Spring Musings: Safeties

Junior safety Austin Collinsworth

Irisheyes.com continues its wrap-up of the team's position groups exiting spring ball with O'Malley's thoughts, questions, answers, observations and full-scale review of the team's safety position.

For complete reviews of the rest of the Notre Dame offense exiting Spring 2012, click the links below:

Quarterbacks

Wide Receivers

Offensive Linemen

Tight Ends

Running Backs

Defense: Click here for a look at the team's cornerbacks exiting spring ball.

Trusted Trio

The coaching staff trusts three, most fans trust two, I trust one all the time, one some of the time, and the other remains relegated to a show me state.

Regardless of your view on the team's top trio, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, and Austin Collinsworth will begin the season with a sizeable, let's face it, insurmountable advantage over as many as nine other competitors at the position.

Slaughter and Motta will start, with Motta moving into Harrison Smith's role as the free (post) safety from 2010-11. Slaughter will play everywhere: safety, nickel (slot corner), and hybrid outside linebacker (basically the Dog position) depending on down, distance, and opponent. Collinsworth offers support to them both at either safety spot, though it's unlikely he'll backup the myriad other roles employed by Slaughter.

Jamoris Slaughter is one of the two best players on the 2012 defense and underrated nationally. If in good health, expect an All-America caliber season. Motta has started intermittently for the last two years and played the bulk of every contest in that span. Its time for him to channel the dynamic, playmaking skills he showed vs. Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl and ditch the inconsistent performances that defined past contests vs. Michigan, South Florida, and USC over the last two years.

Collinsworth emerged as a favorite of both his head coach Brian Kelly and new position coach, Bob Elliott. Both know far more about the position than do I; both are far more confident in the true junior to hold down the fort in space next fall.

For the third straight season, Notre Dame will feature three main safety competitors, with Slaughter and Motta again firmly entrenched. Collinsworth steps into the fray with what should be a strong debut game vs. the option attack of the Naval Academy. From that point forward he'll be the safety tested most often by opposing passing games.

Support Staff

Former walk-on Chris Salvi earned a scholarship during winter workouts. He appeared to use the 15-practice spring session to earn a spot on the team's two-deep depth chart ahead of 5th-year senior and likely special teams regular Dan McCarthy as well as a pair of redshirt-freshmen, Matthias Farley and Eilar Hardy.

Hardy continues to recover from August 2011 ACL surgery and predictably had both good and bad days in terms of his movement this spring. Both he and the staff expect the Pickerington, Ohio-product to be full-go for August camp.

Farley was runner-up to classmate Everett Golson for the program's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award in 2011. That's the good news; the bad news is, he's back on defense this season (where he likely belonged from the jump). Said cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks when asked if Farley's time with the offense helped him at all as a member of the secondary: "No."

A standout special teams player, aggressive tackler and competitor well-versed in defensive scheme, Salvi would be the next in line should one of the Slaughter/Motta/Collinsworth trio succumb to injury – that situation will likely remain when a quintet of newcomers arrive this summer.

Yes a whopping five safety prospects join the unit in late June, including 2010 early enrollee Chris Badger who returned in March from his two-year mission to Ecuador. Incoming freshmen include: Nick Baratti, C.J. Prosise, Elijah Shumate, and John Turner. Baratti, Shumate, and Turner could audition for backup Dog linebacker duties in various defensive packages while Prosise will get an immediate look at punt returner.

Roster Rundown

Top Dog: Jamoris Slaughter

Indispensable: Slaughter

Proven BCS-Bowl Level Performers: Slaughter

Most Important that he Improve from 2011: Zeke Motta

Spring Star: Austin Collinsworth

August/September Sleeper: I'll cheat (this is a spring review, not season preview) and tab incoming freshman Elijah Shumate for backup Dog linebacker/nickel duty behind Slaughter.

Quote to Note: "Jamoris has been one of our better DBs since we've been here. He continues to show that, playing safety, playing nickel bump him out just as an experiment and again he shows us that wherever we put him, he's going to be great at it; he's going to excel. He's smart so it's easy for him to lineup at a lot of different positions because he's used to driving (directing) it from the safety position, so when he moves to nickel or corner it becomes easy for him because he knows exactly what he should be doing."
– Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks regarding Jamoris Slaughter

5th-Year Seniors: Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy
Senior (Eligible through 2012): Zeke Motta, Chris Salvi
Junior (Eligible through 2013): Austin Collinsworth
Junior (Eligible through 2015): Chris Badger
Sophomores (Eligible through 2015): Matthias Farley and Eilar Hardy
Incoming Freshmen: Nick Baratti, C.J. Prosise, Elijah Shumate, John Turner
2013 Pledges: None

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