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Where Notre Dame was & is: Cornerbacks

Miami v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 29: Ahmmon Richards #82 of the Miami Hurricanes fights for the ball as Julian Love #27 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish defends at Notre Dame Stadium on October 29, 2016 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)

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Notre Dame’s defense is far from a completed product. The interior of the defensive line is worrisome. The only item in abundance among the safeties is inexperience. The entire defense is learning a new scheme from coordinator Mike Elko.

But, much like the linebackers, little worry was spent on the cornerbacks before spring practice. Even less need be focused there now.

The Irish return 19 starts at cornerback from 2016, though two of those moved to safety with junior Nick Coleman. Eight of those starts come from rising sophomore Julian Love. His starts came in succession to close the season, and he did nothing to prove himself unworthy of pole position on a starting role come this spring and 2017.

RELATED READING: Two days until spring practice: A look at the defensive backfield

After Love, Elko entered this spring with four other worthwhile options on the outside, provided junior Shaun Crawford (Achilles) returns to full health. Along with Crawford, sophomores Donte Vaughn and Troy Pride would be competing with senior Nick Watkins.

Sure enough, Love will start. In fact, Kelly has such faith in Love, he vaguely spoke of deploying him at safety in obvious passing downs. One way or another, Love will be on the field nearly every defensive snap.

Watkins seems the most likely option to start opposite Love. In this alignment, Love would take the boundary and Watkins the field. Vaughn should back up Watkins, and Pride, Love. What about Crawford? Look for him at nickelback, or in those situations where Love moves to a catch-all safety positioning, Crawford could slide in at the boundary.

RELATED READING: Assistants: Lyght on Love

Simply put, Elko has options.

“You can take advantage of any one skillset that is a plus skillset,” Elko said. “Some of those kids have skillsets that we can utilize. Sometimes that’ll be keeping two of them and maybe putting more stress on them to overload other areas. Sometimes we may play three of them, sometimes maybe four of them. Anytime you have kids with plus skillsets, you want to try to utilize them.”

This spring, those skillsets faced off against Notre Dame’s deep and versatile receiver corps in each practice. Sure, this sometimes led to getting burned on deep balls or missing tackles, but those challenges provided growth. At least, that is the thinking.

“It’s a great look for us every single day,” Love said following the Blue-Gold Game. “We go from guarding [junior Equanimeous St. Brown], [junior] Miles Boykin, [sophomore] Chase Claypool, [junior tight end] Alizé [Mack], big receivers and then you guard [junior] C.J. Sanders, [sophomore] Chris Finke, quick and fast receivers.

“We’re seeing every look we’ll see during the season. I thank them every day. I make sure they give us good looks. We’re going to give them good looks.”

Crawford did not reach full health during spring practice, but has since tweeted he has been given the all-clear.

The incoming class of 2017 features no cornerbacks. Here is where it should be noted: Every member of Notre Dame’s secondary will have at least one season of eligibility remaining after 2017. That is the obvious flipside of the safeties being inexperienced and the cornerbacks being young.

Additionally, one of the 12 commitments in the class of 2018 are cornerbacks: consensus four-star Kalon Gervin (Cass Tech; Detroit, Mich.).

RELATED READING: Notre Dame adds two top defensive back commits

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