So far this week we’ve broken down the best players for the Irish and their opponents at punter/kicker, the offensive line and the defensive line. Today we take a look at safety – a position group with starters that have a lot of years at Notre Dame under their belt but a minimal amount of depth behind them.
Year: 5th Year Senior
Height/Weight: 6’0″/200 lbs.
Fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter will be charged with leading the Irish secondary in 2012 following former captain Harrison Smith’s first round selection by the Minnesota Vikings in the NFL Draft. Slaughter played in all 13 games for the Irish last year, registering 45 tackles (25 solo, 20 assisted), 1 interception, and 2 pass breakups. Slaughter also forced a fumble and picked off a pass in a 59-33 win over Air Force. With the Irish graduating the majority of their secondary from last year, and with Austin Collinsworth out for the season with an injury, Slaughter will be called on to be the anchor of a relatively untested unit.
Following the injury to Collinsworth, discussions of Slaughter filling in at corner have slowed though the coaching staff insists it is still a possibility. Along with cornerback, many Irish fans (like myself) would like to see Jamoris spend more time at the hybrid safety-outside linebacker role that he excelled in late in the season, including in the Champs Sports Bowl against Florida State in which he registered two huge sacks (unfortunately he did not sack Tommy before those red zone interceptions). With Smith and his 181 tackles over the past two seasons out of the picture, we will likely see Slaughter’s statistical production increase drastically in 2012. Possibly more important than the stat line, though, will be his ability to lead an inexperienced secondary and to make sure Bennett Jackson and the Lo Wood/Josh Atkinson/maybe-Davonte-Neal combo know where they’re supposed to be.
I’m also hoping we see a loooooot more of this:
Height/Weight: 6’3″/205 lbs.
All-American T.J. McDonald of USC will be the best safety that the Irish offense will have the task of working against in 2012. McDonald, who is the younger half of USC’s first father/son All-American pair and first father/son captain pair (…….excuse me, needed to go vomit a little bit), returns to the Trojans as a third year starter at free safety. His father, Tim McDonald, played 13 NFL seasons at safety for the Cardinals and 49ers, winning a Super Bowl ring (XXIX) and earning his way into 6 Pro Bowls.
The younger McDonald recorded 67 tackles, 3 interceptions, 2 pass breakups, a fumble recovery and a blocked punt in 2011. He registered 5 tackles when the Trojans visited South Bend, but otherwise had a statistically quiet game. Coming off an excellent past season, McDonald has received some pre-season love in being named to the watch lists for the Thorpe, Bednarik and Nagurski awards. He was also named a 1st-team preseason All-American by Phil Steele, and we will likely see him on numerous more preseason lists as we get closer to the start of the season (44 days till Dublin!).
Analysis: Among the seniors returning for their fifth season in South Bend, none are as critical to the team’s success in 2012 as Jamoris Slaughter. While you could argue that Kapron Lewis-Moore and Braxston Cave are stronger overall players, the importance of Slaughter’s position as leader in the depleted secondary cannot be understated. With games against Heisman contenders Matt Barkley and Landry Jones, the ability of Slaughter and the defensive backfield to be competitive will be an essential element to a strong third season for Brian Kelly. Also, while this series of position previews at HLS is focused on the top player at each position, Zeke Motta (who has a knack for being in perfect position to make a play and then whiffing) will need to step in his final season as well if the Irish hope to effectively defend their opponents’ aerial attacks.
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