Redfield’s Last Rodeo

Notre Dame’s senior safety has a final chance to make a lasting impression.

Talk to me Thursday.

The four words above summarize Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s feelings regarding what appeared to be, at minimum, a solid first day of training camp 2016 for safety Max Redfield.

Redfield looked good but Kelly was nonplussed because he’d seen it from before from the senior athlete.

Sporadically. Not all the time. And that’s the point.

“What we want to see from Max is that guy that does the basic things right,” said Kelly. “He was a guy that was up and down. We saw great flashes and then we didn’t see him for a couple weeks. If we just get consistent play from him, we’ll get really good play. If we went through five days here and we saw a consistent performer, I’d be pretty happy with that.”

Five days of Camp Culver have since come and gone, and Kelly’s Irish return to campus for two practices Thursday, the first of which will be viewed by the media under a scorching South Bend sun.

Inevitably, he’ll be asked again: “How was Max today?”

It’s an odd query to accompany a borderline five-star prospect from the star-studded the class of 2013, a player that became a two-season (and counting) starter, the latter of which was for a Top 10 team.

But it applies. And it applied during spring practice when, in some fashion, and one not shot down by the coaching staff, the notion that early enrollee Devin Studstill could push Redfield for his free safety job presented.

Consider this: Studstill will embark on Practice No. 21 of his Irish career Thursday. A date with Texas in Austin at September’s outset will serve as Game No. 1 for the neophyte along the Irish backline.

Redfield? He’ll have endured more than 100 training camp sessions plus 45 spring practices while appearing in 36 games, starting 23 of them. He’s been to Tallahassee, Los Angeles, Clemson, and most relevant points in between.

And yet his coach is looking for something more. But so is the player. From himself, and his myriad pupils.

“We’re leaders at this point,” Redfield said of himself and strong safety Drue Tranquill. “We have to set the example on the field and in our approach off the field as well. Studying, the extra meetings that we’re holding. We’re doing that more than ever, more than I’ve ever done, and I think it’s beneficial for us to elevate our (young) guys.”

As for those youngsters, seven freshmen and four sophomores deep in the defensive backfield?

“It seems like they’re learning the defense faster than in past seasons,” Redfield offered.

A NEW, WELCOMED LOOK?
No position group took more flak over the never-ending offseason than did Notre Dame’s safeties. But if you’re a glass half-full fan, take heart: starters Redfield and Drue Tranquill rank second-to-none in athleticism and intelligence quotient.

And they’re relishing the opportunity to showcase their enviable, versatile, complementary skillset.

“Drue and I are pretty fluid as to who’ll play man-to-man and who’ll get deep middle,” Redfield noted. “We’re versatile safeties and can do each other’s jobs and feel comfortable doing them.

“I would say as far as the (defensive) backs and the defense in general we have a lot more depth. The young guys have a lot of talent and are learning fast. It’s more comfortable for me and Drue, with versatile corners, our jobs change a lot; we’re not doing the same things (all the time). It gives the defense versatility to run different stuff.”

That includes employing a post safety, a position for which Redfield is ideally suited.

“Playing post safety requires you to play man coverage,” said Kelly. “The first thing you have to be able to do is play inside-out man against a skilled No. 2 (slot) receiver and we believe that we can do that with (redshirt-freshman) Shaun Crawford. So it all evolves around the ability to play a nickel in a man situation.

“Then you can play post safety and play some more man coverage.”

That schematic plan of attack wasn’t an option last season due to the loss of Crawford, his season-ending injury curiously negating any semblance of a reliable Nickel package, and it had a domino effect on the secondary.

“We didn't feel comfortable playing man inside-out with last year when Shaun went down,” Kelly continued. “That gives you the opportunity to play more post safety because you can play some more Cover One (one safety covering his zone deep rather than two splitting the field). We feel like we can with the corners outside; now we feel better about the first nickel and the second nickel that can play man coverage.

“So yeah, you may see more post safety because of that.”

Regardless of scheme tweaks, Redfield’s singular focus has not changed since he returned to the program’s good graces during winter conditioning – on the heels of a major misstep during bowl preparations.

“Just to grow within myself, to know the details I need to hone and get the consistency I’m looking for and for the coaches as well,” said Redfield of his approach following a Fiesta Bowl suspension for tardiness. “The competition (with Studstill), too. Everything I was doing wrong, I wanted to analyze and eliminate it.

“There was no epiphany. It’s really just the minute details.”

To date, the devil has been in those details. Check back for Practice No. 6 Thursday, as well as No.’s 15 and 20 down the road, and of course, in Austin, Texas on the first Sunday in September.


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