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

Notre Dame v North Carolina

CHAPEL HILL, NC - OCTOBER 07: Jordan Cunningham #10 of the North Carolina Tar Heels makes a catch against Nick Coleman #24 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish 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-1/8, 191 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Coleman has one season of eligibility remaining, to be used in 2018.
Depth chart: Coleman lost his starting safety role to the eligibility of junior Alohi Gilman, leaving him as the second-string field safety behind Gilman, although early-enrolled freshman Houston Griffith could knock Coleman out of a three-man rotation on the defense’s back line, with junior Jalen Elliott the starter at boundary safety.
Recruiting: A consensus three-star cornerback, even though he excelled at running back in high school, Coleman chose Notre Dame over the likes of Michigan State, Boston College and Indiana.

After spending his first two seasons at cornerback with mixed results, Coleman moved to safety last season and provided a stabilizing, if not spectacular, influence. He finished seventh on the team with 44 tackles, but his three pass breakups stand out the most, considering they were three of the five total provided by the safety position. (Elliott had the other two.)

2015: 13 games, five tackles, two passes defended against Massachusetts in a rout.
2016: 11 games, two starts, 17 tackles including one for loss. Largely relegated to only special teams duties after a rough September in coverage.

2017: 13 games, 12 starts at safety; 44 tackles including one for loss, three pass breakups.

Coleman spent some time this spring working at nickel, seemingly threatening senior Shaun Crawford’s vice grip on the position. Crawford’s track record should offer him the first chance there no matter his springtime struggles, but nearly all the conversation around Coleman pertained to his nickel possibilities now that Gilman has wrested away the starting safety duties.

Safeties coach Terry Joseph in early April: “Nick Coleman has done a good job at nickel, getting where you are playing some man coverage situations. Just trying to find the best combination of guys.”

Cornerbacks coach Todd Lyght in mid-April: “We identified Nick as a guy that has the skillset we think could be successful [at nickel]. Pat of that is size and coverage ability. He does some things we think are good. It takes time for a player whether they’re in front of their career or the end, they’re still young in their football lives, to understand the intricacies.

“It’s easy for Nick Coleman to play man-to-man, or to blitz, but can he drop as a width-dropper? As a curl-flat dropper? On and on. Those are the things he has to work through from a fundamental, technical progression.”

Irish head coach Brian Kelly, keeping the door open at safety: “I wouldn’t rule him out (at safety). … Nick Coleman has an opportunity to be a starting safety. However, we moved him over to nickel because this could give him even more opportunities to be on the field because we like his ability to play close man-to-man coverage at that nickel position.”

“The position switch [to safety] 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 stay. He appears to have the lead on [now-junior Devin] Studstill, but those things can be fluid. That is before even factoring in the possible, if unlikely, eligibility of sophomore Navy transfer Alohi Gilman.

“… 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.”

The last 12 months panned out about exactly as anticipated. Coleman proved serviceable at safety, but greater talents are now available on the roster, be they Gilman, Griffith or incoming freshman Derrik Allen. Thus, the move to nickel may be more than spring’s lip service. It could serve the same role for Coleman his previous position switch to safety did, giving him a chance at playing time.

Crawford struggled this spring. Testing out another nickelback option underscored that reality. It may have been April malaise or it may have been the toll exacted by two season-ending injuries in the first two years of his career.

Nonetheless, Coleman may not be able to match Crawford’s unique playmaking abilities, but having him as a backup option is not a bad spot to be in, at either nickelback or safety.

One way or another, expect Coleman to tally two dozen tackles this season, with a handful coming on special teams. Some credit should be offered a player who twice relinquishes a starting role to greater talents through little fault of his own and still aids the greater cause.

Coleman has some intriguing athleticism that, if displayed this season, could catch an NFL front office’s eye, but otherwise this is likely the end of the line for the Ohio product. He simply has not proven productive enough in college to warrant much of an NFL conversation.

As a two- (three-?) year starter at a program like Notre Dame’s, a few minicamp invites may come Coleman’s way, but much more than that would be a surprise.

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. 35 David Adams, linebacker, sophomore

No. 11 Freddy Canteen, receiver, outgoing transfer

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