Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Cornerbacks and Board Games
Notre Dame’s cornerback position is an odd assortment this season. There are young players with a lot of hype and little proven production as well as proven veterans with worrying performances on their records.
With ohio state, Clemson and a transfer-infused USC now on the schedule, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens has his work cut out to get his positional group ready to go from wire to wire. So to break it down further, here are the Irish corners of 2022 as popular family board games.
No. 5 Cam Hart – “Monopoly”
Hart feels like the only Notre Dame cornerback whose spot is undisputed. In this sense, he has a monopoly on safe starting jobs.
The converted wide receiver took over last season and has shown quite a bit of promise. Now entering his final year, he will need to take another step forward, particularly with the leveling up of top-flight receiving talent the Irish will face from last season’s schedule. That means developing his nine pass breakups and two interceptions from 2020.
It’s unclear how crippled Hart’s production last season was with a lingering shoulder injury. He’s missed a good chunk of this spring after offseason proceedings to fix that, and his newly cleaned shoulder will get a trial by fire against Ohio State’s wide-receiving body in the season opener. .
No. 6 Clarence Lewis – “Risk”
Let’s talk about the elephant in their room, shall we? Clarence Lewis party bowl the performance was atrocious. Oklahoma State receiver Tay Martin recorded 10 receptions for 104 yards and three touchdowns in a game where Lewis was his main defenseman. Thus, the perception of many fans is that Lewis’ continued presence in the starting lineup is a risk.
There may be some credence to this opinion. Maybe there isn’t. All reports point to Lewis having a great offseason, and what he said about his one-game bowling disaster indicates he’s mentally tough enough to put it behind him. (Keep in mind that TaRiq Bracy’s own mental funk led to Lewis becoming a proper freshman starter on a Notre Dame team that made the college football playoffs).
But the reality is that Lewis’s job is far from secure given how excited true freshman Jaden Mickey has been this offseason. Many Irish fans will likely call Mickey to replace Lewis before the first quarter hit zero against Ohio State. It’s unlikely to happen on September 3, but before the end of the year…that might be a different story.
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy – “Falls and Ladders”
Bracy’s career at Notre Dame has been a checkered one, an up-and-down trajectory reminiscent of sliding down chutes and trudging up the ladders of the Irish cornerback depth chart.
His breakout came in 2019 when he interrupted two passes on the road against Georgia and was generally reliable throughout the year. Then he was benched in Notre Dame’s first clash with Clemson in 2020. After a confidence-boosting offseason, Bracy has found a niche in nickel forfeits in 2021 and he thinks he’ll continue that role as a senior of fifth year this fall.
Safety coach Chris O’Leary dubbed Bracy the best nickel in the country. It’s high (if not biased) praise for him to live up to it. But as Ireland’s most experienced cornerback, at the very least he will need to be a stable presence in the defensive field.
No. 21 Jaden Mickey and No. 20 Benjamin Morrison – “Battleship”
Both Mickey and Morrison are members of the Class of 2022 who have been making waves this offseason. To put it bluntly, the pair of true freshmen appear to have already sunk the battleships of — that is, already passed on the depth chart — at least two of Notre Dame’s three cornerbacks.
There’s been no shortage of praise for Mickey coming out this spring and summer. The first registrant from Corona, Calif., impressed heavily during his short stint in South Bend, so much so that he’s likely already a second-string cornerback. As mentioned above, how long he can turn this into a starting job will be something that many Irish fans will have their eyes on.
As for Morrison, it’s impossible to say if he would be in stride or even ahead of Mickey right now had he signed up early. Either way, the summer at this point has been enough time for Morrison to turn heads on the cornerback depth chart. The four-star Phoenix rookie may not play a big role this season, but at this rate he should do so sooner rather than later in his Irish career.
No. 15 Ryan Barnes – Rock ’em, Sock ’em, Robots
If you missed this year’s Blue-Gold Game, then you missed Riley who delivered some hard hits to tight ends Andrew Yanoshak and Charlie Selna. A hit on Selna actually resulted in a targeting penalty (questionable if you ask me), so maybe Barnes is trying to establish an enforcement role at cornerback. If he’s ready to (legally) shake off a few opposing pass catchers, it could be the difference for the Irish throughout the season.
At 6-foot-2, Barnes is the longest corner on the roster besides Hart. The former three-star recruit from Gaithersburg, Maryland, grew up as a Notre Dame fan and can provide an uncommon physical presence on the roster. But it’s worth noting that he wasn’t even taking second-team defensive snaps in Notre Dame’s last fall scrimmage (Mickey, Morrison and Chance Tucker accounted for corners in nickel packages).
Like the other two cornerbacks in his class, this could be a critical year for Barnes to carve out a role for himself with Mickey and Morrison taking first steps on the depth chart.
No. 25 Philip Riley and No. 18 Chance Tucker – Clue
Riley and Tucker were both highly touted rookies in the 2021 cycle. But now they’re fighting for their depth chart against the two true freshmen Mickey and Morrison. At this point, fans and coaches are still looking for a clue as to what sophomores might (or might not) be for Notre Dame down the road.
Riley was a four-star recruit who opted out of Notre Dame in favor of rival USC, but the Irish coaching staff managed to bring him back into the fold. He appeared in just four games as a true freshman and had no defensive stats. In addition to battling around the corner, he could be a candidate to move to safety, as Xavier Watts is now splitting time at wide receiver.
With Tucker, the chorus has always been how its recruitment has been contested between Notre Dame and Washington. It’s notable because few programs have produced quality NFL defensive backs quite like Washington. But Tucker didn’t enter any contests last season and is still battling for a second-team role. It will be a great year for him and Riley to make a positive impression in practices if they are to avoid being pushed aside by the new members at the post.
#23 Jayden Bellamy – Sorry!
You must feel a little sorry for Bellamy. Not only is he the third wheel of a cornerback recruiting class where the other two have already made a name for themselves, but he’s not even the most talked about “Ja(y)den” among the freshman corners.
A native of New Jersey, Bellamy followed fellow Irish first-year quarterback Steve Angeli from Bergen Catholic to South Bend. A two-way player in high school, there was speculation that Bellamy could be moved to help take receiver reps in practice after Avery Davis tore his ACL.
This movement has not yet taken place since the change of position of Xavier Watts. Either way, it looks like Bellamy will have to bide his time before making an impact for Notre Dame on either side of the ball.