The month of July brings us close to the beginning of another fall camp for Notre Dame football. With practices set to begin soon we are taking a look at each position group ahead of the workouts. It’s time to turn our attention toward the cornerbacks.
Where We Left Off in Spring
There was some moving and shaking at corner during the spring. The highly touted freshman Houston Griffith started out at corner and eventually moved back to safety. Nick Coleman–coming off his own corner-to-safety switch in 2017–technically remained at safety during spring but was featured more as a nickel corner as the practices progressed.
The biggest move was the development of Troy Pride making his way into a starting role (more or less as these things go in spring) and emerging as a reliable defender after decent but not overwhelming playing time last fall. This rise of Pride was (apparently, more on this below) at the expense of Nick Watkins who ended up transferring for a graduate season to Houston.
Number One Camp Storyline
How about depth? Notre Dame comes into the fall with 8 corners which is a little deceiving because half of them are true freshmen and there’s already reports one of them is being cross-trained at receiver. I mentioned this in our fall camp wideout preview that the coaching staff has always felt completely fine with a few walk-ons at corner playing prominent roles in practice while we might as well cancel workouts if there aren’t 5-a-side waiting for reps at wide receiver.
For better or worse, if you’re the 4th corner you are hard-pressed to find playing time at Notre Dame and the 5th corner (Vaughn last year accumulated 55 snaps!) might as well not dress most games. In that vein, depth far down the roster really isn’t that important at all and we’re really straining credibility to think any freshmen are going to make an impact in 2018. At the same time, there’s plenty of room for some juggling among the corners behind Julian Love, particularity if we count the nickel and dime sets.
Anticipation Level: 5/10
I’m consistently skeptical of the corners. It may not completely match reality but it always seems like it’s a position where guys peak before they graduate and our hopes are almost always dashed in their later years. Need evidence…since the turn of the century only FIVE corners have been drafted from Notre Dame–3 in the 6th round and 2 in the 3rd round. It’s a really sad list with virtually no NFL career presence.
So I am in show-me mode with this position group which has its own questions to answer this season. I’m focusing most on the following three players prior to camp:
1 Shaun Crawford – He may have had the play of the year in 2017 for Notre Dame and should get praise for making it through the season healthy. On the other hand, the word on the street was that he wore down quite a bit last year and his production certainly backs up that claim. Crawford also had a fairly uninspired spring. Do we know if he’s potentially a No. 2 corner for this team? During camp when the grind of the season is so far away I wonder if he can come back and look like a big-time playmaker again?
2 Donte Vaughn – Here’s a player who flat out disappeared last year. And still, he’s a huge beneficiary of the Watkins transfer because he’s a similar tall corner who goes into fall camp as the default 4th player in this unit. Last season he struggled with nagging injuries and we’ll see if he can put that behind him–the spring really didn’t move the needle. This could be the fall camp where Vaughn turns into a regular or the beginning of the a time when we’ll say, “Remember when he was really good in limited reps as a freshman?” after he transfers somewhere.
3 Troy Pride – You could argue Pride had the best spring out of anyone on the roster. He performed really well with the track team and then built off a strong finish in 2017 with a very impressive spring. With his speed he’s an ideal breakout star candidate on the team. To be more critical though, he only played in just over a third of the snaps last season and is still largely unproven as a steady, starting corner. And while I was no huge fan of Watkins I think it’s fair to say his transfer was partly personal choice than being forced to the bench due to Pride’s ascendancy. We could have an excellent corner on our hands but I’ll pump the brakes on that just a little bit prior to camp.