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Notre Dame Football

Looking for a Nickel

April 6, 2021

Kyle Hamilton’s greatest strength may be that he is strong at almost everything. That’s why he is going to be a pre-season All-American and why he can shine even when playing on one good ankle all of last season.

Want him to be a deep safety with the range to cover a ton of ground? No problem.


He can match up in man coverage. He can hit like a truck. He’s a unicorn that can excel in several areas. Knowing all of that, the question becomes how will Marcus Freeman choose to use him this season?

Last season Hamilton lined up over 55% of his snaps as a deep safety according to PFF. The rest of his snaps were mostly split between lining up over the slot and playing in the box.

He obviously has the speed, instincts, and ball skills to be an elite safety when lined up deep. Hamilton can be majorly disruptive coming down as a “robber” as well liked he showed on this pass breakup against Boston College.


The ideal scenario is that Hamilton can be used multiple ways and do everything from playing deep to threatening as an A gap blitzer and dropping out like he did against Virginia in 2019.


However, Notre Dame may not be able to have an ideal scenario if they don’t find the right fit at slot corner to play in the nickel. If that doesn’t happen, then using a safety there is the next alternative.

The best man for the job? Unsurprisingly it’s the guy who can be great in a handful of roles. It’s not a question if Hamilton is the best slot defender on the team. He is. That’s been proven with the way he has covered when lined up there. In two years with 122 coverage snaps (according to PFF) as a slot corner, he’s given up an NFL passer rating of 19.8.

He’s shown the ability to play man on tight ends like Stanford’s Colby Parkinson and Iowa State’s Charlie Kolar. He’s proven he can run with a super twitchy slot like Louisville’s Tutu Atwell. So why not let him run with this full-time when Notre Dame is in sub-packages?

Not only can Hamilton match up there, but it would be a great way to get him more involved as a pass rusher. We saw this from Hamilton early in the year against Duke then didn’t see much of him used this way after that.


Freeman and the defensive staff have all of this spring to audition slot cornerbacks while Hamilton gets back to full health. They may find their answer there and not have to worry about keeping Hamilton stuck to one role on 3rd downs.

If they don’t, though, Hamilton may not just be their best option, but the only good one.

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