Team, Me

Irisheyes.com previews senior Matthias Farley as he embarks on a new, crucial position for the 2014 season.

"When coach VanGorder came here he made it clear that he wanted to play a lot of snaps with the nickel in the game. In his mind, the qualifications for the nickel are somebody that is smart and quick. That is Matthias Farley to a tee." -- Irish linebackers coach Bob Elliott

There aren't many positions Notre Dame's coaching staff hasn't liked Farley, or at least projected him for success. With a notable, recent exception, he's delivered.

As a scout team slot receiver in 2011, Farley was runner-up to quarterback Everett Golson as the Scout Team Offensive Player of the Year. His second season brought not only a position change, but a scrimmage flip, and Farley delivered at a high level, filling in for injured star safety Jamoris Slaughter over the season's final 10 contests -- playing the best ball of his career in the process.

Last year, Farley endured what outsiders saw as a position tweak, that is, he moved to the strong safety spot previously occupied by senior standout Zeke Motta in 2012, and prior to Motta, first-round draft pick Harrison Smith in 2010-11. Heady company.

Turns out, it wasn't an ideal fit.

"He's really smart. He's got some tools that I think if we play him in the right position, he could really help our defense," said head coach Brian Kelly. "I'm going to say he was unfairly evaluated in a sense (prior to 2013). He was put in a very difficult position last year. We really think he can help our defense in a role that doesn't focus on him being a hard-hit safety."

That position is nickel cornerback, a de facto "12th starter" in modern defenses, and in NFL schemes such as the one Notre Dame will employ under first-year defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder this fall.

"We do so many things with the nickel," said Elliott of the new scheme. "When we played it in the past it was relatively basic, with a lot of man-to-man stuff with a couple of zones. But we are doing a lot of stuff with our nickel so our guy has to be a special guy and Matthias has a wonderful learning ability, and has played all over the field so he was a natural guy for the position.

"It took him a while to figure it out because the man-to-man stuff was all new to him, but he has developed some comfort in that realm. I think the world of Matthias Farley, you guys don't have to ask me that."

The Ideal Candidate

A collegiate position change is something many incoming and redshirt-freshmen encounter. It's less common for a senior and veteran of 18 career starts as is Farley. His temperament, however, suits change for a shot-at-the-better, to a tee.

"A big part of it is trusting the coaches and believing that they know what they are doing with the switch and really buying into that," said Farley. "I'm just trying to learn as much as I can as quickly as I can and Coach Elliott has been awesome so far. We have watched film every day after practice and if he can't make it he comes in later and does it with me. It's really been an awesome effort by everybody and a lot of it comes from the coaches seeing things that they believe I can do."

Secondary coach Kerry Cooks called Farley the best nickel candidate on the roster in "two years." (In other words, since the aforementioned Slaughter in 2011.) But Farley's smarts, willingness, athleticism, and adherence to technique are far from the only requirements at the position.

"There are a lot of challenges, it isn't just rerouting the receiver or covering him man-to-man," Farley admitted. "Sometimes you play man-to-man and sometimes you play zone so you have to know the outside linebacker stuff. There are a lot of moving parts. I really enjoy being closer to the line of scrimmage. I've had a blast all spring. It is encouraging to go from being unsure at the start, to having it click and it helps to have coaches that know what they are talking about."

While fans and media are quick to write-off seniors who've endured past struggles, college coaches know "the next big thing" freshman is merely one or two snaps away from joining veteran teammates as victims of past mistakes.

Kelly sees Farley as an invaluable veteran on a youth-filled defense.

"He's a really good athlete. He's got a lot of snaps. He has played a lot of football. He played on an undefeated defense in the regular season two years ago," Kelly offered. "I think we all recognize that. I think he was put into a very difficult situation. We were trying to get him to replace Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith, two pretty good players and two physical players. He's not that kind of player. So he kind of got that tag of he's not as physical as them. Well, that's not his best trait."

Farley's best traits will likely pit him vs. incoming 5th-year transfer Cody Riggs for time at the nickel position (regardless if Riggs wins a starting cornerback role opposite junior Keivarae Russell, or not).

In either case, VanGorder will have an intelligent, experienced, multi-positional athlete manning a challenging position.

In either case, both Farley and Riggs will likely play a key role in VanGorder's multi-faceted scheme.

"I've never been set in one position," Farley offered of his recent switch. "I've played safety and receiver. I've played all over the place."

Wherever he's needed.

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