SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The quotes sound about the same, but Notre Dame certainly appears committed to getting rising sophomore Max Redfield solid playing time this coming fall.
Last summer and into the 2013 season, the word from Notre Dame coaches was that Redfield -- rated as a five-star safety out of high school -- was close to seeing the field. But Redfield didn't take significant snaps at safety until the Pinstripe Bowl, and most notably he didn't play at Stanford -- a game in which Notre Dame suspended half of its safety rotation for violating team rules.
The issue was that Redfield didn't pick up the communication responsibilities of being a safety quick enough. It's not a surprising problem for a freshman to have -- former safeties coach Bob Elliott predicted before last season Redfield would have trouble picking up those responsibilities -- though that a player with his athletic gifts didn't play outside special teams until game No. 13 was a bit surprising.
Listening to coach Brian Kelly and defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder talk during spring practice this month, it's apparent Redfield still has work to do in the communication aspect of his game. But if their rhetoric is to be believed, that won't keep him from seeing the field when everything starts to matter in August.
"I don't think there's any questioning his athletic ability," Kelly said. "There's still a learning curve there for him in terms of what we're doing defensively. But he's such a gifted athlete that it's so hard to look past his athletic ability, even though he's chasing the No. 2 in the flat when he's got the deep middle.
"We're still in the learning curve with Max but he's so gifted -- that's why you coach. You gotta get Max Redfield ready. We're gonna get him ready."
With VanGorder installing a new defensive scheme, it steepens the learning curve. But VanGorder has experience developing players like Redfield in the past, the uber-talented yet relatively green types. And he sounds confident he'll get Redfield in a place where he can make an impact on the Irish defense this coming fall.
"Safeties and linebackers, they have the toughest time in the scheme," VanGorder said. "... There's a lot of communication that has to go through them, so there's a lot on their plates right now. But he's getting better and better. He's gonna make mistakes. I've seen it before, I've dealt with it before, so you have to have some patience but at the same time still keep the high standards and expectations to him."