Secondary confident heading into Texas
Benjamin Padanilam | Friday, September 2, 2016
When No. 10 Notre Dame entered camp this fall, it already knew it had questions in the secondary after graduating three of the seven players to start for last year’s group.
What the unit didn’t expect was to lose a fourth member of that group just two weeks before Sunday’s season opener at Texas. But that’s exactly what happened when Brian Kelly dismissed senior Max Redfield from the team two days after his arrest on August 19.
Suddenly, there seemed to be even more questions about the back end of defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s defense. Or at least that was the case outside the locker room. For the unit, however, it only sharpened their focus.
“We were so close as a unit already,” senior cornerback Cole Luke said. “ … We kind of came together, but it’s like I said, we were so close already. Me and [junior safety Drue Tranquill] and some of the other older guys just tried to emphasize that this opportunity can be taken from you at any time in your life, so we try to attack the day like it’s our last, and we say that at the beginning of every single practice.”
Now, as the Irish prepare for the Longhorns and beyond, the starting secondary will feature Luke, Tranquill, sophomore Shaun Crawford and graduate student Avery Sebastian. And it is a unit that feels very confident in itself.
“There should be no drop-off from ones to twos to threes — doesn’t matter,” Luke said. “ …Whoever’s in, I have confidence in.”
While Luke and Tranquill both started games for the Irish last season, Crawford will be seeing his first game action Sunday. But that isn’t something that he’s worried about, he said.
“For me, it’s just I feel like I’ve been here before,” Crawford said. “[I’m] going into my sophomore year, so I don’t have that, like, freshman jitters, really, but it will be my first game. I am nervous, but I think it’s just a great opportunity, and the coaches have prepared me well for it, so I think it’s just doing my job and playing with a lot of effort and enthusiasm. I think I’ll be fine.”
A year ago, Sebastian broke his foot against Texas in his first game in the blue and gold. But, as a sixth-year graduate student, he’s far from inexperienced. Although he missed the rest of last season due to the injury, Sebastian played in a total of 31 games between special teams and safety over his four seasons at California. Now, after being named one of Notre Dame’s starter at safety Tuesday, his experience and effort has earned him the respect and trust of his teammates heading into Sunday.
“We call him the Grandpa — Grandpa Ave — but he’s been around,” Luke said. “I mean, he’s played in multiple systems. He’s seen multiple looks. I mean, he’s got that knowledge and that wisdom that you expect him to have. … It’s good, obviously, just because he might know what to expect at different times. We have trust in him, and he’ll know when something’s going to work and something’s not going to work and that’s what he’s here for.”
“He’s a guy with a high motor,” Crawford said. “He’ll give 100 percent every single play, and we’re glad to have him back there. He communicates very well, and he gets everyone where they need to be. We’re excited to have him back there, and we’ll be amazing with him.”
And now, after putting aside the distractions of the last few weeks, the secondary has focused on preparing for the trip to Austin, Texas. All week, the unit has heard about the speed Texas has on offense and the tempo it plays with.
“They’re a quick offense,” Luke said. “They have wide splits to up their [run-pass option plays]. … They have quick, agile receivers just like everybody else we play.”
But the secondary — and the defense as a whole for that matter — have made tempo and conditioning a focus throughout the last few weeks in preparation for the Longhorn attack.
“We’ve been going through a lot of scenarios in practice — lining up quick, getting set, field calls and also conditioning,” Crawford said. “Just conditioning after practice, doing a couple more ‘gasers’ just to be ready for the tempo.”
Now, as they look ahead to Sunday and beyond, the group believes it has found the answer to all those questions it faced early on.
“We’re all playing fast, we have a lot of talent in the back end, and we’ve got competitive guys,” Crawford said. “I think we can just put anybody anywhere, and I think we’ll be successful.”