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Notre Dame Football

Position Outlook | Cornerback

February 19, 2021
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Back in 2016, the cornerback depth chart for the Irish wasn’t ideal to say the least.

They had a veteran in Cole Luke, but it was a very inexperienced group after that without Devin Butler and an injured Nick Watkins. The rest of the corners had a combined 43 snaps under their belt and all of those belonged to eventual safety Nick Coleman.

This current crop of cornerbacks has a few more players who have seen the field than that ‘16 group, but it is an inexperienced group overall. That’s why this spring is going to be a critical development period for the defense because they’ll need to have at least a few players make significant improvements over the next few months.

Irish fans can feel good about Clarence Lewis returning. He had a strong freshman season, taking over the starting field corner job against North Carolina and never relinquishing it.

He already showed that he’s a strong tackler and he does a terrific job finding the football. His seven pass breakups were second on the team and he finished with nine total Havoc plays.

He’s a candidate to be a breakout player on defense. The question will be whether or not he sticks at the field corner or if they move him to the boundary in 2021.

If the latter happens, then TaRiq Bracy has a chance to get back on the field as a starter. He lost his job to Lewis late in the year after getting beat deep a couple of times against Clemson and North Carolina.

There have been times during his career when Bracy has played really well (Georgia and Iowa State in 2019), but he has been overaggressive and that has made him susceptible to double moves. His experience is valuable. It might be a question whether he can gain enough confidence to play at his best more consistently.

Cam Hart was in the two-deep in 2020, but Nick McCloud never left the field as the boundary corner. If they keep Lewis playing field, then the boundary will be wide open with Hart first in line to compete. 

He has rare size (6’3”) and if Mike Mickens can help develop him into a starter, it would be a great luxury to have someone like him to match up with some bigger bodies out wide.

Ramon Henderson and Caleb Offord were the two other freshmen corners from last year. We haven’t seen enough of them to know how ready they might be to play this fall, but it would be huge if at least one of them could develop into a player Mickens can count on. Henderson has exciting athletic traits if he can put everything together.

Both Phillip Riley and Ryan Barnes are on campus now as early enrollees. They come in at a time where they could position themselves to play early if they can prove themselves over the next few months.

Riley is the more polished player and more likely to play immediately, but Barnes is the same mold as Hart with his size.

Chance Tucker and Jojo Johnson are the other corners Notre Dame signed in the 2021 cycle. They can both run really well, but will either be physically ready to compete from day one? It seems unlikely with Johnson and with Tucker, who didn’t have a senior season yet, we’ll have to wait and see.

This is a group that could be very strong as early as next year, but aside from Lewis, there isn’t one player that we know will be a factor. That’s why it wouldn’t be a surprise if the coaching staff decided to try and land another McCloud type as a stop-gap.

Notre Dame needs Lewis to make the leap this year and have two or three others make significant strides if they want to be better in the secondary this season.

 
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