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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 2 DJ Brown, fifth-year safety

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Cincinnati Bearcats tight end Leonard Taylor (11) battles with Notre Dame Fighting Irish safety DJ Brown (2) for a pass during a game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Cincinnati Bearcats on October 2, 2021, in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot ⅜, 200 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A fifth-year veteran, Brown has two seasons of eligibility remaining thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver boosting that count by one.Depth Chart: Brown will compete with classmate Houston Griffith and junior Ramon Henderson to start alongside Northwestern transfer Brandon Joseph this fall. Entering preseason practices, Brown may have the slightest edge on the other two.Recruiting: Indecision prolonged Brown’s cycle and led to an eventual flip. The consensus three-star prospect had long been committed to Virginia, but he did not put figurative pen to technological paper during the early signing period. That led to the Under Armour All-American cornerback reopening his recruitment and eventually picking the Irish over Cal and Northwestern while holding offers from Clemson, Ohio State and South Carolina.

Brown spent 2018 as a cornerback on the bench, playing only in a singular blowout, before he moved to safety in 2019. Still, Brown’s work was largely on special teams.

In 2020, he found a spot in the safety rotation, playing more than 200 snaps while backing up Kyle Hamilton. When Hamilton suffered a season-ending injury halfway through 2021, Brown was the initial replacement starter, though quickly replaced by Henderson.

In all ways, that was a demotion, yet Brown stayed engaged. When Henderson intercepted a pass at Virginia, he gave all the credit to Brown for correcting his presnap alignment from the sidelines.

2018: 1 game.2019: 9 games; 7 tackles.2020: 12 games, 1 start; 8 tackles with two passes broken up.2021: 12 games, 1 start; 42 tackles with one for loss, three interceptions and four passes broken up.


In five seasons, Brown is about to work under his third defensive coordinator and first with NFL experience. Al Golden has made it clear he will bring some NFL aspects to Notre Dame, most notably in-game adjustments. Per Brown in the spring, there are other new wrinkles, as well.

“I really like the disguises we’re having,” Brown said. “Our other defenses, we’d have certain disguises, but (with) coach Golden, we have a lot more. Then also, there’s a lot more variation to the calls, play cover two, cover three, some man coverage. We mix it up a lot.”

Some of that may stem from Golden having a handful of experienced safeties in Joseph, Griffith, Brown and to a lesser extent Henderson. He can trust them to monitor the defensive alignment from the back line, as well as move them into cornerback roles when needed.

“Given the spring praises and that Griffith was named a Blue-Gold Game captain, it seems most likely he ends up on the top of the depth chart by Labor Day Eve, but Brown will see plenty of work.

“Not only do the Irish wonder about Hamilton’s running buddy and his backup, but they also are unsure of cornerback depth. On what should be another quality defense, the secondary has plenty of questions.

“With that framing, Brown may as well be a known commodity. Particularly on that afternoon against Sam Howell and an electric North Carolina offense, Brown held up.

“While Notre Dame looks for a nickel back, a stable of trusted safeties means Hamilton can cameo closer to the line of scrimmage on occasion. Moving him around will only bother opposing quarterbacks, and if Brown’s biggest contribution is creating that opportunity, it is not a luxury to be overlooked.

“Statistically, Brown will play more, at least 300 snaps, and he will make more than eight tackles, but the versatility he offers new Irish defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman may be the most valuable aspect of Brown’s 2021. …

“Hamilton will head to the NFL after this season, creating an opportunity for both Brown and Griffith. Even if they have trained to run along with Hamilton all these years, starting together should be possible on the back end.

“Proven by (Brian) Kelly’s long want for a fourth safety, there is no younger player yet breathing down Brown’s neck. He should start in 2022 and then be considered in 2023.”

For someone who made three interceptions last season, Brown’s play is oddly unmemorable. Perhaps that is a good thing from a safety, an indicator he was not beaten often. But the best safeties make so many plays they cannot be forgotten.

That will most likely be Joseph this season, with his running buddy the more stable of the two safeties, thus allowing the Northwestern transfer some free-range liberties. That may be a scenario ideally-suited for Brown, given the greatest critique of his 2021 was that it was not particularly noticeable.

Henderson’s greater length and sprinter’s speed, though, give him a higher ceiling.

Regardless, Brown should play. Even when Henderson started the final four games last year, Brown played plenty. And as noted regarding Henderson’s interception at Virginia, Brown impacted the game even when he was off the field.

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If Joseph has the season he expects to, he will presumably jump to the NFL after this season. Griffith will be out of eligibility. That combination could lead to Brown returning for the rare sixth year.

Sixth-year players should not be assumed until announced in the winter. Notre Dame will have to be sure of its scholarship count; Brown will have to want to live in South Bend for another 12 months.

But other than those hang-ups, there will be little reason to not want a three-year contributor back in 2023 to add a fourth season to those notes. The Irish are not well-stocked at safety beyond these veterans. Without Joseph and Griffith, Notre Dame will have just Henderson, current junior Xavier Watts, current sophomore Justin Walters and Brown around next season, plus the eventual signees.

Watts is a converted linebacker who used to be a converted receiver. He is rocketing up the learning curve, but his most notable asset is his physicality, not necessarily a trait deployed in an every-snap safety. Walters has not gotten a chance to crack the rotation just yet.

Two highly-touted safeties are committed in the class of 2023, but the Irish would rather lean on a Brown-Henderson combination, backed up by Watts.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow
No. 24 Jack Kiser, senior linebacker, second-year starter
No. 23 Jayden Bellamy, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 22 Justin Walters, sophomore safety
No. 22 Logan Diggs, sophomore running back with a shoulder injury
No. 21 Jaden Mickey, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 20 Benjamin Morrison, freshman cornerback
No. 18 Chance Tucker, sophomore cornerback
No. 18 Steve Angeli, freshman QB, Blue-Gold Game star
No. 17 Jaylen Sneed, early-enrolled linebacker, Rover of the future
No. 16 Brandon Joseph, Northwestern transfer, preseason All-American, starting safety
No. 16 Deion Colzie, sophomore receiver
No. 15 Tobias Merriweather, freshman receiver, forever a memorable recruitment
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, sophomore cornerback
No. 14 Bryce McFerson, freshman punter facing a Harvard challenge
No. 13 Gi’Bran Payne, freshman running back, late recruit
No. 12 Tyler Buchner, sophomore starting QB
No. 12 Jordan Botelho, a defensive end-turned-linebacker
No. 11 Ron Powlus III, sophomore QB providing steadiness to a chaotic room
No. 11 Ramon Henderson, junior cornerback-turned-safety
No. 10 Drew Pyne, junior quarterback
No. 10 Prince Kollie, sophomore linebacker, high school Butkus Award winner
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 9 Justin Ademilola, fifth-year defensive end, a backup in name only
No. 8 Marist Liufau, senior linebacker returning from a dislocated ankle
No. 7 Audric Estime, sophomore running back, No. 2 on the shortened depth chart
No. 7 Isaiah Foskey, defensive end on a record chase
No. 6 Clarence Lewis, three-year starting cornerback
No. 5 Joe Wilkins, receiver with a September-costing foot injury
No. 5 Cam Hart, senior cornerback, second-year starter
No. 4 Xavier Watts, junior receiver-turned-safety
No. 4 Lorenzo Styles, sophomore receiver poised for a breakout
No. 3 Avery Davis, sixth-year receiver returning from an ACL injury
No. 3 Houston Griffith, fifth-year safety

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