As Notre Dame moves forward with Brian VanGorder as the Irish defensive coordinator, a revisionist history is being written. With Diaco now at UConn, a small but vocal minority of fans have begun to wonder just how effective Diaco was as one of Brian Kelly’s most trusted assistants.
Whether that’s out of support for VanGorder or just the general reaction by football fans looking at a coach in the rearview mirror, the rancor is more than apparent when considering Diaco the recruiter. Diaco was one of the Irish coaching staff’s firmest believers in recruiting to a profile. While that may have limited the Irish from targeting some players they likely regret passing on, Diaco also deserves credit for the times sticking to the profile worked.
And in the recruitment of Devin Butler, Diaco identified and found a developmental prospect that has quickly turned into a very good player. The three-star prospect from the D.C. area saw the field early and often for the Irish as a freshman and looks to contribute to a very talented secondary.
Let’s take a closer look at Devin Butler.
6'0.5", 181 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 12
Perhaps it was a reality-based 40-yard dash time, but Butler’s three-star rating likely came because of the 4.64 that was listed after his name. Measuring close to the 6-foot-1 that he was listed as during his recruitment, Butler’s offer list includes a lot of impressive schools, Michigan, Michigan State, Nebraska, Penn State and Wisconsin among them.
Butler helped fill a need at the position, joining Cole Luke and the now-departed Rashad Kinlaw. While Kelly said nothing noteworthy about Butler even during his Signing Day press conference, a nice mix of size and athleticism -- not to mention a depth chart in need -- helped Butler onto the field quickly and to leap frog players like Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown and Lo Wood.
Freshman Season (2013): Appeared in 12 games, missing only the Purdue game. Made five tackles while appearing as both a cornerback and special teams performer. Broke up a pass against Pitt.
Butler sat out for most of spring drills after getting shoulder surgery after last season. That didn’t give us much of a look at him as he battled for the job opening with Bennett Jackson gone to the NFL, but it’s pretty clear that Butler is going to play in this secondary.
That alone is better than most expected, especially at a position that’s so deep and talented on the Irish roster. What remains to be seen is if Butler has the chops to play both inside and out, and if he’s a more versatile option than a guy like Matthias Farley.
It’s hard to call a freshman season with five tackles and one pass breakup a true success. But the fact that Butler was the guy jumping veterans on the depth chart to contribute as the season went on gives you an idea that he’s got the chops to get it done, and we’ll see how much Brian VanGorder and Kerry Cooks trust him as he transitions to a job that’ll have him playing more man defense than he ever did under Diaco.
It’s hard to see Butler moving into the starting lineup until KeiVarae Russell is gone. That could be after 2014, if we’re to believe that Russell is ready to be the elite defender some think he already is. (I tend to think the truth is somewhere in the middle with Russell, who is coming off a great game against Rutgers but still has game tape where Jeremy Gallon’s cleat marks are up and down his back.)
How good is Butler? We will see as the youth and talent continues to accumulate on this roster. Right now, he’s behind Cole Luke and Cody Riggs. But there’s a place for him now in sub-packages and you can never have enough healthy corners, and Butler’s going to use this summer to make up for lost time this spring.
With Butler’s length, he gives Brian VanGorder a traditional cornerback prospect. That never goes out of style and for that reason alone he’s the type of athletic, long cover man that all football teams covet.