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Notre Dame Football Positional Breakdown: Safeties

In a new series, Golden Domer Daily will be breaking down the eight major position groups of the 2017 football team, starting with the position of most concern to the position of least concern. These rundowns will first include a look at last season’s depth chart, a look at this upcoming season’s depth chart, and an overall season outlook. 

As it currently stands, the safeties (a group that struggled a great deal last season) opens the series up in the spot of most concern entering 2017. The safeties have a lot to prove. Defensive Coordinator and Safeties Coach Mike Elko has his work cut out for him.

2016 Depth Chart

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ – OCTOBER 01: Dontae Strickland #4 of the Syracuse Orange carries the ball as Drue Tranquill #23 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

The 2016 season was supposed to be a good one for the Notre Dame safety core. Drue Tranquill was returning from his second injury to start at strong safety and former five-star and senior Max Redfield all but had the free safety position locked up. Behind those two was an experienced graduate transfer from Cal in Avery Sebastian and budding star freshman Devin Studstill, who flashed as an early enrollee.

We all know how this story ends.

Max Redfield was arrested in August (along with four other Notre Dame  players) for possession of marijuana while Redfield was also charged with carrying a handgun without a license. Redfield was kicked off the team, ending a disappointing career at Notre Dame. The safety position was left with little depth and questionable talent. The season ended with Studstill and another freshmen Jalen Elliott receiving extensive playing time alongside Tranquill and Sebastian. Sophomore Nicco Fertitta also played sparingly while freshmen D.J. Morgan and Spencer Perry reserved a year of eligibility by redshirting.

2017 Depth Chart

SOUTH BEND, IN – SEPTEMBER 26: at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

The 2017 safety depth chart has many new faces to it, but for now the position remains in 8th in our series. Senior captain Drue Tranquill has settled into his new role as ROVER in Mike Elko’s defense, Avery Sebastian has graduated, and Spencer Perry is transferring. Former cornerback Nick Coleman is now in the mix at free safety, while Jalen Elliot started the Blue-Gold Game at strong safety.

Early enrollee Isaiah Robertson seems to look the part as a freshman and could definitely challenge for a starting safety spot. Jordan Genmark-Heath will also be on campus in a month and could work his way into the 2-deep at STUD (strong-safety) with a strong summer and fall. Studstill, Fertitta, D.J. Morgan, and Ashton White are all familiar names to keep in mind as well. A curveball target for the position, at least in a part-time role, is sophomore-to-be Julian Love, who could see time at safety in certain situations.

2018 Commits and Targets

The Notre Dame staff currently has one pledge at the safety position in the 2018 class and he is a good one. Highly ranked four-star Derrik Allen out of Marietta, Georgia committed to Notre Dame on February 13th over offers from most of the SEC other power 5 conferences. Needless to say, this was a big recruiting win for the staff and the credit belongs to Mike Elko for having an existing relationship with Allen while at Wake Forest. Allen can play all over the secondary, but the popular opinion is that ends up at safety in South Bend.

Other notable targets to keep an eye on:

Four-star Houston Griffith is originally from Illinois, but is playing for IMG Academy in Florida. Griffith is also a potential boundary corner, but either way he is an athlete Notre Dame needs to land.

Shayne Simon is another top target for the staff from the same high school as QB Brandon Wimbush and two 2018 Notre Dame commits Jayson and Justin Ademilola. He is most likely a ROVER target, but much like Griffith, an athlete Notre Dame simply needs to bring in.

Other safety targets include D’Angelo McKenzie from San Jose, California, Virginia Tech commit Nasir Peoples, Michael Dowell from St. Edward High School in Ohio (the same high school as Shaun Crawford) and four-star Talanoa Hufanga from Oregon.

2017 Outlook

I rank the safety position last mainly due to uncertainty at the position. There is not a ton of experienced depth and the depth in general is thin. Nick Coleman looked much more comfortable at safety in the spring game than he ever did at corner, which is a good sign. Isaiah Robertson looks to be a freshman that deserves early playing time. They could definitely be your two starters come week 1 against Temple. Sophomores Jalen Elliott and Devin Studstill will certainly have roles, but need to add consistency in their games to compete for starting roles. Fertitta and Morgan have the versatility to cross-train at ROVER, but will probably be third string at best in both positions. Jordan Genmark-Heath should probably redshirt this season, but we will see how he competes when he arrives on campus and may excel in a special teams role. Ashton White seems to be the odd man out in the rotation at the moment, but he could see some time at corner as well and was even seen at the ROVER type position in the spring game.

Overall, there is plenty of potential and the position seems to be getting stronger under the direction of Mike Elko, both in on the field play and recruiting. Safety may be eighth on this list, but it could be a position of strength entering the 2018 season.