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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Roster Review | Safety

February 12, 2024

Notre Dame’s plan to have an elite defense two years in a row looked like it was going to take a serious hit when Xavier Watts was having a great season. His season was so great (unanimous All-American, Bednarik Award winner) that it looked like he would enter the NFL Draft.

He decided to return to Notre Dame for his final season and the secondary should once again be one of the best in the country once they settle on who will play with him at safety.

Total snaps returning

The number that matters is 708. That’s how many Watts played, which led the defense.

Besides him, they are bringing back less than 75 snaps from their three freshmen who all redshirted last season.

Notable returning production

Watts had seven interceptions, which tied for the most in the country. He finished with 15 total havoc plays (interceptions, pass breakups, tackles for loss, and forced fumbles). That’s the most a Notre Dame safety has had in a single season since Harrison Smith back in 2011 (also 15).


The Irish are bringing in three projected safeties in the 2024 recruiting.

Kennedy Urlacher is the only early enrollee. Taebron Bennie-Powell and Tae Johnson arrive in the summer. None of them are expected to play much as true freshmen.

Someone who is expected to play a prominent role is graduate transfer Rod Heard II. He’s primarily played nickel Northwestern the last two seasons, but would drop deep when they added in an extra linebacker to match personnel. A strong tackler, he had a combined 101 solo tackles the last two seasons. He also produced 11 havoc plays in 2023. Adding him to the roster was a significant move that puts a lot less pressure on the young players to earn playing time before they may be ready.

Spring competition

Heard is the favorite to start with Watts in the base defense, but there will be plenty of opportunities for those three redshirts as well.

Adon Shuler is physically ready to shine right now. His development within the defense will be interesting to watch and heading into the spring he has the edge as the third safety. That’s an important spot for Notre Dame with the personnel they use with their “Spear” defense on 3rd downs.

Ben Minich and Luke Talich dealt with injuries last fall, but should be healthy and in the mix this spring. Minich created some buzz last spring as an early enrollee with his ball skills and Talich impressed everyone with his size and speed last August.

The coaching staff has to get these young players ready not only to build depth for this fall, but to prepare them to be ready for when Watts and Heard leave.

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