That brief field time remains a necessary comparison because junior safety Dan McCarthy has yet to forge his own identity on a college football field. He can, however, take solace in the fact that his well-known brother had likewise barely sniffed the playing field as a safety competitor entering his junior season.
Like his younger brother Dan, Kyle McCarthy did not play as a true freshman. And like his younger brother, Kyle played fewer than five minutes from scrimmage (Kyle 4:27/Dan 1:08 – or 3:19 more) as a sophomore. And like Dan in 2010, Kyle began his junior season of '07 slated for backup duty.
Where Dan could have a leg up on his now well-respected brother is his eventual level of production in Year 3. In 2007, Kyle began to emerge as a reliable back line player, logging more than 80 minutes of playing time behind Tom Zbikowski while making the third-highest number of special teams appearances (177) on the squad.
The elder McCarthy made the most of his limited third-year opportunities, picking off a pass at the goal line at Purdue and earning a start vs. Navy, recording seven tackles in the first extended action of his career.
Now entering his third year in the program and 30 months removed from a serious neck injury, the younger McCarthy has fought his way into contention for playing time next fall. (Dan McCarthy suffered the injury at the tail end of his senior season for Cardinal Mooney HS.)
Dan's 2010 performance will determine whether the name "Kyle" is a necessary inclusion in his Pre-Camp Assessment next summer.
McCarthy's Season OutlookMcCarthy was out of the DB rotation through the Boston College contest (Game 7) last fall; appearing in only mop-up duty vs. Nevada then not again until a similar situation in the blowout of Washington State. He did, however, earn a special teams role for the season's final month, appearing vs. Navy, Pittsburgh, and Connecticut.
Extensive action with the punt and kick coverage units appears likely in 2010, but the aggressive athlete also made an impression on his new head coach and could challenge for a greater role with a strong August camp.
"I really like (Dan) McCarthy, the way he's playing. I think if I had to throw two guys out, I'd throw out the McCarthy kid and the McDonald kid (ILB Anthony McDonald) that are going to be able to help us defensively."
Head coach Brian Kelly offered that praise for D-Mac in the early stages of spring practice. Though the Irish have no set depth chart, it appears senior Harrison Smith and junior Jamoris Slaughter are the front-runners for the starting safety spots heading into fall camp with McCarthy and sophomore Zeke Motta pushing for a spot in the rotation (Motta has also been singled out as a nickel linebacker – the "Buck Linebacker" – according to Kelly.)
McCarthy flashed elements of what Kelly referred to as "the willingness to hit" in the media practice viewings in April. His presence with the first and second unit goal line defenses was notable as D-Mac consistently attacked downhill and stopped ball carriers short of the goal line (he also recovered the now infamous Cierre Wood goal line fumble).
McCarthy's desire to make his presence felt was obvious when he took down teammate John Goodman out of bounds (basically continued with the tackle well-beyond the white line) following an end-around play near the goal. Though McCarthy will need to harness such emotions on game day, it was interesting to see a defender playing "through the whistle" in the physical, live drill – and not be admonished for the effort.
The Irish defense needs controlled aggression. It needs reliable tacklers on the back line and it needs an on-the-spot playmaker to replace Dan's older brother. Most of all, it needs consistent competition within its ranks.
McCarthy can take the first step toward providing all of the above with a standout effort in August and the desire to punish opposing ball carriers in the fall.
Look for the junior to battle athletic incumbent Harrison Smith for a starting role through the final week of the pre-season and beyond.
Biding Their TimeNot every eventual starter encounters smooth sailing entering the college ranks. As with former starter Ron Israel, and standouts Glen Earl and yes, his brother Kyle (2005-09), before him, Dan McCarthy enters his junior year with three seasons of eligibility remaining.
And like the trio profiled below, Dan McCarthy's first step toward consistent appearances from scrimmage will likely be determined by his presence – and production – on special teams.
Kyle McCarthy's first brush with meaningful playing time occurred as a member of the 2007 squad's coverage units. In that, his redshirt-junior season, K-Mac made 177 special teams appearances but also eventually found his way into the defensive backfield's rotation, earning one start.
As a senior and 5th-year player, McCarthy led the Irish in tackles for consecutive seasons (2008-09). He was the first DB to pace a Notre Dame team in stops since A'Jani Sanders in 1999 (the third in team history) and the only defensive back to top an Irish squad in tackles on more than one occasion.
Glen Earl: A USA Today honorable mention All-America selection, Earl began his Irish career as a reserve flanker withheld from action during the 1999 season. During his sophomore season, Earl was a standout special teams performer, making 167 appearances (or for the sake of reference, one more than did freshman Zeke Motta last season). He appeared in eight games, starting two, including the notable Air Force contest of 2000 in which a leaping Earl blocked a potential game-winning field goal as time expired in regulation (the Irish won in overtime).
Earl served in a reserve role as a redshirt-junior in '01, earning three starts and posting 12 tackles, two sacks, and a fumble recovery vs. Purdue before returning to the second unit as he battled through injury.
In his true senior season, Earl put forth one of the best individual efforts by an Irish safety in recent memory, collecting 81 tackles (4 for lost yardage), 1 sack, 2 interceptions, 2 fumble recoveries, 4 passes defended and 3 forced fumbles – two of which led to Irish touchdowns.
One year later following an injury-truncated 5th season, Earl was a 4th round selection of the Houston Texans in the 2004 NFL Draft.
Ron Israel: Another USA Today honorable mention selection, Israel sat out the 1997 season before finding a role on special teams in '98. He played in 10 contests as a reserve in '99 (his true junior season) before earning a starting role as a senior for the 2000 Fiesta Bowl squad.
Israel continued as a fifth-year player for Bob Davie's final team in '01 on a squad that ranked 10th nationally in pass defense. He started 17 games in his Irish career before signing a free agent contract with the Washington Redskins and eventually earning a spot on the Minnesota Vikings roster in 2003.