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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 21 Jalen Elliott, safety

Notre Dame v North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 07: Jalen Elliott #21 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends a pass to Brandon Fritts #82 of the North Carolina Tar Heels during the game at Kenan Stadium on October 7, 2017 in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. (Photo by Grant Halverson/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-½, 203 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Elliott has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including the 2018 season.
Depth chart: Elliott has continued to hold off challenges to his starter’s throne, still the presumed starter at boundary safety ahead of classmate Devin Studstill. The arrival of incoming freshman and consensus four-star recruit Derrik Allen will be a new threat to Elliottt’s playing time, but it would be a surprise if he did not line up next to junior Alohi Gilman against Michigan in less than two months.
Recruiting: A four-star recruit, Elliott’s recruitment was skewed by his myriad of skills on a football field. Both a solid quarterback and defensive back in high school, some schools saw him as a potential receiver. The No. 15 safety in the country, per, Elliott chose Notre Dame over Georgia, Virginia Tech and Wake Forest. The Deacons’ recruitment explains some of his 2017 success and expected starting role in 2018, as former Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko and his successor Clark Lea came from Wake Forest and were already eyeing Elliott when they got to Notre Dame.

Others’ mistakes granted Elliott a genuine role as a freshman, dabbling in competitive defensive snaps while also providing coverage on special teams. He then surpassed Studstill on the depth chart last season, finishing the year the eighth-leading tackler on the Irish defense with 43.

2016: 12 games; 14 tackles.
2017: 13 games, 13 starts; 43 tackles, highlighted by six at Stanford, adding two pass breakups throughout the season.

In discussing what he looks for in a safety, first-year Irish safeties coach Terry Joseph discussed Elliott’s prep past on the offensive side of the ball and how it can aid in his coverage recognition.

“When you’re recruiting guys to play in a secondary, you’re going to look at a lot of offensive guys, because most high school coaches want their best athletes on offense,” Joseph said. “That’s a double-edged sword. The first part is you want guys who played offense because they know what offenses are trying to do to attack defenses. You like that part of it.

“The other end of the spectrum is now the tackling part. Taking good angles, reacting to what you see. Offensively, you’re doing your thing no matter what the defense does. Defensively, you have to react to what you see. Processing that information is the biggest change for guys who play offense, particularly at quarterback.”

“Elliot’s 2016 makes projecting his 2017 a difficult task. He played last season, but not necessarily enough to garner a legitimate impression. If nothing else, that will not be the case by the end of this September.

“The Irish coaching staff has long been high on Elliott for his intangibles as much as his physical gifts. If both of those translate to his starting role, then he should have no difficulty staying on the field throughout the season. Even then, though, estimating a safety’s tackle totals can create misleading expectations. If Elliott exceeds 50 tackles, it could mean he develops a nose for the ball and makes play after play. It could also mean the front seven misses tackles and he is left to make open-field stops to prevent long touchdowns.

“Even as a starting safety, it is probable Elliott is asked to provide coverage help on special teams. Special teams coordinator Brian Polian openly hoped for more talent at his disposal this spring. Amid that wishing, he paused to compliment Elliott’s performances to date.”

Notre Dame’s safeties have been criticized, if not even lampooned, for a couple years now. Last season they broke up a total of five passes and intercepted none. That is inexcusable. Nonetheless, directing that skepticism directly at Elliott may be misguided. He was a sophomore playing in his second defensive system. Some opposing veterans were always going to be more physical than him, and some mental mistakes should have been expected.

Elliott’s year-to-year progression, combined with his persistence in holding off depth-chart challenges — Studstill, then sophomore safeties-now-turned-linebackers Isaiah Robertson and Jordan Genmark-Heath, followed by Gilman and early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith, next Allen — sets the stage for Elliott to be all that much more consistent in 2018.

Of course, consistency is not the goal in a “safety-driven defense,” as Elko and now Lea often describe this system. Their hope is to funnel the make-or-break moment of each play toward the safeties. That does not always mean they get to make the stop; perhaps they remove the quarterback’s first read. It does mean quality safety play is a necessity, not a luxury or a convenience.

If Elliott does not fill that need, Allen or Griffith or even Studstill will get the chance to. If he does, another 40-plus tackles should be a certainty. The more telling number will be how many passes Elliott breaks up. More than two is an absolute bare minimum.

Those always dreaming of a better tomorrow and fulfilled potential will clamor for Allen to start against Ball State on Sept. 8 if he makes so much as one tackle against the Wolverines. If he has not usurped Elliott by 2019’s opener, they may become apocalyptic. That would miss the fact that such would be a good sign for the Irish. It would mean Elliott plays well enough to continue to lead the defensive backfield.

That is more likely than not, in all of reality. Elliott will be an established veteran with two years of starting experience in this system. Allen will be just finishing his first year in a collegiate strength and conditioning program.

Even if that change occurs, Elliott will have a role in 2019. Multi-year starters in the secondary do not get cast aside easily.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 98 Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end, sophomore
No. 88 Javon McKinley, receiver, junior
No. 87 Michael Young, receiver, sophomore
No. 86 Alizé Mack, tight end, senior
No. 85 George Takacs, tight end, early-enrolled freshman
No. 85 Tyler Newsome, punter and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 84 Cole Kmet, tight end, sophomore
No. 83 Chase Claypool, receiver, junior
No. 82 Nic Weishar, tight end, fifth-year senior
No. 81 Miles Boykin, receiver, senior
No. 80 Micah Jones, receiver, early-enrolled freshman
No. 78 Tommy Kraemer, right guard, junior
No. 76 Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 75 Josh Lugg, offensive lineman, sophomore
No. 74 Liam Eichenberg, starting left tackle, junior
No. 72 Robert Hainsey, right tackle, sophomore
No. 71 Alex Bars, left guard and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 70 Luke Jones, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 69 Aaron Banks, offensive tackle, sophomore
No. 68 Jarrett Patterson, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 60 Cole Mabry, offensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 57 Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman, senior
No. 57 (theoretically) Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 56 John Dirksen, offensive lineman, incoming freshman
No. 55 Jonathan Bonner, defensive tackle, fifth-year senior
No. 54 John Shannon, long snapper, junior
No. 53 Khalid Kareem, defensive end, junior
No. 53 Sam Mustipher, center and captain, fifth-year senior
No. 52 Bo Bauer, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 47 Kofi Wardlow, defensive end, sophomore
No. 45 Jonathan Jones, linebacker, junior
No. 44 Jamir Jones, defensive end, junior
No. 42 Julian Okwara, defensive end, junior
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 40 Drew White, linebacker, sophomore
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, kickoff specialist, sophomore
No. 34 Jahmir Smith, running back, early-enrolled freshman
No. 33 Shayne Simon, linebacker, incoming freshman
No. 31 Jack Lamb, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 30 Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, linebacker, sophomore
No. 29 Ovie Oghoufo, linebacker, early-enrolled freshman
No. 28 Nicco Fertitta, safety, senior
No. 27 Julian Love, cornerback, junior, second-team All-American
No. 25 Braden Lenzy, receiver, incoming freshman
No. 24 Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman
No. 24 Nick Coleman, defensive back, senior
No. 23 Drue Tranquill, linebacker, two-time captain, fifth-year senior
No. 22 Asmar Bilal, rover, senior

No. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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