Notre Dame has its only full open practice of the spring this Saturday and most eyes will be on the quarterback.
The others can be glued to the secondary.
It might seem odd to describe defensive backs as a group in transition as they return their top three corners and three safeties who played a ton of snaps last season. That’s exactly how it feels when the only player they lose is All-American Kyle Hamilton.
It makes sense to think that so many returning players will equal a better game in 2021, but that’s in question at the moment. It’s also why many fans are eager to see if there are young players who didn’t play last season who can emerge and possibly overtake those with more experience.
It’s all unknown and what makes it even more enigmatic is the fact that high school isn’t teeming with top-notch talent. At least not top-notch talent according to composite recruiting rankings. Of the 15 players currently on the roster and other freshmen slated to arrive this summer, only four have been rated 4-stars.
That’s not to say that blue chip level play can’t be developed from 3-star rated athletes, transfer addition Brandon Joseph, Julian Love and Alohi Gilman are/were much better than their ratings indicate. recruiting rankings, but it’s not an ideal ratio. It certainly does not match some of the programs sought by the Irish.
It’s another story in the top seven for Notre Dame where 18 of the 26 (69.2%) expected to be on the roster this fall were top rookies. That includes 9 of 11 linebackers. If not for the recent dip in defensive line recruiting, only three out of eight blue chips have been signed in the last three cycles, so that number would be even better.
There’s good news with Mike Mickens and Chris O’Leary improving high school recruiting. Three of the four current blue-chips were in the last two cycles and they have two more committed in the current class. This ratio will be much better in the future. But that help isn’t there yet, so it could mean a 4-star like Jaden Mickey needs to be ready to play now or he’s developing a Gilman or a Love among veteran players.
This is exactly why defensive back is the most important position on the roster outside of quarterback this spring. They need players to play above where they were projected as rookies.
The top seven should be good enough to lift the unit as a whole to another top-20 F+ defensive ranking this season. Whether they can be better than that could largely depend on whether play in the secondary can change the ceiling of defense.