Aug. 7, 2016
CULVER, Ind. -
By Michael Bertsch and Leigh Torbin
Notre Dame returns five defensive backs who started a game in 2015. The position is deep and talented but unsettled. Among the many options Todd Lyght, the Pat and Jana Eilers Family Defensive Backs Coach, has in his arsenal are two talented sophomores from Ohio.
Nick Coleman and Shaun Crawford are friends. They went to Cedar Point this past summer with fellow Ohioan and teammate DeShone Kizer. They are both viable options for starting roles on the Irish in 2016. The divergent tales of their freshman seasons, however, illuminate how Lyght got into this enviable position.
Crawford proved to be one of the breakout freshmen over the first two weeks of preseason camp in 2015 and seemed assuredly headed toward making immediate contributions for the team. In an unfortunate turn of events, a knee injury suffered on August 19 ended Crawford's freshman season before it even started.
Coleman, meanwhile, worked his way into the playing rotation on special teams for all 13 games while also seeing his reps in the secondary increase as injuries in that area multiplied. Crawford was just the first victim of an injury bug that would eventually claim Drue Tranquill, KeiVarae Russell, Devin Butler among others and Coleman was among several beneficiaries of being head coach Brian Kelly's oft-spoken "next man in."
Both are back at Culver, a year wiser and jumping confidently into a deep pool of defensive backs.
"It's more comfortable now with a year under my belt," Coleman said. "I understand a lot more of why I'm doing certain things instead of just doing what I'm told. Technique-wise, I feel like I've come a long way since I've been here. Everything feels a lot better."
"Being in the system for a year helps a lot," Crawford said. "Going into camp with a lot more knowledge of the game and the system is going to help me play a lot faster. Last year, I was just running around trying to play with effort and learning from my mistakes. This year, I'm trying to limit the (mental errors) and play as fast as I can."
The position group already had the benefit of learning their trade from Lyght, a national champion at Notre Dame, first round NFL Draft pick (fifth overall) and a Super Bowl champion with the St. Louis Rams. This past summer, the depth chart at defensive back mentor grew as deep as the playing depth chart with the addition of Jeff Burris as a senior defensive analyst.
Like Lyght, Burris was a consensus All-American at Notre Dame and a first round NFL Draft pick. Burris enjoyed a 10-year NFL career before getting into coaching, most recently with the Miami Dolphins from 2013-15. Between the two, Notre Dame's defensive backs have the luxury of never being far from a role model who has lived their same dreams.
"He is a great addition to the staff," Coleman said. "He's a great mentor and he always has something good to say."
" With him having played corner, nickel and safety, for me, he's able to help me with everything," Crawford said. "He's able to help us all around."
The aspiring Irish secondary members have begun asserting themselves here at Culver Academies in the hopes of landing one of the open positions on the two-deep for the season-opener at Texas. Two sophomores from Ohio - one of whom benefitted by the 2015 injury bug and one of whom was victimized by it - find themselves in the thick of this race. But, they are also well aware that their role can change in the blink of an eye so all of them need to be sure that their peers are honed in.
"We're helping each other because we know from last year that injuries happen and we all need to be ready to play this year," Crawford said.
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Today's News Stories
Saturday's practice at Culver Academies was open to local media and a nice crowd came from Michiana and Chicagoland. Here is a sampling of their coverage.
Irish A-to-Z: Spencer Perry (NBC)
Everything on the QB table for BK (NBC)
Irish A-to-Z: Troy Pride, Jr (NBC)
Folston says he's 100 percent (WNDU)
BK: We pushed them pretty hard (WNDU)
JJ hungry to make strong impression (SBT)
TE's bond over beards (SBT)
Practice report (SBT)
Even practice fun for Folston (SBT)
Jones primes to be on big stage (BGI)
Morgan sets tone on defense (BGI)
Practice report: Offense (II)
Kelly likes what he sees (FWJG)
TJ surprise at first practice (FWJG)
Michael Bertsch, director of football media relations at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2006. An Akron, Ohio, native, he graduated from Walsh University (Ohio) in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in communications and also received his master's degree in health and physical education with an emphasis in sports administration from Marshall University in 2001.
Leigh Torbin, athletics communications assistant director at the University of Notre Dame, has been part of the Fighting Irish athletics communications team since 2013 serves as the football publicity team's top lieutenant and coordinates all media efforts for Notre Dame's lacrosse teams. A native of Framingham, Massachusetts, Torbin graduated from the University of Massachusetts in 1998 with a bachelor's degree in sports management. He has previously worked full-time on the athletic communications staffs at Vanderbilt, Florida, Connecticut and UCF.