from the secondary.
Shumate regresses as a communicator and coverage breakdowns and missed assignments ensue. After three seasons of struggling to adjust to the demands of a collegiate secondary, Shumate cedes time to incoming fifth-year transfer Avery Sebastian, his potential thus never approached, much less realized.
It’s unlikely to happen judging from Shumate’s performance during the spring. Rather, expect Shumate and Sebastian to form an intriguing pair, not only for what they can do with the defense, but also among the specialty units.
Shumate’s career arc closely resembles that of another highly touted safety prospect, like-sized Texas product Gerome Sapp (1999-2002). At six-feet, 218 pounds (Shumate is six-feet, 216), Sapp had appeared in 31 games heading into his senior season, registering 90 tackles including three for loss, with one interception and two fumble recoveries to his credit.
Shumate’s first three years and 35 games played shown a stat line of 98 total tackles including 3.5 for loss with one sack, one fumble recovery, and one interception.
Looking for a silver lining for Shumate? Sapp’s senior season send-off was golden: 71 tackles (3.5 for loss), 7 passes defended, 4 INT, plus a forced fumble and recovery, the latter of which he returned for a 54-yard score.
A four-star safety prospect per Scout.com, Shumate was rated as the nation’s 55th-best prospect in 2012 and the No. 4 safety overall. A three-season contributor to the Irish defense, Shumate’s numbers (detailed above) are a touch behind those expected of a 15-game starter along the back line.
A strong senior season (70-plus tackles plus 15 “Big Plays” as noted above) would alter the perception (and reality) of Shumate’s career under the Dome.
Call it the biggest bounce back effort of 2014 as well.
One week after serving as the safety position’s whipping boy – staff, fans, and media alike – due to a disjointed effort against Rice in Notre Dame’s 2014 season opener, Shumate went on to shine, posting 10 tackles and a game-ending interception in a 31-0 blowout of Michigan. Shumate returned his theft down the Irish sideline as the clock expired, punctuating the evening with a salt-in-the-wounds touchdown to put the rivalry with the Wolverines to bed.
His three-quarter-field sprint though went for naught as position mate Max Redfield was whistled for an unnecessary roughness penalty during the return, negating the score.
“The strong safety, which Elijah is playing now, we like to make him the second-level defender and we like to make (Max) Redfield the post-safety where he has better speed and a little more range than Shumate.
“Shumate is a physical presence, he can do it too. Coming from the Philadelphia Eagles, we were left and right – we made safeties do both. We can do that here, but the way the defense is set up I think Shumate is more of a second-level defender.” – Irish defensive backs coach Todd Lyght