Farley brings experience to Notre Dame defense

Bob Wieneke
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND -- There was a time when Matthias Farley was the curiosity, the unproven commodity who was surging during camp but was expected to serve as an understudy to veteran Jamoris Slaughter.

That time was only two years ago, but Farley no longer falls under the youngster category.

"This is the first time I've ever felt old since I've been here," the senior said Tuesday at Notre Dame's annual media day. "It's really weird, it's been really strange being on the other side of that and being the old guy."

Farley may not exactly be graying at the temples, but he is one of the more experienced members of the Irish secondary. The senior, who has two years of eligibility remaining, logged lots of minutes the last two seasons as a safety in former defensive coordinator Bob Diaco's system.

It was Farley who was tapped on the shoulder in Week 3 of the 2012 season when Slaughter was lost for the year, a season in which he more than filled in capably on a defense that carried the Irish to the BCS National Championship Game. Farley played in all 13 games last year, but he didn't pack the same punch he had in 2012. Farley admitted this week that he had nagging shoulder issues throughout the season but he termed them nothing serious.

With the 5-foot-11, 205-pound Farley seemingly healthy, the question now becomes, what exactly is he?

It was announced in the spring that new coordinator Brian VanGorder was moving Farley to cornerback, which is how he's listed on the roster. But during the early stages of camp it appeared that Farley was working more at safety. The placard placed in front of him on media day read "Matthias Farley, safety," (on both sides, for the conspiracy theorists out there).

So what is he? Calling him a nickel back would seem to be the safest term.

"Matthias, he's such a versatile guy, he's such a smart guy and he's kind of a tweener," defensive backs coach Kerry Cooks said. "He's got that safety body type, corner skills. Kind of that in-between guy."

Nickel back in 2014, though, doesn't mean what it did just a few years ago. Nickels once were the third cornerback who came on in obvious passing situations. With the acceleration of pass-heavy offenses and multiple defenses, the nickel back is now a guy you might see on first down.

"Other than corner, that might be one of the toughest spots to play because you're on a slot receiver, you're asked to play man-to-man, you're asked to blitz off the edge, you're asked to play zone coverages," Cooks said. "And nowadays with these spread offenses and the zone reads, a lot of teams are playing it more on first and second down so that's a critical position and it's good to have a smart guy there that has played corner, has played safety that brings some ability to do a little bit of everything that you need at that position. He's continuing to move his game forward."

Knowledge of safety and corner seem to be a prerequisite for playing ND's nickel position, which is a big reason why Farley and Florida transfer Cody Riggs are the two players vying for that job when the Irish go that route.

"I think we've got two good nickels there," Cooks said

Farley brings the experience of having played safety the last two years before working at corner in the spring. Riggs, a fifth-year player who transferred from Florida, played corner and safety for the Gators.

"If something happens to one of us the other has to be ready, so there are no secrets," Farley said. "He is giving me a lot of advice, from how he has played it in previous years at Florida. We kind of bounce ideas off each other, try to watch each other while we are in, try to critique everything and every play honestly, and try to push each other to get better.”

If the Irish are to return to 2012 form, a defensive rebound certainly will be needed. ND ranked 45th in total defense last year after finishing with the country's seventh-best defense in 2012. With Diaco now the head coach at Connecticut, VanGorder brings an NFL feel after serving as the New York Jets' linebackers coach last year.

“Obviously, it is an entirely different system. It’s a system that you have a defensive coordinator coming from the NFL, so there are more pieces and things going on that we may not do or have done under our old defensive coordinator. You will see a lot quicker line up and just go, a fast-paced defense," Farley said. "I think there's a lot more pressure. There's a lot more working parts I would say."

Farley is working to become even more of a leader in the secondary. He recalls learning lessons from mentors Harrison Smith, Zeke Motta and Slaughter

Now it's his turn.

"I don't feel that old," Farley said, "but there's a lot of guys younger than me but I've just taken the approach of trying to pay it forward.

Defensive back Matthias Farley brings versatility and experience to Notre Dame's defense. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)