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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 35 TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback

Pittsburgh v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 13: Kenny Pickett #8 of the Pittsburgh Panthers scambles for the first down against TaRiq Bracy #35 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish in the second half at Notre Dame Stadium on October 13, 2018 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Quinn Harris/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-10, 172 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Bracy has three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: The Irish have two starting defensive back positions up for grabs, at boundary corner opposite senior Troy Pride and at nickelback. It is not a sure thing Bracy ends up in one of them, but it is very much a possibility.Recruiting: A three-star prospect, the San Jose, Calif., native chose Notre Dame over West Coast options like Cal, Utah and Washington State.

Bracy appeared in 12 games (not playing against Navy’s triple-option attack) as a freshman, making 18 tackles and forcing one fumble. It was an up-and-down debut season, making seven tackles and defending well against Pittsburgh in injury relief for Pride (sprained ankle), but also getting repeatedly burned at USC, almost to the extent of predictable comedy.

Bracy’s technical skills were apparent, but his undersized frame had nowhere near the strength needed to hold up against physical receivers.

Any elongated discussion of Bracy this spring focused on the wonderings at cornerback, including the uncertainty at nickel back where fifth-year Shaun Crawford would be the presumed starter if healthy instead of recovering from a torn ACL.

Both Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea and head coach Brian Kelly lumped Bracy into the discussion at both boundary and nickel.

“It could be some combination of TaRiq Bracy coming onto the field and moving a corner into the slot,” Lea said in mid-April.

“Bracy is going to get a chance,” Kelly said following the Blue-Gold Game. “There’s a long list there.”

“Bracy’s experience in the return game adds a wrinkle to his playing possibilities this fall. It is most likely he dabbles in special teams coverages and sees defensive mop-up duties in up to four games, preserving a year of eligibility. There is a chance, however, of Bracy taking over the punt and kickoff return duties, albeit not inherently a great chance.”

Bracy and classmate Houston Griffith will be needed this fall. The injuries to Crawford and senior Donte Vaughn (shoulder) guaranteed that, but it was probable, anyway. Griffith’s ceiling at corner may be the highest of the group, and Bracy’s agility may match Vaughn’s length.

Projecting any of their upcoming seasons hinges on those pieces of health and the long-term detrimental effects of the respective injuries. If Vaughn is not 100 percent at the start of preseason, Griffith has the best chance at starting at boundary on Labor Day (79 days). That will leave Bracy in the mix with Crawford, a question mark, for nickel duties.

One way or another, Bracy will see considerable playing time this year. He showed enough last season to warrant that good faith. In his good moments, Bracy provided excellent coverage; when he was exposed, it was clearly his inexperience costing him. The Trojans clearly scouted that, targeting Bracy in one-on-one situations early and often to get out to a quick start. Before Notre Dame made a change, Bracy’s liability was so obvious, the press box would, en masse, point out his mismatches long before a play’s snap, and that was inevitably where USC quarterback J.T. Daniels then looked.

A spring practice and the upcoming preseason will combat that issue, reducing any reason to sideline him. At the absolute least, Bracy could end up the fourth cornerback, backing up all three positions (or two of the three, if Vaughn genuinely returns to the two-deep). A second-team cornerback will play at some point, given the odds of injury and the concern of fatigue.

If nothing else, Bracy will also get to boost his tackle stats with work on the special teams coverage units.

Pride will be out of eligibility following this season, as will be Vaughn. Crawford’s status may be more up in the air, given his injury history. With or without him, Bracy will be well-positioned for playing time as a junior and senior.

Of course, the incoming freshman pair will challenge Bracy, but his work last year showed enough to presume further growth. The easiest reason to doubt it would be Bracy’s low recruiting profile, but that has long been traced to the low exposure of his hometown and area, not inherently to Bracy himself.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 50: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker