Notre Dame’s ‘Tackling Position’ On Notice

Do you know where Kyle Hamilton is?

Florida State will. So will Toledo, Purdue and the other nine opponents awaiting their dance with Notre Dame on college gridirons near and far.

Hamilton – the All-American safety now entering his third and final season with the Irish before a likely first-round NFL draft selection in the spring – is circled on every depth chart crossing the desk of head coaches facing Notre Dame this fall.

At least another position on the Irish defense will be circled as well. It will be easy to find. It’s the spot right next to Hamilton at safety.

“It’s pretty apparent,” said Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly when asked about Houston Griffith and DJ Brown, who are the leading candidates to align next to Hamilton.

“Where Kyle Hamilton will be, most people are not going to be.”

That means Griffith, a senior, and Brown, a red-shirt junior, will be a significant part of opposing game plans. If Hamilton is taken out of the play, the other safety will have a target on his chest.

“That position is crucial relative to getting the ball on the ground,” Kelly said. “That’s a tackling position for us.”

Making plays at safety remains an elusive goal for Irish safeties not named Hamilton, at least entering the 2021 season. It’s unfair to compare tackle totals between Hamilton and his fellow safeties. That’s not always a statistic indicative of productivity. And yet making tackles is going to be a huge part of the game for Griffith and Brown.

In 22 games in an Irish uniform, Hamilton has been on the field a vast majority of the time, especially in 2020 as he fought through an early-season ankle injury that ultimately required post-season surgery.

But since Kelly called strong safety a “tackling position”…

The record shows that in 36 games, Griffith has made 33 tops while Brown has accounted for 15 tackles in 22 games. In other words, those two have “tackled the football” 48 times in a combined 58 games during their careers.

Hamilton made a team-leading made 63 tackles on 580 snaps (not including special teams) in 2020. That averages out to one stop every 9.2 snaps. He has 104 tackles in 24 games played, including his freshman year as Notre Dame’s nickel off the bench.

Griffith made 14 tackles (again, not including special teams) on 215 plays last year, or one every 15.3 snaps. Brown made eight tackles on 243 snaps, or one every 30 snaps.

Also factoring in – but unmentioned in Monday’s discussion – is red-shirt sophomore K.J. Wallace, who is listed as Griffith’s backup on the recently released depth chart with Brown behind Hamilton.

Wallace has even less tackling experience in game competition (four stops in eight games). But the earmark of Wallace’s game is his physicality and tackling ability.

After having what Kelly has called “really good camps,” Griffith and Brown must now validate the positive comments made by the Irish head coach and defensive coordinator Marcus Freeman throughout the summer.

“You’re going to see them both playing and they’re going to be on notice because most teams know where Hamilton is,” Kelly said. “They’re going to attack (Griffith and Brown).

“I think they’re up for the task. Those guys have to tackle the football.”