If the defensive line and wide receiver position groups raised questions, Notre Dame’s secondary is a group full of answers. From Max Redfield at safety to fifth-year arriviste Cody Riggs, the Irish will enjoy a very solid, if inexperienced, two-deep. What new Defensive Coordinator Brian VanGorder does with the pieces will be an added wrinkle that has opposing offensive coordinators head-scratching at this point. If past is prologue or history repeats itself, Irish fans should expect a very aggressive secondary that emphasizes denying or dispossessing the opponent of the football at every turn, rather than protecting against the big gain.
IRISH PLAYER TO WATCH: KeiVarae Russell, Junior, CB, 5’11”, 190 lbs.
The most experienced returning player with twenty-six starts under his belt and his name on the Nagurski and Bednarik watch lists, KeiVarae Russell has the speed and size to handle most anyone he’ll face this season. A Freshman All-American in 2012, Russell had strong performances in 2012 as a true freshman. Alabama exposed him, and the rest of the defense, showing him in much need of work against elite talent. In 2013, he broke up three passes in the win over MSU and added three more plus an interception in the Pinstripe Bowl. If Russell performs up to, much less exceeds, expectations this season, he would easily be able to make the jump to the NFL. Notre Dame will rely on him and Riggs’ SEC-experience in the opening games to solidify what could turn out to be a marquee defensive unit nationally.
ENEMY PLAYER TO WATCH: Su’a Cravens, USC, Sophomore, SS, 6’1″, 215 lbs.
Remember the inexperience and questions for the Irish at wide receiver? Well, they get to blood themselves and figure it all out against a bevy of very talented corners and safeties, none of whom has the demonstrated performance and long-term potential of Troy’s freakish former freshman, Su’a Cravens. Like his Irish counterpart, Cravens saw action in all thirteen games in his first season and put up gaudy numbers: four interceptions, one pass broken up, and 53 tackles, 39 of which were solo. Awash in post-season accolades, it is little wonder his name appears on the Thorpe, Bednarik, and Nagurski Award watch lists.
I chose Cravens over FSU’s P.J. Williams, and Stanford’s Jordan Richards and Alex Carter because of his size and youth. I’ll concede that Carter’s 8 passes defensed last season is a jaw-dropping stat, but four of those came at the expense of Notre Dame and Sparty, neither of whom brought vaunted passing attacks in 2013. Cravens notched an interception and a pass breakup against Arizona State, both of which KeiVarae failed to do two weeks later.
Here’s a video in which you get to watch Stanford lose. Stomach the fact that you have to watch USC win.
ENEMY PLAYER TO WATCH: Nelson Agholor, Junior, WR, 6′ 1″, 190 lbs.