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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame S Shaun Crawford Embraces Challenge of Safety

November 25, 2020

Shaun Crawford has always been a team guy. The Ohio native has played at every position in the Irish secondary over his career and has done it with a smile. 

The 5-foot-9, 180-pounder was asked to play safety this season and he didn't think twice about it. 

"My initial thoughts were I get to make plays," said Crawford. "I get to run around and fly around, having a nose for the ball.

"Players I looked up to - I could be in a position like Tyrann Mathieu, Budda Baker and come downhill like Bob Sanders. Play the deep post like Earl Thomas. People who have my stature and I just looked at it as a challenge."

Safety was actually a position the Notre Dame captain had always wanted to play dating back to his days starring for St. Edward.

"It's something I've always wanted to do," explained Crawford. "I always wanted to play safety. I played a little bit in high school and it was fun. I do know I'm a smaller safety, so I have to come down with the right angles and bad intentions.

"That's just the focus I have. I don't see any negatives. I just have to change my game and adapt."

Crawford is currently fourth on the team with 34 tackles, including 4.5 tackles for loss, but the transition hasn't been easy.

Communication is something Crawford thought he had mastered, but quickly found out the position requires much more. 

"It definitely wasn't natural for me," Crawford stated. "I always felt I vocal until I got moved to safety and I actually needed to be vocal. It's more than trying to rally the guys. It's getting the guys set, into the right positions and when you make the other 10 better, I can make myself better.

"When I'm being quiet or not communicating with the other guys, it's me being selfish. When I'm able to understand the defense and get the scheme down for week's prep, I'm able to help the other guys make us a confident unit." 

Crawford leading the secondary communication also helps the linebackers and it's an area he focused on during Notre Dame's bye week.

"Meeting with the coaches and some of the players, they gave me great feedback," Crawford said. "Some of it was criticism, but I needed it. You could see times against Boston College, where we weren't set or aligned. I take full responsibility for that because it's my job to get us set and get us where we need to be. 

"Throughout the bye week, I was working on that. I've been screaming my butt off these last couple weeks trying to make it second nature. I'm excited for this week's game because I can put it into play."

Notre Dame will need to be on top of its communication this weekend as North Carolina has one of the country's top offenses. 

The Tar Heels and Irish both average exactly 233.5 rushing yards per game, but UNC also throws for 100 more yards a game at 329.9. 

UNC's RPO scheme is deadly and Crawford knows the Irish must be disciplined on Friday afternoon. 

"North Carolina is an explosive team," said Crawford. "They have two great backs, so we have to be tied into the run game. We have to wrap up and bring them down. They are great after contact. They have great receivers on the outside with a lot of speed and skill." 

It starts and ends with quarterback Sam Howell. Brian Kelly stated Howell throws the best deep ball in the ACC earlier this week, but it's more than that. 

"They also have a quarterback who can get them the ball," explained Crawford. "The quarterback can make any throw. He's good from in between the hash, outside the numbers, so we have to make sure we're playing top-down and we're tight in coverage. He does fit the ball into small windows and he's reading the safeties and corners and also the overhangs. We have to do a great job of disguising and staying true to our reads."

It will be a challenge for Crawford and the other Irish safeties to remain disciplined when facing the RPO. One wrong step and Howell has an easy decision and a big play opportunity. 

I think the challenges we'll face at safety will be being patient and not in a hurry to get down in the run game or in a hurry to get in our backpedal," Crawford explained. 

"One thing I wanted to focus on was narrowing my focus and staying on my keys. That will be huge. Reading him because he's definitely reading us. You can tell from the film and the games he's reading the safeties. He's pulling it and throwing it as soon as the safety makes the wrong step. We have to be patient. We're tied in on that and we're focused on that."

Crawford is no stranger to big games over his six years at Notre Dame and Friday will be another.

But will Crawford be back for a seventh year? 

"I haven't talked about it at all," said Crawford. "I haven't thought about it really. I've just been taking it one game at a time trying to make the most out of these last few moments at Notre Dame. We have something special going on here and I just want to focus on that.

"I really don't know."

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