Position group breakdown: cornerback
Observer Sports Staff | Thursday, March 26, 2020
The Notre Dame cornerback position was one of great intrigue heading into spring practice, and with athletics cut short, little has been done to clear up any of the mystery. After leaving Cincinnati, the school where he played for Irish head coach Brian Kelly, new corners coach Mike Mickens will be stepping into Todd Lyght’s shoes and will have his work cut out for him in developing a potent secondary.
Position group: Cornerback
Depth Chart: rising sophomores Cam Hart, K.J. Wallace, Isaiah Rutherford; rising junior TaRiq Bracy; graduate student Shaun Crawford
Key 2019 Departures:
Troy Pride Jr.
Pride had a very successful senior season last year, playing in all 13 games and recording 40 total tackles, six breakups and one interception. Pride was tasked with the difficult role of boundary corner, forcing him to handle more physical receiving threats, but he performed admirably especially with Shaun Crawford being injured for part of the year.
Pride started in 12 games in his sophomore and junior season. His junior season was arguably his best year as he recorded 47 tackles, two interceptions, 10 pass breakups and a fumble recovery. Even as a freshman, Pride appeared in eight games and started three times. He has been an integral part of the Irish secondary for years and his shoes will be difficult to fill.
Although he saw very limited playing time over the first five games of the season, Vaughn had a couple of breakout games towards the end of the year. By the end of the season, he earned a starting role in three games. He finished the season with 16 tackles and five pass breakups. His biggest game of the year came against Virginia Tech where he had six tackles and a pair of breakups.
Like Pride, Vaughn received at least some playing times in all four seasons with the Irish. Vaughn’s 6-foot-3, 212-pound frame made him a very reliable player to have in the secondary. While his stats were not stunning, he was still a rotational player who the Irish will sorely miss this year.
Key 2020 Contributors:
Crawford will look to be the heart and soul of this cornerbacks unit in 2020. He will be playing in his sixth season for the Irish. While he has had plenty of success while on the field, injuries have been a big problem. Crawford has torn his ACL twice in his career and he also dislocated his elbow last year during the Virginia game. Despite missing four games, he still recorded 28 tackles and one interception on the season.
While Crawford has the potential for a solid season if he can stay healthy, staying healthy might be the biggest challenge for him. In fact, Crawford has only played one full season (his junior year) without having injury problems. Although he is only 5-feet-9, 180 pounds, Crawford is a workhorse the Irish will depend on in 2020.
Rising junior TaRiq Bracy was a rotational piece last season and will likely earn the starting spot opposite Crawford. Bracy has played over 500 snaps for the Irish in his first two seasons, and he recorded 34 tackles last season. In fact, Bracy had the most tackles of any corner on the team behind Pride. Bracy also recorded seven pass breakups on the year and recovered two fumbles.
Bracy will need to improve his coverage skills in 2020. He allowed completions on 61% of targets last season, and he runs the risk of being exposed this year against teams with lethal passing attacks such as Clemson and USC if he does not improve. By default, though, his experience puts him near the top of the depth chart for the Irish this year.
The third corner spot is up in the air at this point. Incoming recruits Caleb Offord, Clarance Lewis and Ramon Henderson are good players but still need time to develop. It will likely be any of K.J. Wallace, Cam Hart or Isaiah Rutherford who will step up for the Irish. These three rising sophomores have had very limited to no playing experience in games, but based on training camps and recruiting, there seem to be high expectations for all three of them.
The most likely player to step up next season might be Cam Hart. The 2019 recruit was brought in as a wide receiver but was moved over to the corner position because of his 6-feet-2, 208-pound build. Hart suffered a shoulder injury that ended his season early last year, but he has the potential to match up against some of the more athletic wide receivers on Notre Dame’s schedule.
Hayden Adams — Sports Editor
This is by far the position group with the biggest question mark. TaRiq Bracy got a lot of valuable experience last season, and as for Shaun Crawford, heading into his sixth year in South Bend means experience and leadership are qualities that he is not scarce on. That said, the reason Crawford is still here after six years is he’s already missed two full seasons with ACL tears and missed almost all of a third with a torn Achilles. Crawford isn’t going to be able to take the amount of snaps guys like Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. did ahead of him, and while Bracy could hold up better, he’s going to need a break as well. Plus, at only 5-feet-9, Crawford’s ideal usage is when plugging into a nickel package, not as an every-snap guy.
From what I’ve heard about Cam Hart, I like his grit and athletic upside, and there’s potential among guys like Isaiah Rutherford and K.J. Wallace as well. However, guys need snaps to gain experience and get better. There’s only so many snaps to go around, and therein lies the problem: This is a hit-or-miss experiment where you pray at least two more guys can handle themselves in the rotation in 2020. Todd Lyght was a great player developer with guys like Love and Pride, and hopefully, Mike Mickens can maintain that trend while also breathing new life into recruiting. But as for right now, my expectations are tempered by a lack of proven players and of spring practice time that these guys need. C+
Nate Moller — Sports Writer
The corner position might be the weakest position for the Irish next year. If things play out right, the Irish could be just fine, but there are just too many question marks at this point. Shaun Crawford needs to stay healthy this year for the Irish. The Irish can simply not afford for him to be injured, as he might be the only truly reliable corner this year. Unfortunately, I am not overly confident the injury-prone Crawford can remain healthy.
Bracy definitely has the potential to be a great corner as well, but he will need to develop as the season goes on. Without spring practice this year, that is going to make things very difficult. The same can be said of Wallace, Hart and Rutherford. They all have potential, but they just don’t have the experience. This could prove very costly against teams like Clemson and USC who have dangerous passing attacks. C