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Roster Assessment - Defense (cont.) by Jvan

Defensive Backs

CB - As for the starters, slot corner Tariq Bracy won't be back in 2023. Boundary corner Ben Morrison will be a sophomore. Field corner Cam Hart was not expected to return next year, but a season ending shoulder injury has clouded his NFL draft prospects. He may or may not elect to come back for another college season.

The rest of the mix includes Clarence Lewis, who will be a senior with considerable experience; Jaden Mickey, a sophomore who played in several games in 2022. Juniors Chance Tucker, Philip Riley, and Ryan Barnes also return, as does sophomore Jayden Bellamy. Lewis has played both field and boundary corner but he backed up Morrison at boundary in 2022.

Discussion - Morrison emerged as a star in 2022 and has a bright future. Competition for Bracy's spot and possibly Hart's will be interesting because of the number of players vying to start or play a major role. For the three current juniors, spring practice may be their last shot to make a favorable impression. Two freshmen passed them on the depth chart this past season and two more highly regarded recruits, Christian Gray and Micah Bell, will be added to the mix. Gray is an early enrollee and will compete this spring.

We'll also get our first hard look at Bellamy and find out if Mickey has progressed from a somewhat painful (especially by comparison to his classmate Morrison) debut season.

Outlook - Corner is obviously a position where the best players get on the field regardless of seniority. I could easily see the three starters as Morrison, Lewis and Mickey and a second unit of Bellamy, Gray and Bell. Any one of the latter trio could push Lewis or Mickey (but likely not Morrison) for a starting role. That would mean Riley, Tucker and Barnes might give consideration to the transfer portal if they obtain their degrees (or not, I suppose) and still want to play somewhere.

If Hart returns, he is likely to start opposite Morrison. The slot corner would become a wide-open competition. Mickey is the only candidate with experience there but I'll have my eyes on Gray.

SAFETY - Houston Griffith can't return but the eligible group includes Ramon Henderson, DJ Brown, Xavier Watts, Justin Walters, and Brandon Joseph. The incoming freshmen are Adon Shuler and Ben Minich. Peyton Bowen, a five-star recruit, remains a possibility. We'll see whether he signs with Notre Dame or Oklahoma on December 21.

Discussion - This group was largely disappointing in 2022 except for Watts, whose playing time steadily increased during the course of the season. He is also the best tackler among them. Brown and Joseph have the most experience if they decide to return. Neither is an exciting choice based on inconsistent 2022 performances. If the Irish are going to improve upon 8-4 in 2023, safety is one area that needs an upgrade. Henderson is still learning the position but he has the speed and physical tools to become a productive player. Time will tell if he develops the instincts needed to be an impactful player.

The matter could be settled quickly if Bowen joins the team. He has the tools to start from Day 1, probably with Watts. That would be an ideal pairing and there would be plenty of options to provide backup.

Outlook - This should really be TBD until Bowen makes his intentions known because he would have an immediate impact. Several players have experience but are poor tacklers (Joseph, Brown) while others are more physical but still developing a feel for the position (Watts, Walters). Henderson needs to improve in both areas but it's not out of the question. As for Shuler and Minich, they are good prospects who may need a year in the weight room before they are ready.