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Notre Dame Football

Position Battles | Safety

May 28, 2020

2019 was a unicorn in many ways for the safety position at Notre Dame.

It was the first time in a very long time that Notre Dame didn’t have uncertainty at the position heading into the season. It was also the first time in a long time that the Irish had real depth. Enough so that they could play three safeties on the field at any time, but especially on 3rd down.

There is nothing set in stone at safety heading into this summer, although there are plenty of options for Terry Joseph to work with.

It all starts with Kyle Hamilton, who had a fantastic debut season as the third safety for the Irish. He played a huge role in sub-packages and was simply too good to keep off the field despite having two returning starters in front of him.

He finished with 11 Havoc plays and led the team with four interceptions. The scary part is that he left some plays on the field and if he finishes more as a tackler, he could be an All-American this fall.

In general, Notre Dame asks the same things of both of the safeties in their base defense. They’ll ask both to jump down into the box or play deep. They can line up and match up in man on occasion, which is something Hamilton did well against tight ends. Finding who can best compliment him is going to be important because Hamilton will be asked to do a lot.

Houston Griffith is the leading candidate to start at the other spot. He might have played the third safety role in 2018 if not for an injury forcing him to the nickel. Then a move back to corner before moving back to safety again wasn’t an ideal scenario for his development. He’s found his home at safety and by all accounts was ready to have a breakout spring.

Griffith has all of the tools (athleticism, instincts, tackling ability, football intelligence) to be a high-level starter for Notre Dame. He has to go out and prove it when they get back onto the field this summer.

He’ll have to contend with Ohio State graduate transfer Isaiah Pryor. He’s an impressive athlete, but had some struggles in his one year starting for the Buckeyes in 2018.

There’s a lot of unknown about what Notre Dame will get out of Pryor and if he can unlock the potential that had him ranked as a top-100 prospect out of high school. One ideal scenario would be if he and Griffith put themselves neck and neck to start while also giving Clark Lea the option to play with three safeties in specific game plans and in sub-packages.

I said that is one ideal scenario because I don’t want to ignore the fact that others like DJ Brown will be competing as well. Brown has shown he can make plays since moving to safety. He finds the football. He should be right there with Griffith and Pryor as a competitor for playing time.

Another great option for Joseph and the defensive staff to work with is sixth year senior Shaun Crawford. He has played safety as well as corner for Notre Dame. He can jump in and contribute there in a pinch and may be pound for pound the best tackler in the secondary.

He’s good enough to start at safety or be the third safety in certain packages. A lot depends on his health and how he is utilized as the nickel, but having someone with his position versatility on the roster is huge.

Litchfield Ajavon is almost the forgotten man at the position because he redshirted last season and everyone else appears to have an edge with experience or overall time in the program. There may not be a more physical hitter out of the group, though, and if he can make some splash plays in fall camp, he may have an opportunity to slide up the depth chart.

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