Max Redfield’s week of preparation for Navy’s triple option attack has been replete with lateral steps. Fitting, in that he’s already taken a step back, and more recently a leap forward this season.
“(Redfield) played his best game since he's been here,” said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his enigmatic junior’s performance against Clemson last week. “He was physical, double digit tackles (14), was our highest point producer…
“And that’s the bar. What we have to have from Max is a consistency from week to week. We brought him in, and we talked about that. That's the kind of football he's capable of, and we need to see that kind of performance week in and week out.”
Redfield couldn’t provide that for Kelly and his Irish mates due in part to an injury suffered at the season’s outset – literally, the beginning of his 2015 campaign.
“It happened the first series of the Texas game,” he said of a broken wrist that required surgery thereafter. “That was rough. I just thought it was dislocated so I kept playing with it. A hand injury isn’t much of a hindrance for a safety.”
It proved to be one week later at Virginia, a performance that sent Redfield to the bench on Sept. 19 against Georgia Tech’s run-heavy attack.
“It was the first surgery I’d ever had and I had it the same week (of the Virginia game). So in the back of my head, as much as you want to ignore it and play full speed, you can’t.
“I felt like there as a noticeable difference between Virginia and UMass and then Clemson,” he said. “It’s mostly mental, getting past it, and having to do your job regardless of what’s on your hand.”
Redfield played but didn’t start against the Minutemen before regaining his lead role against a quick-footed Clemson offense. Prior, he sat out the entire victory over Georgia Tech – a game in which Redfield said he thought he would play, but did not.
“Obviously that’s the way it went.”
READ YOUR KEYS, THEN (AND ONLY THEN) ATTACK
A figurative step back to begin the season followed by the metaphorical step forward last week. What does the immediate future hold for Redfield?
A literal lateral step – many of them – of course.
“It’s a lot different,” said Redfield of a safety’s preparation for the vexing triple option. “Our first step is more lateral now this week. Your coaches make it pretty explicit what you need to do.
“It’ so much more key-oriented. A lot less zone and really the most important (aspect) is what your key is on every play.”
And rest assured, Navy will run plays out of formations the Irish have not yet seen.
“We try not to (overanalyze film) because you can chase ghosts for the plays they run once or twice (every few seasons). The things they run most often are what we want to be familiar with. If we line up the right way we can play it the right way.”
The right way is what Redfield must show Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder going forward. Every practice and more important, every game.
“It’s more about displaying consistency on the field on Saturdays,” said Redfield of Kelly’s proclamation that a new bar has been set. “I practice just as hard and to my full capability week in and week out. As far as showing that on Saturday, play in and play out, is more what they’re referring to.”
Navy will test the ability of Redfield and the entire Irish defense to do just that.