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Notre Dame Football

Instant Reaction | Who Replaces Crawford at Nickel?

August 30, 2018

Obviously the first reaction to Shaun Crawford tearing his ACL again is empathy for him as a person. Three major injuries in four years is devastating. He worked so hard to come back from his first two and then had a positive, healthy year last season.

What happens now with him? Who knows at this point.

Many people who suffer this many major injuries in this short amount of time don’t play football again. I hope that is not the case because he clearly loves the game.

As for what this means for Notre Dame on the field, it’s big loss for when they go nickel. He had established himself there and was the only player on the roster with significant experience in that spot. There is no clear favorite to be the first one to take his place.

Based on what the coaching staff had said in camp, three potential choices would be Nick Coleman, DJ Brown, and TaRiq Bracey.

Brian Kelly mentioned Coleman as a nickel possibility with Crawford. He had a great camp at safety and if he slid down to that spot, it would mean someone else would have to be inserted to take his place at safety when nickel is on the field.

I’m not sure if that’s something the staff will want to do or not. I do think Coleman has a chance to be solid there, but I’ve never been a big fan of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

During media day I asked Todd Lyght about grooming the nickel position behind Crawford and Lyght discussed both Brown and Bracy there.

“For us, we’re looking at using DJ Brown and also TaRiq Bracy there. In terms of strength and power, I think DJ is going to be the guy. If you have five DBs on the back, you put yourself in position to be exposed to runs.

“With DJ’s physical prowess and ability to down ball carriers, I think he’d be a good fit for a young guy. As TaRiq gets a year under his belt in the weight room, he’s going to have an opportunity to be successful in the slot too.”

I’m sure Lyght would prefer to not rush Bracy at that spot, but he may not have an option to do so after Crawford’s injury. Brown is the player that Lyght said was the most physically ready to play out of the freshman corners so my guess is that he would get first crack at it.

The other option that I could see there is safety Houston Griffith. He played corner in high school and has shown that he can cover man to man. One of the reasons that everyone is excited about his potential at safety is that he brings corner skills to that position.

Is it too much to ask him to learn nickel while sticking at safety? It may be, but the only staff knows if he can handle that or not. Physically he is a fit for it with how he can tackle and cover.

As for corner in the base defense, it was my opinion that Donte Vaughn was the likely third corner ahead of Crawford. He still would have played there, but I don’t know if he was next man up after Julian Love and Troy Pride.

Either way, some young corner is getting bumped up the depth chart because of this. Brown, Bracy, or Noah Boykin could all have a shot at doing so, but Brown would be the guy as of today after hearing what Lyght had to say about him.

It’s a loss for the defense, but how big of a loss it will be is undetermined because Notre Dame has some athletes that could end up being very effective at nickel. Whether they can be effective in week one against Michigan, we don’t know.

We’ll find out soon enough.

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