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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Safety

February 9, 2021

Notre Dame has an All-American candidate and two players who played over 200 snaps returning at safety. Despite that, the situation at safety seems more confusing than some other spots with less experience returning.

That tends to happen with a new position coach and new coordinator entering the mix.

We know Kyle Hamilton is going to be there and play outstanding. He was that last year compiling 11.5 Havoc plays while leading the team in tackles. He accomplished all of that while playing on a bad ankle for most of the season.

This season it will be more about how Hamilton is utilized by Marcus Freeman than how good he will be. We know he will be great. Hamilton can be great in different ways, though, and his versatility is special.

Will Freeman unleash him as a blitzer more often? That’s tough to predict because he can play as a single high safety or match up with tight ends and receivers in the slot as well as anyone. Not many players can cover a lightning quick player like TuTu Atwell and a big tight end like Hunter Long. Hamilton can. He finished 11th in passer rating when working in the slot last season.

Who will be starting next to him is up for debate.

The leading candidates are Houston Griffith and DJ Brown, both of whom played quite a bit in Notre Dame’s Dime package last season.

Griffith decided to take his name out of the transfer portal after Freeman convinced him to stay at Notre Dame. He gets a new opportunity with Chris O’Leary inserted as his position coach.

2020 was supposed to be his breakout year, but Shaun Crawford ended up winning the starting job opposite Hamilton. Griffith played fine in his opportunities, particularly when he had to play more against North Carolina, but failed to flash in any significant way and has had only four career Havoc plays in three seasons.

We know he can play sound. Can he be more of a playmaker?

Brown did find the football more and has found it in practice situations. He didn’t tackle that well in his limited opportunities, though. He took some poor angles at times and had one of the worst tackling efficiencies in the country as a safety.

He’s not going to win the starting job unless he tackles more consistently. That’s the bottom line with Brown heading into this spring.

KJ Wallace is a player to watch who could make a move up the depth chart. The former cornerback looked good against South Florida early in the season and then an injury took him out of the mix. Nothing should be secure with either Griffith or Brown on the depth chart and if Wallace can provide more consistency, he’ll be in place to play a lot this fall.

No one knows what to expect from Litchfield Ajavon. He played zero snaps on defense last season and that doesn’t exactly project well for his immediate or long term future at safety. It’s a big year for him.

Things could get a little more interesting with the position with Philip Riley, Justin Walters, and Ryan Barnes enrolling early.

Riley and Barnes are corners who could end up at safety. If the coaching staff doesn’t like what they see from the returning players, one of them may make a move to get involved in the competition.

Like Barnes, Walters did not have a senior season so the possibility of him playing early in his career is unknown right now. We’ll see if he can surprise some people this spring and summer.

Khari Gee arrives in the summer and thought the chances of him playing in 2021 are less likely because of that, players like Hamilton, Chris Tyree, and Michael Mayer proved that talent will overcome inexperience when it comes to playing time.

Gee is a very talented athlete and could end up being a Rover later down the line. If he’s good enough right away, he may have a chance to play as a safety as a freshman.

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