Irish secondary looks to lock down opponents
Charlotte Edmonds | Friday, August 31, 2018
Editor’s note: Notre Dame announced Crawford suffered a season-ending ACL injury Thursday afternoon.
If good things come to those who wait, then the sky’s the limit for senior Shaun Crawford. Lost in all the hype surrounding this marquee opener, perhaps nobody is more ready to take the field against Michigan than Crawford.
The four-star cornerback out of Cleveland spent his entire freshman season on the sidelines after tearing his ACL in August. He returned to the field in 2016, where he started against Texas and Nevada, only to suffer a torn achilles tendon, effectively ending his sophomore season. Even after sitting out two seasons, it became clear that Crawford hadn’t completely recovered, finishing out his junior season having played 12 games, but only starting one of them and struggling in the second half of the season, not even playing in Notre Dame’s 21-17 win over LSU in the Citrus Bowl.
But returning at full strength for the 2018 campaign, nothing’s holding the senior back this time.
“Since freshman year, this is my first time I’ve come in with a full spring, a full offseason,” Crawford said.
Finally healed from his nagging injuries, Crawford said he started to see the numbers he was used to during training camp and felt really good about himself coming into the season.
“This time last year I’d have to go in hours before practice, stay after practice to get treatment,” Crawford said. “This year I can just wake up and go play.”
Crawford may even have a trick or two up his sleeve as he was seen returning punts in the offseason.
“Hopefully I get back there, let’s just say that,” he said.
However excited he is to make an impact, he understands for the team to be successful this season it’s about more than just him. With the support of junior cornerbacks Troy Pride Jr. and Julian Love — players he’s gotten to watch grow over the past two years — Crawford is confident that they’ll be well prepared to defend the pass game.
“When those two are outside and I’m able to play inside, I think we can lockdown any three receivers or spread set that they put on the field against us,” Crawford said. “I’m excited. I think they’ll play that package a lot and I think we’ll be successful.”
Love also expressed his excitement to show the adjustments made on the nickelback formation.
“We’ve got a lot of guys who are playmakers,” Love said. “Sometimes you don’t see that in practice because guys are being smart, being safe … but I know that our defense is aggressive. You’ll get to experience that fully Saturday.”
The veteran defensive unit, returning nine players from last year’s starting lineup, should be an intimidating presence in the trenches this season, Love said.
“Our defensive line probably took the biggest step this offseason. That is crucial on third down,” he said. “There’s nothing better than a third-down sack.”
If the Irish can dominate the defensive line, that could prove to be the X-factor against the Wolverines, who allowed 36 sacks last season, tied for 114 in the FBS. Paired with the Love-Pride Jr.-Crawford trio covering deep, this unit has a chance to be the staple of the 2018 season.
Both Love and Crawford understand that this marquee matchup against Michigan could potentially make or break the season, and that it’ll be a hard-fought battle regardless.
“They’ve got athletes across the board … you’ve got to account for everyone,” Love said.
Love has been preparing to face Shea Patterson in the Ole Miss transfer’s first game calling the shots while wearing blue and maize.
“He’s got a strong arm and the ability to scramble,” Love said.
Even though Patterson excels at extending the play and is creative in the pocket, Love said the matchup will ultimately come down to the Irish making smart plays.
“We have to impose our will and make them play our brand of football,” he said. “With Shea, you have to do that early.”
Crawford said offseason training has prepared the secondary for whatever Patterson and the Wolverines throw at them.
“We’ve increased our stamina,” he said. “I think we’ll be ready to play any number of plays they set out for us.”
“If we do everything right on our end, we should be singing the Victory March.”