Brandon Joseph bringing mental edge to Notre Dame’s safeties room

Justin Frommer
South Bend Tribune
Notre Dame safety Brandon Joseph (16) during the Notre Dame Blue-Gold Spring Football game on Saturday, April 23, 2022, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

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Recalling a play during the first week of Notre Dame’s spring practice, Brandon Joseph admitted he was fooled. 

Joseph was playing Cover 2. Drew Pyne gave him a strong run fake, so Joseph snuck inside the tackle box. He was beaten and he knew it. Still, by play's end, Joseph recorded an interception. 

“I was able to go from thinking it was run to reacting to the pass and then just straight sprinting to where I was supposed to go and then I looked back and the ball was right there,” Joseph recalled.  “That mental piece of it, if i didn’t have that recognition I would’ve been two steps behind and it would’ve been caught. My knowledge of the game, it just puts me a few steps ahead.”

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Over the past few seasons, Notre Dame’s defense had been accustomed to those types of plays in the back end from former All-American and Baltimore Ravens first round pick, Kyle Hamilton. In 2022, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman and defensive coordinator Al Golden will be expecting the same from Joseph. 

Joseph, a redshirt junior transfer from Northwestern who was a consensus preseason All-American, steps into Hamilton’s spot as Notre Dame’s speedy, playmaking high-IQ leader in its safeties room. 

That group also includes graduate seniors Houston Griffith and DJ Brown, juniors Ramon Henderson and Xavier Watts and sophomore Justin Walters, all of which saw playing time last season. 

Griffith is coming off of a 38 tackle season in 12 starts. Brown, who started one game, added 42 tackles and all three of his career interceptions. Henderson started the Irish’s final four games, finishing with 14 tackles and one pick. Watts made 15 tackles over 11 games and Walters added three tackles in limited action. 

“Our safety room is really deep,” Joseph said. “That’s just going to make all of us that much better. Ramon, X, DJ, Houston, Justin, all of us have potential to go out there and play on the field. That makes everyone have to be that much more on their game.”

Joseph, however, is the most  talented. In his three Northwestern seasons, Joseph started 22 games, recording 84 tackles and nine interceptions.

Joseph is a guy that Freeman will need on the field every defensive snap. His running mate is still up for grabs. Henderson’s strengths are his ball skills. Watts is the hard hitter of the group, while Griffith has experience under his belt. 

Just like last year, it may be a group effort to run Notre Dame’s defense from the back end. But Joseph will be a constant and one expected to set an example for the rest of the Irish’s safeties. 

“It’s a lot sometimes,” Joseph said of the position. “Safeties are out there running the defense, so once you get it mentally you just get out there and start rolling.”