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Proven Talent and Budding Stars: Notre Dame's 2024 Safety Room

Written by Jack McMillen|Writer|Twitter/X: @jwmcmillen14

Photo by The Irish Tribune


In recent years, Notre Dame has had elite talent at the safety position. Kyle Hamilton and Harrison Smith are two of Notre Dame's most prolific defensive backs in the NFL who have combined for seven Pro Bowls and two first team All-Pro selections. Julian Love, though he was an All-American cornerback at Notre Dame, has gone on to become a Pro Bowl safety as well. All that to say, we're used to seeing production at the highest level from safeties in Blue and Gold. The future holds no different, as the current state of the room possesses battle tested veterans and eager emerging talent.


This offseason saw the departures of DJ Brown, Antonio Carter II, and Ramon Henderson. Brown had no remaining eligibility, while Carter II and Henderson entered the portal. It also saw Chris O'Leary, the safety coach for the last 5 years, head to the NFL to join Jim Harbaugh in Los Angeles. Xavier Watts is not only the longest-tenured Irish safety left on the roster, but also the most talented and decorated. Other than the addition of Rod Heard, this safety room is lacking in experience on the field, but is packed with raw potential while simultaneously possessing the best defensive player in college football last year.





Rod Heard II - Grad Sr.

This past offseason, Rod Heard II transferred from Northwestern, where he played as a Nickel DB. The sixth-year senior follows in the footsteps of Brandon Joseph, who also made the short trip from Northwestern to Notre Dame to play safety. Last season, Heard led the Wildcats' secondary in tackles with 85 on the season. He also forced two fumbles and had one interception. Heard's experience and adaptability opens up avenues for him to be featured in many different defensive looks, not unlike Thomas Harper's role this past season. Heard brings athleticism and versatility to the team, with experience playing all over the secondary, which is a considerable asset based on the talent surrounding him.


Ben Minich - RS Fr.

Ben Minich saw little playing time for the Irish last year, appearing in just three games. Due to his lack of play, Minich is a redshirt freshman this year, and will still have four more years of eligibility. The four-star recruit played both ways in high school for the Lakota West Firebirds as a safety and a receiver. He's been excelling in spring practices, but is still behind some bodies on the depth chart. Minich brings track speed, running a 10.47 100-meter dash in high school. Expect him to marinate for at least another season under the guidance of Mike Mickens, but if number 13 is called for whatever reason, he'll be chomping at the bit to make an impact.


Luke Talich - So.

Talich is heading into his sophomore season. He got reps in eight games last season, earning a consistent role on special teams. He finished last season with two total tackles. Like Minich, Talich has an uphill battle to climb in order to crack the depth chart on defense. At 6'4 210 lbs, Talich is the biggest safety on the roster. His size and athleticism give him a chance to compete for a backup role should he take strides in his development over the summer. Playing quarterback in his senior year of high school, Talich joins the club of multi-position, multi-sport talents. With the uncertainty of injuries always being an issue, Talich will serve as an important depth piece this season.





Kennedy Urlacher - Fr.

Son of the legendary NFL linebacker Brian Urlacher, Kennedy looks to pursue similar dreams as a newly-enrolled freshman at Notre Dame. Being a freshman, seeing Urlacher on the field often isn't necessarily expected. However, Minich and Talich both saw playing time as freshmen last season, and there's no reason to believe Kennedy Urlacher couldn't do the same. Urlacher chose the Irish over teams like the runner-up Washington Huskies and Big 10 powerhouse Penn State Nittany Lions. There's a lot to look forward to in the future from Urlacher.


Adon Shuler - RS Fr.

Adon Shuler got playing time in a handful of games this past season, mainly in mop-up duty. In games against Pitt, Wake Forest, and Oregon State, Shuler totaled 6 tackles. Shuler's playing time should increase exponentially this season, based on both his talent and necessity. He's expected to compete for the starting back safety spot, and has the potential to really burst onto the scene. Shuler was a composite four-star, and received offers from schools such as Alabama, Georgia, and Florida State. Shuler is a smart player with great speed and length. Though he isn't as big in size as Luke Talich, Shuler has a great frame, aiding his ability to be a very physical player. Be on the lookout for a breakout season from Adon Shuler.





Xavier Watts - Grad Sr.

The All-American, the Nagurski winner, and the "X-Factor" on this Notre Dame defense. Xavier Watts is the leader of this safety room. Watts led the nation in interceptions last year with 7, including 2 interceptions against USC's former Heisman Trophy winner and first overall pick in the NFL draft, Caleb Williams. Watts won the Bronko Nagurski award last year, the award for the nation's best defensive player. It'll be tough to improve on his performance from last year, but Watts is no stranger to challenges. He's worked through multiple position changes in his career at Notre Dame, bouncing back and forth between receiver and safety with a stint at linebacker as well. Though it would have been completely justifiable to declare for the draft, Watts came back for his final season of college football. Watts combines speed, hands, and pure athleticism which ultimately places him amongst the best returning players in the country regardless of position. He'll undoubtedly be the leader of this secondary with his seniority and skill. The young guys under him will have the perfect example to follow by getting to watch and compete with him for another year. Watts is primed to have another excellent season this year.


Overall, there are many uncertainties at the safety position this year for the Irish, however, the recruiting work that Freeman and Mickens have put in raises the floor for the talent in this room. There are a lot of guys that haven't played much that are going to have to step up, but with Mike Micken at the helm, the transition for a lot of these young players might be easier than a lot of people believe. Lots of guys are eager to earn their spot, and it's wide open for them. This season will be a fun one for another incredibly talented secondary.



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