Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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30 APRIL 2017 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED DEFENSIVE BACKS N otre Dame was forced to play five freshmen in 2016, and the ex- perience gained by those young play- ers should pay huge dividends in 2017. At cornerback, senior Nick Watkins returns from a broken arm that sidelined him last year and provides the defense with a veteran presence. He will look to re- gain a starting role in a com- petition with 6-3 sophomore Donte Vaughn, who might be the team's most talented defen- sive back. On the opposite side, sopho- more Julian Love is poised to emerge as a starter after a breakout freshman season in which he totaled 45 tackles and a pick. Love will be pushed by the fastest player on the defense, fellow sophomore Troy Pride Jr. The questions for Notre Dame are at safety, with the biggest being who plays on the back end and who moves down to the rover spot. It is expected that 2016 starting strong safety Drue Tranquill eventually tran- sitions closer to the box. When that happens, expect sophomore Devin Studstill — a nine-game starter in 2016 — to emerge in that role. At free safety, talented sophomore Jalen Elliott will compete with a pair of converted cornerbacks for a starting role. Junior Nick Coleman started two games at corner- back last season, but he will now look to work into the rotation at safety along with classmate Ashton White. BY THE NUMBERS 2 Cornerbacks projected as starters last year who are back this spring after a medi- cal redshirt in 2016: senior Nick Watkins (arm) and junior Shaun Crawford (Achilles), al- though the latter is limited in the work he can do. 14 Scholarship players in the secondary this spring with five cornerbacks at two po- sitions and nine safeties at three spots, including for- mer corners Nick Coleman and Ashton White at safety. 209 Pounds listed this spring for the 6-2¾ Donte Vaughn. He's the tallest Irish corner since 6-3 Bobby Taylor in 1992-94, and the closest anyone came to his weight was 6-4, 206-pound Stacey Toran, a 1983 co-captain. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH There will be competition across the board in the Irish second- ary, but none should be more intriguing than the battle that will rage at the field cornerback position between senior Nick Watkins and sophomore Donte Vaughn. A broken arm cost Watkins the entire 2016 season, which al- lowed for the emergence of talented freshmen Julian Love, Troy Pride Jr. and Vaughn. Both Watkins and Vaughn are extremely long defenders and smooth athletes. Their game is quite similar in many regards, although Vaughn is the bigger of the two players and is arguably the most talented corner on the roster. WHO'S GONE Cole Luke He started every game at cornerback the past three years, finishing with 152 career tackles, 24 passes defended and eight interceptions. WHO'S BACK Senior Drue Tranquill Started all 12 games at strong safety and finished second in tackles (79) as a junior. Sophomore Devin Studstill The dismissal last August of senior Max Redfield thrust the freshman into starting nine games at free safety, where he fin- ished 10th in tackles (38) on the Irish and recorded one interception. Sophomore Julian Love The most versatile figure in the defensive backfield last year was ninth in tackles (45, two for loss), defended three passes and intercepted one. Sophomore Donte Vaughn In 296 defensive snaps, his six passes de- fended (including an interception) tied for the team lead. Sophomore Troy Pride Jr. The team's fastest player took 209 snaps on defense as a rookie. TOP NEWCOMERS Freshman Isaiah Robertson Among five early enrollees this semester, he is the only one on defense. The 6-1½ free safety increased his weight from 195 to 208 during winter conditioning and legiti- mately has a chance to crack the two-deep the way Studstill did last year. 2017 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW Returning Returning Year-End Year Starts Passes Def./Int. PD/Int. 2016 33 21/7 21/7 2017 45 14/5 — QUOTABLE "It's going to be a week-to-week matchup situation [at rover]. you're going to look at the teams that stress that position with a slot re- ceiver versus a tight end. We play some power run teams in the first month of the season, and we think Asmar [Bilal] is a guy that can physically run with most detached tight ends or backs coming out. … there'll be some versatility based upon the opponent." — HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON JUNIOR LINEBACKER ASMAR BILAL WORKING AT ROVER DURING THE MARCH 8 PRACTICE DRUE TRANQUILL PHOTO BY ANGELA DRISKELL

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