SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Elijah Shumate may have been projected as a safety when he came to Notre Dame as a four-star recruit out of New Jersey, but the freshman will admit he's still a greenhorn at the position.
"It’s kind of brand new for me," he said, even though the East Orange, N.J. native played some safety in high school.
Shumate saw the field as a true freshman last year as a cornerback, adding some sorely-needed depth to a position thin on talent. With the Irish developing and adding more depth at cornerback for the 2013 season, Shumate is taking over for Zeke Motta as one of the last lines of defense in Notre Dame's defense.
A skilled tackler, Shumate has the physical traits Notre Dame is looking for at safety. He's on a steep learning curve, although it's not as steep as the one Matthias Farley faced last year, as he worked his way into a starting role after Jamoris Slaughter suffered a season-ending injury in Week 3.
"He’s a very good tackler, a sure tackler. He’s physical, he can play the safety position," coach Brian Kelly said. (Safeties coach Bob Elliot's) done a nice job with the learning curve. That’s certainly what this is all gonna be about, and picking up the nuances. Matthias has done a very good job in helping him, but I think the entire defense is helping as well."
Shumate credited Farley with aiding him, and said Farley's experience with inexperience has been a key in helping him along.
"He said last year, he was doing the same thing, he didn’t really know anything and (was) just learning," Shumate said. "... He feels he’s confident, he knows all his stuff and he’s really been a great leader."
Eventually, Notre Dame hopes Shumate's instincts improve. That was one of Motta's better traits, one that built a player whose skill and success helped with a less-than-seasoned safety playing in the defensive backfield. He's not at the point where his reactions can take over yet, although that comes with the caveat of the season being four and a half months away.
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"Honestly, every play I’m always thinking about what I gotta do," Shumate said. "It’s still a learning process, and I’m starting to get a lot more comfortable, starting to get a lot more of the scheme down pat as the practices have been going through. But it’s just been a work in progress. Every day I’m trying to learn more and get better."
While plenty of focus this spring has been on Notre Dame's ability to replace Manti Te'o, finding the next man in for Motta holds almost as much importance. Motta didn't have the impact Te'o did last year, but his work as a defensive traffic director certainly aided Notre Dame's defensive success. Shumate's still getting comfortable telling fellow players what to do, but like everything else with the sophomore-to-be, it's a work in progress.
"He’s our guy back there," Kelly said. "And he’s gotta continue to learn. The spring has been really good for him. He’ll have to continue to take steps forward in the summer."