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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 24 Nick Coleman, safety

UMass v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 26: Shakur Nesmith #19 of the Massachusetts Minutemen catches a touchdown pass over Nick Coleman #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish at Notre Dame Stadium on September 26, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Umass 62-27. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot, 187 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining including the 2017 season
Depth chart: In switching from cornerback to safety this offseason, Coleman went from buried on the depth chart to the top of the ranks. Among the field safeties, Coleman leads sophomore Devin Studstill and junior Ashton White, in that order. Freshman Jordan Genmark-Heath could join their ranks, but it is unlikely he challenges Coleman for the starting nod.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star recruit as a cornerback even though he excelled at running back throughout high school, Coleman chose Notre Dame over the likes of Michigan State, Boston College and Indiana.

Coleman gained notice quickly, making two tackles against Texas in the season-opener of his freshman season. A year later, he started against Texas before a rough September in coverage quickly relegated him to special teams duties and otherwise the bench.

2015: 13 games, five tackles, two passes defended against Massachusetts in an Irish rout.
2016: 11 games, two starts, 17 tackles, one tackle for loss.

When it came to discussing Coleman’s switch from cornerback to safety, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly’s comments progressed through the spring. In mid-March, Kelly praised Coleman’s ball skills and athleticism, but expressed a need for better tackling from the junior. By early April, Kelly’s primary concern was Coleman’s overall comprehension of the defense. One could argue a learning curve should be expected from any player making a position switch as well as any player working under a new defensive coordinator. Coleman fit both those billings.

Between those two broad assessments, Kelly went a bit more in-depth.

“Our evaluation of Nick Coleman is that he’s going to be a dynamic player at the position,” he said. “We all know that he possesses the athletic ability. We want to see if he can translate the other skills at the safety position, i.e. tackling, picking up the scheme in terms of how you play off the hash.

“Based upon what we’ve seen through seven practices, he won’t be moving to another position. For me to tell you today that he’s our starter, he’s our guy, we need more body of work, but he won’t be moving anywhere else. He’ll be at safety.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if Coleman enters camp as a name Brian Kelly points to as an ascending player. That might be a motivational tactic to help boost Coleman’s confidence (or send a message to the others competing for time at that position), but it also could point to a breakout season for a young player that has the ability to be an impact player.

“Avoiding the big mistake is job one for Coleman. In his most expansive playing time, Coleman was on the wrong end of a long touchdown against UMass. Nobody cares if you play the slant aggressively if you’re getting beat for six points over the top.

“Coleman also needs to stay in the mix as talented true freshmen like Troy Pride and Donte Vaughn arrive, along with redshirt Ashton White. He also should look to find a niche, there’s nickel and dime work available even if he’s playing behind [then-sophomore] Shaun Crawford and [then-junior] Nick Watkins.

“Ultimately, Notre Dame needs at least three good cornerbacks to be a competent secondary. Coleman already seems comfortably in the top four, and I think he’ll establish himself as a solid rotational player during his sophomore season.”

The position switch will not remedy Coleman’s struggles from 2016. Then again, it probably doesn’t need to. A pessimist would say Coleman was exposed in coverage. An optimist would say a rash of defensive back injuries forced a young player into situations he was not ready for. A realist might point out Coleman struggled a year ago, but has had plenty of time to learn from that experience.

As much as anything else, moving to safety was about giving Coleman a chance at playing time. The Irish have plenty of talented cornerbacks. Coleman was not at the top of that ranking, but the coaching staff has envisioned ways to utilize his athleticism for three years now. They were not going to let it waste away on the sidelines. Instead, it should plug in well on the back-end of the defense.

In the end, Coleman may not start. He appears to have the lead on Studstill, but those things can be fluid. That is before even factoring in the possible, if unlikely, eligibility of sophomore Navy transfer Alohi Gilman.

If Coleman does start, and gets through September without being beat deep too many times, he should provide stability at a position sorely lacking it. As much as Notre Dame’s defensive line has been questioned over the last eight months, its safety grouping is as much a concern. Coleman finding success there would do wonders for reducing those worries.

One way or another, Gilman will be eligible in 2018. At that point, he will have about as much playing experience as whoever starts at safety this year, even without playing in 2017. With that in mind, Coleman should not feel comfortable about his future even if he starts and succeeds in 14 games this season.

That said, Coleman’s athleticism is not a mere buzzword. For a high school running back to be trusted as a cornerback to start a season is an accomplishment, no matter what injuries led to the occurrence or what resulted shortly thereafter. Coleman showed enough to earn that gig, just like this spring he showed enough to take the pole position at field safety. That athleticism will keep Coleman in the mix.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
No. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
No. 26: Ashton White, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship