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The Journal Gazette

  • Dylan Sinn | Journal Gazette Notre Dame cornerback Donte Vaughn watches fellow defensive back Houston Griffith during a drill during Saturday's practice in South Bend.

  • DYLAN SINN | Journal Gazette Notre Dame cornerback Donte Vaughn and fellow corner Isaiah Rutherford, a true freshman, run a drill at practice Saturday. Vaughn had a rough Cotton Bowl against Clemson, but could be one of the Irish's starting corners this season.

Tuesday, August 20, 2019 1:00 am

Irish secondary banks on Pride's experience

Speedster confident taking over role vacated by Love

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame lost shutdown cornerback Julian Love for one quarter in the Cotton Bowl against Clemson and promptly surrendered three long touchdown passes in the span of 12 minutes. 

Now, in one of the most pressing concerns for the Irish heading into the 2019 season, they must find a replacement for Love, who was a fourth-round draft pick of the New York Giants after setting Notre Dame records for single-season and career pass breakups.

The direct successor for Love is clearly 2018's other starting corner, 5-foot-11 senior Troy Pride Jr., one of the fastest players on the team. He played the “boundary corner” in 2018, but will step into Love's “field corner” spot this season, giving him more ground to cover and requiring him to step up in run support more often.

It's a big step up in responsibility, but coach Brian Kelly believes Pride is the best man for the job.

“We all know about Troy's experience, his ability to run,” Kelly said. “We feel like his assets for us clearly are experience. He is the most experienced player. That (field) corner position requires somebody with a lot of experience because you're going to get the most action.”

Pride, who has sprinted with the Notre Dame track team and has been clocked at 4.30 seconds in the 40-yard dash, had 47 tackles, 10 pass breakups and two interceptions in a solid junior season, but he said he'd have confidence even if he hadn't done much.

“Corner, you have to have confidence or you're gonna get beat,” Pride said. “I don't even know the numbers (from last season). It's just about each and every snap, me winning.”

Pride has been tested over and over again in fall camp as he's spent the entire time working against top receiver Chase Claypool, a 6-foot-4 physical specimen who has NFL talent.

The pair had some terrific battles during Saturday's open practice at Notre Dame Stadium and Claypool stole a few passes away despite good coverage from Pride.

The talented duo has been pushing one another and Kelly has tried to get them as many reps lined up across from each other in drills as possible. 

“They have found a great balance of pushing each other, but knowing where that line is,” Kelly said of the matchup. “It's a very healthy, competitive situation between those two guys and it's taken time, quite frankly. Those guys have had ups and downs building that relationship, but there's now one built on respect as teammates.”

The cornerback spot across from Pride is still up for grabs. Among those in competition for the job are Donte Vaughn, TaRiq Bracy, Shaun Crawford and Houston Griffith. 

Vaughn, who has missed some reps in fall camp with a quad injury but should be cleared for full practicing early this week, filled in for Love in the Cotton Bowl and had a nightmare performance, getting burned twice and giving up a third touchdown on a spectacular catch by Tigers receiver Justyn Ross.

Pride is convinced that the 6-foot-3 Vaughn, who is one of his best friends, has moved past that performance against Clemson and is ready to step into a significant role for the Irish this season.

“Look, corner is corner, you get beat, you put it behind you, you keeping moving forward,” Pride said. “So (Vaughn)'s moved forward, everybody has. We're not playing Clemson again, so we're going to continue to build on what we have.

“He's going to bounce back and he's going to play his best football.”

The Irish are trying to replace one of the best corners in program history. They return plenty of talent and if Vaughn and others can shake off the specter of that Clemson loss, this group can lock down some explosive offenses. 

dsinn@jg.net