NEW YORK — Roughly three months ago, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said safety Max Redfield was close to entering the team's safety rotation.
It seemed to make sense that Redfield, one of the prize commits of Notre Dame's 2013 recruiting class, would join a growing group of freshman making an impact for the Irish. But that never happened — Redfield hasn't seen significant playing time outside of special teams and didn't even play safety at Stanford with Elijah Shumate and Eilar Hardy suspended for the game.
But, according to interim defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks, Redfield has improved enough over the last month to merit a look at safety against Rutgers in Saturday's Pinstripe Bowl.
"The way that he's practiced throughout the last month, I think he's earned some time," Cooks said Thursday at Yankee Stadium. "How much time that'll be will basically be determined how he plays. But I definitely think he's earned some time and is deserving of going out there and seeing what he can do."
This wasn't a forced answer, either — Cooks readily volunteered Redfield as someone who's impressed him over the course of Notre Dame's 15 bowl practices. Redfield has loads of talent, though Irish coaches have repeated a similar mantra since August: Playing safety at Notre Dame takes more than pure skill.
"It's not really a matter of how talented or how athletic you are, to be able to play at safety for us it's a matter of how (intelligent) you can be," Cooks said.
Notre Dame safeties are responsible for lining up their fellow defenders — cornerbacks, linebackers and defensive linemen — which makes it a difficult depth chart to crack for a freshman. Still, the unit's play has been underwhelming this year, with too many blown coverages and missed tackles to its name.
From a talent standpoint, Redfield is the best safety Notre Dame has. If he's able to marry that with the defensive knowledge demanded by Irish coaches, he could be a factor for the Irish as early as Saturday.
"He's to the point now where we feel he can go out there and comprehend and communicate and he can get aligned and get everybody else aligned," Cooks said. "Is it going to be all perfect? No, it's not going to be all perfect. But we feel comfortable enough with him being on the field and playing at the level we expect our safeties to do."