One starting safety from the BCS National Championship Game could now be Notre Dame’s fourth cornerback. An early enrollee at wide receiver last year is on the move to safety this year. And a player who buzzed at running back early last spring could be moving to receiver full-time.
There were no major overhauls of the Irish roster entering spring practice, which kicks off indoors Monday morning, but head coach Brian Kelly has tweaked and tinkered with his depth charts in gearing up for his fifth season in South Bend.
Matthias Farley shifted to cornerback, James Onwualu switched to safety and Amir Carlisle is now listed as a running back/wide receiver. On top of those adjustments, Will Mahone moved to receiver, Doug Randolph bumped to inside linebacker and John Turner shifted to outside linebacker.
Other than Carlisle, the switches figure to be more background than frontline. Still, Kelly believes the moves can enhance depth while fitting new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme. The safety swap of Farley for Onwualu could be a nod to where the position is headed.
“(Onwualu) was a tough one for me because he's so valuable offensively,” Kelly said. “He’s such a consistent player and he loves to compete, but he's got great contact skills, he's a ferocious competitor and I wanted to take a look at him because he is such a physical player.
“He’s got an incredible volume to him in terms of his ability to play every play. This was the time to take a look at him at safety.”
The Farley shift to corner, where he could be behind KeiVarae Russell, Cole Luke and incoming transfer Cody Riggs by training camp, was a move to put him in a different tackling position. The rising senior struggled with contact last fall in the middle of the field. Now he’ll be asked to set the edge of the defense from the outside.
“He can be a very good player, and especially a tackler, from an outside-in position,” Kelly said. “He's been playing inside-out. He's been running the alley inside-out. We think he can be a very good force player from an outside-in position, and he's really a good athlete.
“He can run, and he's got very good ball skills. We're going to give him an opportunity out there to compete and take a look at him. We're going to play more than two corners. We're going to play as many as four.”
The Carlisle shift to slot receiver, after the USC transfer struggled with his ball skills last season, could be a boost to the offense with a crowded backfield, even minus George Atkinson. Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant and Cam McDaniel likely rate as Notre Dame’s top backs, putting Carlisle in a tough spot after a difficult junior season.
Carlisle rushed for 41 yards on his first Irish carry and totaled 30 carries in Notre Dame’s opening three games. He posted 17 carries total the rest of the season.
Minus TJ Jones, DaVaris Daniels and the tight end depth that made slot receiver a position game planned out of the offense much of last season, Carlisle could see more work along with CJ Prosise and Will Mahone, who showed flashed last August before he suffered a severe ankle sprain.
“We've got a good stable of backs there. I'm just trying to get guys reps,” Kelly said. “We don't have as much depth at that position, so I want to take a look at (Carlisle) at slot receiver, too. We'll get a chance to get some reps with him.”