ND A-to-Z: Max Redfield

Can the enigmatic, preternaturally athletic veteran join predecessors that improved upon previously inconsistent careers with outstanding senior seasons in South Bend?

If recruiting hype was nonexistent…if internet NFL Draft pundits had a clue what actual NFL GMs were thinking…if his school didn’t change its defensive coordinator midstream…and, to be fair, maybe if he hadn’t broken his wrist in the first half of the first game of his junior season?

To date, Max Redfield’s collegiate career has not lived up to the lofty prep projections bestowed upon him in the winter of 2013:

-- 4 stars from Scout.com; 5 from both Rivals and 24/7 Sports
-- A consensus No. 3 ranking (No. 5 on Scout.com) among safety prospects in what has already proven to be a talent-rich defensive
-- “Can’t miss” status as both a safety and wide receiver prospect

Instead, Redfield has played in 36 games, started 23, been benched twice, suspended once, and most recently openly challenged by his head coach in spring ball as the latter marveled at the early assimilation of a 17-year-old should-be-prep-senior apparently ready to challenge Notre Dame’s collegiate senior-to-be for his starting status.

Irish Illustrated’s A-to-Z preview of Notre Dame’s roster continues with Redfield, a senior hoping his final chance makes a lasting impression.

Redfield master’s defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s challenging scheme and is thus able to use his own rare athletic ability to its fullest, roaming Notre Dame’s back line as a playmaking safety.

Program history is replete with athletes that struggled to find consistency before excelling in their senior seasons (see below), and Redfield appears a prime candidate to join them.

Freshman Devin Studstill continues to challenge Redfield for a starting role throughout August. Period.

It’s a great sign for future Irish defenses if Studstill proves as advertised, but it would portent problems in 2016 if the defensive backfield is guided by an untested rookie. It has a senior with two years of starting experience and – if we are to believe every recruiting service and analyst known to mankind – one blessed with top level talent, to boot.

If you hear Devin Studstill’s name throughout August it’s a good thing. If you hear it in comparison or competition with Redfield, at least beyond mid-camp, it decidedly is not.

Redfield’s career story will be determined by his final act, and realistically it will go one of three ways:

1. He plays at a level commensurate with Zeke Motta, the 2012 senior safety and invaluable veteran leader of an otherwise youth-filled secondary. Like Redfield, Motta was inconsistent for three seasons – two as a starter – prior to his final year in South Bend, then blossomed as a senior, unnamed captain. Redfield won’t be named a captain either, but he can emulate Motta and act (and play) like one.

(It’s worth noting that Motta won Defensive Player of the Year honors for the 2012 Irish after Manti Te’o took the Team MVP.)

2. Redfield harnesses his unique athleticism and elicits comparisons to the best senior swan song of recent memory, Gerome Sapp circa 2002. Like Redfield, Sapp was among the nation’s most coveted safety prospects coming out of high school, but likewise struggled to play to his lofty billing through his junior campaign.

Sapp dominated as a senior for first-year head coach Tyrone Willingham and was drafted by the Kansas City Chiefs as a result.

3. Redfield is marginally better than he was as a junior in 2015 and thus, Notre Dame’s defense remains its Achilles Heel. In this scenario, the Irish would likely eventually turn to Studstill to kick-start the rookie’s playing career.

-- To date, Redfield’s stat line (164 tackles including 3 for loss, 2 INT, 6 PD, and 1 sack) is reminiscent of the aforementioned Motta’s: (104 tackles including 2 for loss, 1 INT, 2 FR, 2 PD).

Motta thereafter led a defensive secondary that surrendered just 11 touchdowns passes en route to a 12-1 finish in 2012.

As noted above, he’s not yet met expectations, though 23 career starts is a nice body of work from which to learn entering a senior campaign.

Redfield has experienced huge highs, deep, public lows, injury, suspension, and competed against the best the nation has to offer. It’s up to him to change the perception (and reality) of his college career to date.  

Though his 14-tackle effort against LSU in the 2014 Music City Bowl is oft referenced, the 31-0 win against Michigan in September of that year was likely his best overall outing. Then a sophomore in his third career start – and the first that mattered – Redfield finished with six tackles and an interception, bouncing off would-be tacklers for 17 yards following the pick, the first of his collegiate career.

He ended the contest with a knockout hit on Wolverines quarterback Devin Gardner, one deemed illegal under new rules governing blows against a “defense-less” player. Irish fans didn’t seem to mind…

“I’d say there are a lot of moving parts to it. One player out of position can cause a big play, especially in the secondary. There’s a lot of calls, a lot to be communicated each play. Other than that, it’s conceptually driven so it is ease to grasp the whole concept if you focus on those concepts.” – Redfield on the Irish defensive scheme.

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