The removal from the Notre Dame football team of free safety Max Redfield, the indefinite suspension of injured cornerback Devin Butler, and the misdemeanor accusations against four Irish underclassmen – running back Dexter Williams, receiver Kevin Stepherson, linebacker Te’von Coney and cornerback Ashton White – will have a real-life impact on the short- and long-term futures of these individuals.
So, too, will it impact the game in which they play, their teammates and the personnel Notre Dame will use in the season-opener against Texas in Austin on Sept. 5.
We know that Redfield and Butler definitely will not play against the Longhorns. The story below is written under the assumption that the other four will not participate at least in the season-opener against Texas, although all four reportedly participated in Monday’s practice session.
Here is the projected impact in the subjective order of importance to the team as it relates to the Texas game. Redfield’s loss is evaluated from a long-term perspective as well.
6) CB-Devin Butler (Sr.) – Even if healthy, Butler was going to have a real battle on his hands for a spot on the two-deep with youngsters Shaun Crawford, Nick Coleman and Ashton White joining three-year-starter-to-be Cole Luke up front. Nick Watkins – a better athlete than Butler -- also figured to be an impediment to Butler’s playing time once Watkins rebounds from a setback to his broken arm suffered in the spring.
Although Butler had continued to battle and was in line to start the Fiesta Bowl, he had been an inconsistent football player with limited speed and quickness. Butler would not have played against Texas after breaking the same foot during the summer that gave way during Fiesta Bowl preparation. More talented young players with more upside were challenging Butler.
5) CB-Ashton White (Soph.) – At 5-foot-11, 195 pounds, White was showing a knowledge of his responsibilities on the field and a confidence that was difficult to assess during his rookie season when he preserved a year of eligibility. He was playing with physicality and a bounce in his step during pre-season camp, which generally are signs of more confidence in tending to assignments and a greater understanding of the system.
Still, White was probably No. 5 overall on the cornerback depth chart behind Cole Luke, Shaun Crawford, Nick Coleman and if/when Nick Watkins returned to health. Plus, with freshmen Donte Vaughn, Julian Love and Troy Pride, Jr. impressing the staff, White had yet to develop into a definite piece at cornerback.
The greatest loss will come on special teams where White was expected to be a significant contributor against the Longhorns.
4) WLB-Te’von Coney (Soph.) – Competing for the starting Will linebacker and declared the biggest thumper of the three vying for the position by Brian VanGorder last week, the impact of the personnel losses vs. Texas begins in earnest with Coney.
It appears Greer Martini has landed the starting job and Asmar Bilal gives the Irish unique quickness at the position. But Coney – who worked at No. 2 behind Jaylon Smith as a true freshman in ’15 – was going to a key backup against the Longhorns after suffering a significant shoulder injury that required surgery after the Fiesta Bowl.
Because of his hitting ability, Coney was a top candidate for goal-line duty as well as multiple special teams. His involvement on the 2016 team is important over the long haul of the season.
3) WR-Kevin Stepherson (Fr.) – The early-entry rookie wide receiver made an instant impact on the Irish receiving corps this spring when he caught everything in sight and immediately put his name in the discussion with the Torii Hunter, Jr. and the rest of the young receivers vying to replace the catches/snaps lost by the departure of Will Fuller and Chris Brown.
Junior Corey Holmes, sophomores C.J. Sanders, Equanimeous St. Brown, Miles Boykin and Chris Finke, and freshmen Chase Claypool, Stepherson and Javon McKinley all are in the running for playing time in 2016.
One could argue for Stepherson to be No. 2 on this list. But there are other promising young receivers from which to choose.
2) RB-Dexter Williams (Soph.) – Had C.J. Prosise returned for his fifth-year of eligibility, we might think differently and could have seen a whole lot less of Williams. But Prosise is in the NFL and Williams looked like a star ready to explode during the four open practices to the media, flashing tremendous acceleration, a low pad level, and a power burst that complements Tarean Folston’s between-the-tackles prowess.
There are other reasons to list Williams No. 2. If Josh Adams’ pre-season dings limit him as the Irish open the season, freshman Tony Jones, Jr. will be thrust into the No. 2 role. While Jones has been very impressive for a No. 4 running back and even as a No. 3, pass protections become a whole lot more important as the No. 2 back, and that’s never a sure thing with a true freshman.
Williams clearly was going to be a significant part of the game plan as the third running back against Texas. Plus, there’s a very good chance Williams would have been the lead kick returner against the Longhorns. His return to the field this fall is important if not critical.
1) FS-Max Redfield (Sr.) – In such a completely subjective ranking, you have to balance the scales of what Notre Dame lost…and perhaps gained. Lost: 36 career games, 23 career starts, a player that the head coach said was performing at an “elite” level during pre-season camp and all the positive experiences gained, albeit often times amidst failure.
Redfield’s loss either a) forces a true freshman/inexperienced player into the starting lineup or b) forces Notre Dame to weaken its athleticism at both safety positions.
The first scenario would place a ton of pressure on freshman Devin Studstill; the second would give the Irish two in-the-box safeties by moving Drue Tranquill from strong to free and inserting sixth-year senior Avery Sebastian. Any other scenario created by Redfield’s departure is even less desirable than the above-mentioned two.
Whether Redfield was a drain on the team-first mentality, he is by far the most significant loss. He’s gone for good while we await the punishment of the four underclassmen.