TaRiq Bracy's return adds depth, versatility and experience to Irish cornerback group
SOUTH BEND — When Brian Kelly left for LSU, there were questions on whether some Notre Dame upperclassmen would declare for the NFL Draft or hit the transfer portal. Cornerback TaRiq Bracy was one of the players with a question mark over his future.
When the smoke cleared and Marcus Freeman was entrenched as the new head coach, Bracy quietly decided to return to Notre Dame for a fifth year.
"I was graduating this spring, and I just wanted to weigh all of my options," said the 5-10, 177-pound Bracy who hails from Milpitas, Calif. "Notre Dame is where I want to be."
It was a significant win for Freeman and cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. Bracy proved to be an asset in 2021, intercepting a pass, recovering a fumble and collecting 38 tackles, 26 of them solo. In all, the graduate student has played in 44 games the past four seasons.
"I feel like I have years under my belt, and I've been able to learn through the good and the bad ups and downs," Bracy said. "At this point, I do feel like I'm playing the best ball I have since being here."
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Bracy hasn't been without his challenges. He has been benched at times for giving up big plays touchdowns. But he took it all in stride as a learning opportunity.
"You just got to be competitive or compete," Bracy explained. "Especially at my position, you're going to get beat and give up touchdowns. That's just the nature of the game, and you got to have a strong mind. So, brush it off and just keep playing."
Bracy's best attributes as a cornerback are his agility and hands, as well as his versatility to play any of the cornerback positions.
"He can play all three, and he will play all three, for the most part," Mickens said. "If we happen to go out there, I trust him in that slot usually, when guys are dynamic guys, we want a dynamic guy that can help us take away that guy. That's what he can do."
It is expected that Cam Hart and Clarence Lewis will start on the edges with Bracy seeing most of his action in the slot.
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It will be the third season that Mickens and Bracy have been together, so they understand each other. The Irish cornerback is aggressive and not afraid to tackle, which is a plus for playing slot.
"I think it's all about coverage and being able to match the speed and moves from the receivers," Bracy said.
Freeman brought in Al Golden as defensive coordinator from the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals. Bracy is seeing Golden add wrinkles to Notre Dame's defense that helped the Bengals get to the Super Bowl last season.
"It could take us to another level," Bracy said of the changes, "that we haven't been that before."
Bracy penciled in as the starting slot corner, but will have to fend off freshman Jaden Mickey who during spring practice showed flashes of a dynamic player who will compete for meaningful snaps.
Either way, Bracy will add experience, versatility and depth to the Irish defensive backfield.
"TaRiq is growing on the field and off the field," Mickens said. "He works at it, he comes in for extra meetings, he's studying film, he's maturing, and you can tell he's playing faster now because of all the work that he does."