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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Roster Review | Cornerback

March 6, 2023
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Mike Mickens was hired three years ago and walked into a situation where the pandemic hit a month later and one of his starting corners that season didn’t arrive until the summer. A shortened fall camp and a wild season filled with players missing time finished with a true freshman being forced to start at the end of that campaign.

What a difference a few years can make.

Corner is now the strongest position on the defense this offseason. It might be the strongest position group on the team. They have talent, experience, and production.

It all starts with last year’s true freshman sensation Benjamin Morrison. It didn’t take long for him to take control of a starting position and by the end of 2022 he established himself as an impact player. His multiple interception games against Clemson and Boston College stand out, but his overall season was terrific.

The only Power 5 corner who had a lower passer rating when targeted was projected top-10 pick Devon Witherspoon. Morrison finished with six interceptions, 11 total havoc plays, and is one of the top returning corners in the country.

Injuries were a part of the story for Cam Hart’s 2022 season. A hamstring injury in camp and then a shoulder injury that saw him miss the USC and South Carolina games were likely factors into why he didn’t take the next step many hoped he would.

Despite that, Hart is still a quality player at corner who plays the screen game well and he has a likely NFL future if he can stay healthy. The same skills that saw him create 14 havoc plays in 2021 still exist (he had seven in ‘22 with 171 less snaps).

It was a smart move to come back for another season and if he is 100% this fall, it’s very likely he plays a lot closer to the form he showed in ‘21.

Clarence Lewis lost his starting job to Morrison, but he was better for it. They asked too much of him previously and he played 502 (!) less snaps last fall, but was much stronger in coverage and proved he is a valuable defender who can make plays (seven havoc plays and a blocked punt).

He’s someone who struggles to match up with elite speed, but can play a bit in the nickel and is a perfect fit as a third or fourth corner.

Jaden Mickey was the freshman who many thought would play more after flashing as an early enrollee. He looked like…a freshman, for the most part. There were ups and downs with him giving up some big plays and I think he wasn’t quite ready to play as the nickel when playing in place of TaRiq Bracy. That’s probably why we saw more of Lewis and Ramon Henderson there late in the season.

Mickey has the football intelligence and skill set to develop there and the experience he gained last season should be invaluable. He’s someone who could make a big jump in his second season.

Chance Tucker was not in the mix last year and given that two freshmen jumped ahead of him, it’s not a great sign for where things stand for him on the depth chart. Philip Riley didn’t travel to the bowl game and whether or not he’ll be on the roster is in question.

Early enrollee Christian Gray has the tools to play right away at Notre Dame. We’ll see if that translates into him jumping the line, but considering who is in front of him, he’ll have to earn it with a great spring and summer.

Micah Bell won’t arrive until June and that doesn’t mean he can’t play and help immediately (see Morrison, Benjamin), but it’s more likely that this is the year for him to learn as a full-time corner after being a two-way star in high school. He could potentially see time on special teams as a returner, though.

The big question for the position is, who will replace Bracy? Nickel was the base defense for the Irish and Bracy was the starter. Without him, does Notre Dame play more with a Rover? Will we see a combination of Lewis, Henderson, and graduate transfer Thomas Harper? Is Mickey now more prepared to take on that role and emerge as a starting caliber corner?

That is the one thing that needs to be figured out, but the Irish have plenty of answers at the position overall. This group could be the foundation for a strong defense.

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