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No Fly Zone: How the Safeties Room Has Taken A Major Leap in 2023

By Liam Farrell|Senior Staff Writer|Twitter @LiamFarrell_IT


Via Ethan Hyman, The News&Observer


Over the past decade, Notre Dame fans have been blessed by great safety play. NFL All-Pros like Kyle Hamilton, or Harrison Smith, are the first ones to come to mind. Since Hamilton's departure in 2021, Notre Dame hadn't really had a true ball-hawking safety. Brandon Joseph didn't live up to the hype that he was presented, but was a valuable member of the 2022 team. With many question marks heading into the season about the safety room, coach Chris O'Leary had faith in seasoned players like DJ Brown, Ramon Henderson, and Xavier Watts to make a big jump in their progression. Against NC State, we saw what Coach O'Leary was talking about. The ability of these Notre Dame safeties to create turnovers, and cause havoc was something we haven't seen in a while. Let's take a deeper look at the starting talent in this safeties room.


Free Safety Tandem

Via NBC


The free safety position has been taken over by two guys who were not recruited for the safety position out of high school. The 1-2 duo of Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts have held down the fort at the free safety position. Henderson, a 4 star Cornerback recruit from California, has made a big jump in his position switch over the past three years. I see Henderson as more of a natural ball-hawk in the free safety position than that of Watts. Henderson has shown tremendous range from the free safety position, already having an interception and forcing a fumble.




Henderson's right hand man at free safety is Xavier Watts. Watts has had quite the player development path over his Notre Dame career. Watts was brought in as a highly touted wide receiver, and immediately got shipped to the safety position. Then, following Avery Davis's injury at the beginning of the 2022 season, Watts had a selfless act of moving back to the wide receiver room, which ultimately halted his development at his new safety position. With him moving back to safety halfway through the season, and an entire year preparing as a safety, Watts has come into his own. A hard-hitter with natural instincts on the defensive side of the ball, Watts has also demonstrated his great ball skills with an interception of his own against the Wolfpack.


Boundary Safety: A Veteran and Some Newcomers

Via NBC


The boundary safety position is another unique mix of people at one position. On one hand, there is DJ Brown who has been with the Irish since 2018 and is currently a second-year graduate student; on the other, two fresh transfers in Thomas Harper and Antonio Carter. Brown has been a constant in this Notre Dame defense. This year, Brown has come out of his shell and is playing with significantly more conviction. He has transformed from a bit of a timid playing style, to a more instinctive based, reactionary player.


The two transfers, Harper and Carter, have had two different paths for the Irish. Harper has sketched out significantly more playing time, especially in the Irish's Aztec package. Harper has displayed great on-ball defense in space, while having numerous pass breakups in one-on-one coverage. Harper is the leader for the Irish safeties in solo tackles (8) and total tackles (15). He has also displayed the ability to blitz the quarterback, as he had a forced fumble against Central Michigan this past week. Carter, who transferred way later into the offseason camp, is still trying to make his way onto the field in a loaded safety room, but provides great depth at the position.


Wrap Up


The Notre Dame safeties have answered all the questions presented in front of them so far.

With the Irish having one more quiz, before the big Ohio State test, these Notre Dame safeties need to do their best in order to limit the daunted Ohio State passing attack. Communication and play recognition will be vital as it will be Kyle McCord's first real big game of his career. I have the utmost confidence the Irish secondary will be up for the test.

1 Comment


Guest
Sep 21, 2023

Just bought the Hartman Estime ‘24 shirt linked above. WOW, that is an awesome shirt!

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