As we push closer towards the end of spring practice, one position that deserves the closest look under the microscope is the safety position. With Zeke Motta departed, it’s a fascinating grouping that’s now fully transitioned into Brian Kelly’s personnel.
Both Chuck Martin and Bob Elliott have shown the ability to get good football out of players that didn’t always play it. As the Irish continue to figure out the back end of their defense, they’ll get to do it with players that were hand-picked for the job. Yet it’s Matthias Farley, a player that wasn’t necessarily projected as a safety, that appears to be the constant in this transition.
Elliott met with a small group of media members to discuss his troops, and had nothing but good things to say about Farley, who has continued his unlikely ascent to a front-line starter.
“Matthias Farley has really grown up,” Elliott said. “Last year, he really played pretty solid football for us. Very unexpected for that to happen. But the thing about Matthias, is that he made himself into a player. Every day he came in for extra film study. Every day, he did extra things to get himself ready, and he just got better and better and better as the season wore on. And that continues today.”
It looks as if Farley has locked himself in at the boundary safety position, anchoring the short side of the field, a physical tackler around the line of scrimmage, while also directing traffic in the back end. That leaves the wide side of the field -- often times more of a center-field type player -- up for grabs.
“He’s assumed a leadership position back there which is what we intended,” Elliott said. “We’ve got young guys at the field safety, so we want the boundary safety to give us more, be more of a presence.”
Right now, the young guys competing starts with Elijah Shumate, who has taken control of the job with Nicky Baratti recovering from shoulder surgery. (Expect Baratti to be heard from though.) Shumate’s physical traits are immense, Elliott lauded him for his ability to tackle, cover and do everything else that’s needed. The challenge, as it is for all young players, is to master the mental aspects of the position. At a position where a mistake could mean six points, that’s critical.
While there are finally adequate numbers at the position, a two deep seems to be emerging. Austin Collinsworth is working behind Farley, still recovering from shoulder and back surgeries. Baratti will force his way back into the conversation this summer, as will touted freshman Max Redfield. Little-used junior Eilar Hardy also has too much talent to discount, and physically he finally looks the part. John Turner and Chris Badger are finally taking their redshirts off.
Still, it appears the glue of the position will be Farley. Just a calendar year from his first days at the position, it’s impressive to see one of the under-the-radar recruits Kelly and his staff identified play such a prominent role.
“I have great hopes for Matthias,” Elliott said. “He’s still going to be a sophomore. He’s only one year away from being a receiver.”