NEW YORK -- Notre Dame wanted to get a glimpse of its future on Saturday, so the Irish unleashed safety Max Redfield for the first time this season.
Redfield made his first career start, and while statistically he didn't make a major impact (one tackle), that's not necessarily what Notre Dame was looking for.
The reason why Redfield didn't play beyond special teams before Saturday, according to Notre Dame coaches, was that he wasn't ready to communicate calls and align the defense. It's a responsibility that comes with playing safety at Notre Dame, and Redfield -- a true freshman -- hadn't quite grasped it.
But after a month of bowl practice, Redfield showed his coaches enough to earn a Pinstripe Bowl start.
"I noticed him not questioning things, being demonstrative with calls -- you know, safeties, they have to make the calls," outside linebacker Jaylon Smith said after the game. "Even if it's not right, every time you have to be very confident and he showed that."
That's certainly promising news for Notre Dame, given Redfield's talent and potential. While Notre Dame's safety unit likely won't lose anyone for 2014 -- Austin Collinsworth is a fifth-year candidate -- Redfield will have a chance to climb to the top of the depth chart with increased knowledge of the position.
"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," interim defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks said prior to the bowl game. "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."
While Redfield likely earned his way on to the field for the Pinstripe Bowl in practice (Notre Dame's practices are closed to the media), another impetus behind his start was coach Brian Kelly's desire to see him in game action before the 2013 season was over.
"I felt like he needed to get more playing time," Kelly said. "When you don't play a kid as a freshman enough, I feel a little bit responsibility for that, so I kind of forced him a little bit on the staff."
And if all goes well, it won't take much force for Redfield to play next year.