Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Preview of the Irish's Safeties

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Notre Dame Football: Spring Practice Preview of the Irish's Safeties
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In the fifth installment of Notre Dame's spring practice series, a detailed look at the Irish's safeties.

In the most significant state of flux on the defensive side of the ball, the safety position is in need of answers, as the eligibility clocks of former starters Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter have ticked for the final time.

Fortunately for the Irish there is an abundance of talent at both safety positions, adding fluidity to the process of solidifying the position.

Technically speaking, the Irish found one answer last season and he is the first subject of this column.

 

Matthias Farley

A person whose first love was soccer, Farley didn't pick up the game of football until after his freshman year at Charlotte (N.C.) Christian High School on the advice that his aggressiveness on the pitch would translate well to the gridiron.

Because the 5'11", 200-pound safety wasn't on the radar of many college programs until late in his collegiate career, Farley was lightly recruited, earning scholarships from Duke, Illinois, Maryland, North Carolina, North Carolina State, UCLA and Wisconsin aside from Notre Dame.

Since then, Farley has undergone a rapid transformation into a starting safety for the Irish, a position he was forced into after Slaughter suffered what would wind up being a career-ending tear to his Achilles tendon.

Initially enrolling at Notre Dame as a receiver, Farley has become a fixture in the secondary, after finishing the 2012 season ranked eighth on the team in total tackles with 49, as well as recording one interception.

His experience as a starter during the Irish's run to the national title game will be crucial in his role as a leader in the back end of the defense in 2013.

 

Nicky Baratti

Versatility defined Baratti as a prep star at Klein Oak High School in Spring, Tex.

Baratti played a slew of positions, including quarterback, during his four year prep career. Yet the 6'2", 215-pound prospect was billed as a safety at the collegiate level, and the Notre Dame coaching staff certainly noticed.

Originally considered as a redshirt candidate prior to the 2012 season, Baratti worked his way into the rotation immediately and had his "welcome to college football" moment with a key interception during a 13-6 Irish victory against Michigan in Week 2.

However, Baratti is facing stiff competition for Motta's vacant starting spot from Elijah Shumate, who played nickelback for the Irish last season, but has made the switch back to his natural position of safety.

 

Elijah Shumate

Keeping with this theme, Shumate is a legitimate contender to lock up the starting job this season, and seems to be head coach Brian Kelly's choice at this juncture (per IrishIllustrated.com.)

“He’s our guy back there. He’s got to continue to learn. The spring has been really good for him. He’s going to have to continue to take steps forward in the summer.”

Shumate's elevation at safety shouldn't arrive as a surprise because he was billed as a heralded safety at the collegiate level, despite playing running back and linebacker at Don Bosco Prep in East Orange, N.J. 

All of the physical tools are there for the 6'1", 205-pound safety, but gaining a mastery of the technical element of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's defense is the next step in his development.

“Honestly like every play I’m always thinking about what I gotta do. It’s still a learning process. I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable now. I’m starting to get a lot more of the scheme down packed as the practices have been going through. It’s just a work in progress and every day I’m trying to learn and get better.”

 

Austin Collinsworth

The son of NBC football color commentator Cris Collinsworth, Austin missed the entirety of the 2012 season while recovering from shoulder and back surgeries.

Collinsworth was gradually rising the depth chart before suffering the shoulder injury that required surgery.

He was envisioned as an integral piece in the secondary and special teams, and still has time remaining in his career at Notre Dame to accomplish that.

Kelly had high praise for Collinsworth earlier this month.

"We had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements. Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him because I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw."

Kelly's comments may be a harbinger, though Collinsworth will need to avoid the injury bug that bit him last fall.

 

Other Names to Watch

  • John Turner
  • Chris Badger
  • Eilar Hardy
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