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Notre Dame lands at No. 4 in On3’s safety unit rankings

IMG_7504by:Jack Soble05/17/24


In On3 national college football columnist Jesse Simonton’s top-10 safety unit rankings, he tabbed Notre Dame’s safeties as the fourth-best group in the country.

Led by star graduate student Xavier Watts, the Irish fell behind Iowa, Ohio State and Georgia, respectively. Penn State, USC, Iowa State, Oregon, Alabama and Texas rounded out the rankings.

Here’s what Simonton had to say about the Notre Dame safeties, as well as Blue & Gold’s thoughts.

What On3’s Jesse Simonton said about the Notre Dame safeties

“Xavier Watts led the nation with seven picks in 2023, winning the Bronko Nagurski Trophy (given to the best defensive player in college football) en route to earning All-American honors. He opted to return for a fifth season with the Irish, further shoring up the team’s strong secondary. 

“Watts will work in tandem with either Northwestern transfer Rod Heard II, who had 85 tackles and 4.0 TFLs in 13 games last season, or promising but green sophomore Adon Shuler. Former walk-on Luke Talich, who turned down scholarship opportunities from multiple Pac-12 schools, is someone who has generated buzz within the program and could push for a role this fall.” 

Blue & Gold’s thoughts

I have no qualms with where Simonton placed Notre Dame in the top 10. It’s difficult to move teams led by Xavier Nwankpa and Quinn Schulte (Iowa), Caleb Downs (Ohio State) and Malaki Starks (Georgia) down, and I would not place the Irish lower than Simonton did, either.

Simonton’s assessment of the Irish is also accurate, with Watts serving as the star and Notre Dame feeling pretty good about its options to play beside and behind him. Heard vs. Shuler should be one of the most fun and interesting fall camp battles, as the Irish seem to like where they stand at that spot regardless of who wins the job.

The “loser” won’t be riding the bench all game, either. Ramon Henderson played 304 snaps as Notre Dame’s third safety last season, eventually transferring to UCLA. Defensive coordinator Al Golden loved to break out his three-safety “spear” package on third downs in 2023, and there’s no reason that should change in 2024.

The way Golden talked about Talich in spring practice, he’s still a bit behind where the Irish want him to be in terms of understanding the defense. But Golden also implied Talich has made significant progress in that regard and is very much on the right track.

“That’s the journey we’re trying to help him through right now, to have it go from his head to his heart, so he’s not thinking as much, so he’s not worried about this, or ‘If they do that — ’ Just go play,” Golden said. “It gets a little bit challenging in the spring, because we’re installing a lot, but I expect him to catch up here shortly.”

Talich should be a capable backup in 2024 before challenging for a starting spot in 2025, when his 6-foot-4 frame and excellent speed could serve Notre Dame well. In a perfect world for the Irish, he and Shuler would be a strong safety duo for multiple years.

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