Notre Dame defender Nick Coleman is finishing his career with a fight
SOUTH BEND – Scan the Notre Dame football depth chart at free safety and there is no shortage of talent at the top.
Former Navy star Alohi Gilman brings incredibly high expectations to his first season in South Bend after sitting out last year following his transfer and then there is arguably THE most heralded freshman in the 2018 Fighting Irish recruiting class in Houston Griffith.
“He knows what he is doing,” veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said of Griffith this spring. “You never know until they get here and put the pads on. He has great instincts. He knows the game. He’s going to be a really good player here.”
Griffith will get his time on the field, but senior safety Nick Coleman is making sure that he does, as well.
Coleman may be thought of as being behind those aforementioned athletes in the rotation, but he isn’t far in the background as far as the Notre Dame coaches are concerned.
Coleman was named as the Fighting Irish “Special Teams Player of the Day” following Tuesday’s training camp practice, while he earned “Defensive Player of the Day” Wednesday.
“Both of them have been excellent,” Kelly said following Thursday’s practice of defensive players Julian Okwara and Coleman. “But Nick Coleman has been more than that.”
As a junior, Coleman started 12 of the 13 games in which he played and he had his best season to date.
He has gradually increased his production from five to 17 to 44 tackles and he added three pass breakups last season, as well. However, the talent level of Gilman and Griffith showed in the spring and that put intense pressure on Coleman.
“Here is a guy who was fighting for reps in the spring,” Kelly continued, “but he has come into this camp with a better presence in everything that he does, tackling, awareness, playing the ball in the air. He’s a guy with a lot of snaps.”
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In the spring, Kelly gave Coleman a look at the nickel position in order to find ways to get him on the field more. The same philosophy applies to him contributing on special teams.
“Nick Coleman has the opportunity to be the starting safety,” Kelly said at the time. “However, we moved him over to (nickel) because obviously there are a lot of guys and this could give Nick even more of an opportunity to be on the field. We like his ability to play close, man-to-man coverage at that nickel position.”
Coleman’s surge continued early in Thursday’s practice as he closed quickly while covering an Irish receiver and picked off a pass from quarterback Brandon Wimbush. That type of play hasn’t surprised Kelly or new Notre Dame safety coach Terry Joseph.
“He is a great athlete,” Joseph said of Coleman this spring. “If you were just testing him in a combine setting, the guy would be off the charts. From a skills standpoint, he has the tools to be a starter at a Power 5 school, now it’s about refining those tools to become a great football player and a lot of that starts above the shoulders.”
Notre Dame brought in seven freshmen at the four defensive back positions this off-season. Griffith is simply too good NOT to play, but having depth with Coleman, among others, has allowed the Irish coaches to move Joe Wilkins Jr. to wide receiver, where he too, is having a strong camp.
In addition, Kelly can now be more patient with young players such as Derrik Allen, Paul Moala, Noah Boykin, D.J. Brown, and Tariq Bracy.
“I don’t want to say that he’s been a surprise (in this camp),” Kelly said, “but we’re really pleased with what he has been able to do in his last camp.”
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