Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Scouting the Roster: Nick Coleman

May 31, 2017

Player name: Nick Coleman

Player position: Free safety

Years of eligibility left: 2

Projected rank on the depth chart: Starter

Player productivity so far:

2016: 17 tackles 1 TFL 1 PBU

2015: 5 tackles 2 PBU

What player does best: Coleman is a very good athlete that adds speed to the free safety position. That speed gives him the range to cover a lot of ground on the back end of the defense, which he showed in the transition from corner this spring. He’s also displayed good instincts at that spot. It was a bit unexpected considering he was still learning the nuances as a full-time corner after primarily being an offensive player in high school.

That experience on offense might be the reason he has solid ball skills. He is quick out of his transitions and got his hands on the football several times when we watched the Irish practice this spring. He has some man coverage ability that many safeties don’t have and that’s an advantage of him sliding over from corner. He has good change of directions skills that helps him mirror receivers in space.

What player needs to work on: I think the biggest thing with Coleman is confidence. He has shown ability in practice over his first two seasons and in brief stints as a freshman, but the wheels came off for him early in 2016 after getting beat early versus Texas and Duke. He appeared to be growing with his technique, but that started to slip when his struggles began. Based on last season, he must do a better job of tracking the ball down the field as well.

The next biggest thing is physicality. He needs to be more physical in coverage and flashed a bit of that in terms of finishing through at the catch point, but it’s mostly with his tackling. He is not a thumper and needs to be more consistent from play to play. Mike Elko likes to get both of his safeties involved in the run game as much as possible and he needs to show he can be a factor there.

Coleman also needs to take as step as a blitzer too. He wasn’t asked to do it much as an outside corner, but will do it more from his new spot.

Productivity of former ND players and top players in the nation at his position:

Max Redfield 2015: 64 tackles 2 TFL 1 sack 2 PBU 1 INT

Harrison Smith 2011: 90 tackles 3 TFL 10 PBU 1 forced fumble

Harrison Smith 2010: 91 tackles 1 TFL 7 PBU 7 INT

Malik Hooker Ohio State: 74 tackles 5.5 TFL 0.5 sacks 4 PBU 7 INT

Budda Baker Washington: 71 tackles 10 TFL 3 sacks 6 PBU 1 INT 1 forced fumble

Marcus Williams Utah: 64 tackles 1 TFL 3 PBU 5 INT 2 forced fumbles

Justin Reid Stanford: 57 tackles 4 TFL 7 PBU

What can we hope for? We can hope for the same kind of position switch success Notre Dame has had in the past. They’ve moved players over to different positions who have become very successful. Two players who converted to safety that come to mind are Chinedum Ndukwe and Pat Terrell and they were from wide receiver to safety. Coleman should have an easier transition because he’s at least played two years at corner.

I think we got a glimpse of what we can hope for this spring as well. Someone with the kind of range and ball skills to actually be involved in breaking up plays. Max Redfield had a grand total of six passes defended in two seasons. We saw more plays on the ball from Coleman in practice than we ever saw from Redfield and that is an encouraging sign.

The Irish can hope for a center fielder who can make an impact deep. He has the athletic tools to be a quality starter and the best option at the position since Harrison Smith.

What is a realistic expectation? Given how he progressed in the spring, it’s realistic to expect he will hold onto the starting job, but be pushed for time by last season’s starter, Devin Studstill. I think it’s reasonable to expect he will start, but maybe not every game given that he has experienced ups and downs.

He’s shown ability, but didn’t deal with adversity well. Safeties are going to get beat at some point and we’ll need to see Coleman bounce back from that to believe he is in a different head-space than last season. There will be some mistakes along the way and I’m sure some missed tackles as well, but it’s fair to expect the positive to outweigh the negative given that he appears to have new confidence after working with Elko as his position coach.

What about the future? It’s now or never for Coleman to establish himself because everyone else on the depth chart at safety is younger than him. If he has the kind of year many hope he’ll have, then he’ll give stability to the back end of the defense for this year and the next when he is a senior.

Considering the inconsistency Redfield experienced, it would be massive if he can provide a consistent presence at free safety. If he can help be a part of creating turnovers, like the pass he broke up versus Alize Jones that led to an interception in the spring game, then the move to free safety could possibly lead to an NFL future for Coleman.

The corner to safety switch has worked out really well for many programs. It looks like it could work out well for the Irish in the case of Coleman too.
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