NOTRE DAME — Brian Kelly has made it very clear. There really is no Notre Dame football depth chart in place yet this spring, but one thing is for sure — Elijah Shumate is going to have to play big at safety next fall.
“He’s our guy back there,” Kelly said of Shumate, a sophomore who found some playing time last season in nickel packages, “and he’s got to continue to learn. This spring has been really good for him.”
The challenge now, as Notre Dame turns the final corner heading into Saturday’s Blue-Gold scrimmage, is molding the East Orange, N.J., native into a heads-up, full-time performer.
“He is what we thought he was in terms of a tackler. He’s a very good tackler, a sure tackler,” Kelly said after last Saturday’s workout in the Loftus Center. “He’s physical. He can play the safety position.”
Shumate, though, knows he has a long way to go. The tools are there, but a strong voice behind those tools is admittedly lacking.
“That’s a work in progress. I’m going to work hard at that,” the soft-spoken Shumate said with a sheepish grin last week.
Shumate’s run-stopping skills shined a number of times during Saturday’s practice so the physical aspect is in place. The mental aspect is soon to follow, according to Kelly.
Being surrounded by veterans like Matthias Farley at safety and a solid corps of linebackers directly in front of him is a huge advantage for the youngster, yet growing into a true defensive leader will only come reps.
“I think Coach (Bob) Elliott has done a nice job with the learning curve. That’s certainly what it’s going to be about ... picking up nuances,” Kelly said. “Matthias Farley has done a very good job in helping him, but the entire defense is helping as well.”
And help also is coming, indirectly, from 2012 stalwarts like Manti Te’o, Zeke Motta and Kapron Lewis-Moore.
“I learned a lot from Zeke, Manti, Kap,” Shumate said. “Playing that position, you have to step up and be very vocal and put everybody in their right positions, tell everybody their assignments, tell everyone else what to do.”
Shumate, of course, needs to know where he’s supposed to be first.
“I’m definitely trying to get myself right,” he said. “I’m still learning. It’s kind of new to me. I got some game experience last year so playing corner and moving to safety is a big transition.
“Back there, you see everything. (The game) is a lot slower than playing corner. You see everything develop ... you make a lot calls, Shumate added. “It’s like playing quarterback on defense. It’s still a learning process, but it’s started to be a lot more comfortable for me.”