Farley looks forward to better fit with Notre Dame football team

AL LESAR
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — Part of the challenge of putting a successful football team together is matching skill sets with positions.

Notre Dame missed the boat with Matthias Farley last season.

It wasn’t necessarily a round-peg, square-hole situation, but the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Farley was in over his head in terms of his responsibilities at safety last season.

“(Farley) was put into a very difficult situation (last season),” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said. “We were trying to get him to replace (former safeties) Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith – two pretty good players, and two physical players.

“He’s not that kind of player. He kind of got that tag of ‘Well he’s not as physical as the others.’ That’s not his best trait. He’s really smart. He’s got some tools that, if we play him in the right position, can really help our defense.”

“I wouldn’t say I was out of position (last season),” Farley said. “There was definitely a lot on my plate. I probably could have handled it better. There wasn’t a point at all when I felt I wasn’t capable of doing the job.”

What sort of things can fill up a safety’s plate?

“It was a combination of a lot of things,” Farley said. “It’s not like I didn’t feel I was prepared for them, but you had a fifth-year guy (Smith in 2011), a fourth-year guy (Motta in 2012) who had been in the system for a long time in those roles previously.

“It was a big jump from playing your first year in 2012 to having all that on your plate in 2013. You had to know where everyone was supposed to line up. You had to know how everything fits, how you fit in it. Getting the calls to everybody.

“It was definitely a lot, going through some struggles, the ups and downs, and coming out better for it.”

As Farley enters his senior season, the only constant has been change. He came into the program as a receiver. By necessity, he was moved to safety as a sophomore and ended up playing in all 13 games (starting 11), including the BCS National Championship game. He collected 49 tackles and was considered one of the major surprises on a very talented defense.

Last year, not so much. Farley was thrust into a leadership role, manning the key safety spot in coordinator Bob Diaco’s defense. Rather than a vital complementary piece to the defense, Farley struggled in a leadership role in the secondary.

Though he rolled up 49 tackles in 12 starts, there were some glaring missed tackles that sent the message a change was needed. He lost his starting job to freshman Max Redfield in the Pinstripe Bowl.

Farley found himself at a new location when spring practice started last week. His primary spot will be cornerback.

“I’m not going to say he was unfairly evaluated, in a sense,” Kelly said. “He was put in a very difficult position last year. He can help our defense in a role that doesn’t focus on him being a hard-hit safety.

“He’s going to play more than corner. He’s going to get a chance to play some ‘nickel’ for us; some corner. He’s going to be involved in what we do defensively. The role is yet to be determined.

“He’s a really good athlete. He’s played a lot of snaps. He played on an undefeated defense in the regular season two years ago. We all recognize that.”

“It’s a new system, it’s a new everything,” said Farley, referring to Brian VanGorder’s reign as defensive coordinator. “That’s been the storyline of my career, adapting to new situations. It will probably fit my skill set better. I’m looking forward to it.

“It’s switching my brain. I’ve been looking at the field from one way for a while. I have to switch my brain to another way.

“There’s a lot less space (playing corner or nickel). Training your eyes in a different way as opposed to trying to see the broader picture. You’re focused on your responsibility or your key, which is closer to the line of scrimmage (than at safety). There’s less field space to worry about.”

Besides the vantage point, Farley will be challenged to adjust to a new philosophy.

“(This system) is more aggressive (than last year),” he said. “There’s more reading and reacting based on what the quarterback does. You don’t have to think as much about what’s going on around you. I’m fast enough and strong enough to play this defense.”

And, at least on paper, appears to be a much better fit.

Notre Dame's Joe Schmidt, left, and Matthias Farley, right, bring down Oklahoma's Jalen Saunders during the Notre Dame vs. Oklahoma football game on Saturday, September 28, 2013, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)