Three Immediate Challenges Await Mike Mickens
Notre Dame has filled out its coaching staff with former Cincinnati cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens. The young new assistant will have his hands full and will immediately have his feet put to the fire.
There are three big challenges that Mickens must immediately begin focusing on.
1. Develop The Young Players: One of the more intriguing aspects of Mickens resume is has past success developing young players. Twice in his six seasons as a FBS assistant coach he’s turned a true freshman into an All-Conference player. He did that with Nick Johnson (Bowling Green) and Ahmad Gardner (Cincinnati) in 2019. Gardner was a freshman All-American this past season.
Those are just two of the young players Mickens developed, and he’ll need to be on top of his building up young people game this spring. Sixth-year senior Shaun Crawford and junior TaRiq Bracy have plenty of experience, but behind that duo is a group of very young, very inexperienced cornerbacks.
Notre Dame will not have a cornerback depth chart that can allow the defense to compete for a championship without at least one or two players from the 2019 and 2020 classes making an impact. Mickens will need to get the most out of Bracy, but quickly developing the young players holds the ultimate key to the success at cornerback in 2020 will be how effectively he can develop the younger players.
Johnson and Gardner are both 6-2, so Mickens also has experience developing longer athletes at the position. He’ll have three particularly long athletes to work with at Notre Dame in Cam Hart (6-2½), Isaiah Rutherford (6-0½) and Ramon Henderson (6-3).
2. Get More On Ball Production: Notre Dame’s on ball production (break ups, interceptions) was strong in 2018, with Julian Love and Troy Pride Jr. combining for 29 total passes defensed. Love had an outstanding season in 2018, but it’s not a surprise that Notre Dame’s on ball production took a nose dive after he departed for the NFL. While Pride is a far superior cover player to Love, he wasn’t nearly as effective playing the ball, and no one else from the secondary could overcome Love’s lost on ball production.
Notre Dame had 22 passes defensed in 2019 and 29 in 2018. Cincinnati, without the kind of talent that Notre Dame had with Love and Pride, averaged 34 passes defensed from the cornerback position the last two seasons, which included 11 interceptions. Notre Dame’s cornerbacks combined for just five interceptions the last two seasons.
The year prior to Mickens arriving at Cincinnati, the Bearcat corners combined for just 13 passes defensed, which included just two interceptions. So it would seem his arrival had a significant impact in regards to on ball production from the cornerbacks.
If Notre Dame’s cornerbacks can get the same on ball production that Mickens got from his Cincinnati corners it will provide the defense with boost and will make what is already an outstanding defense even better.
3. Hit The Recruiting Trail Hard: Irish Breakdown will have more on what this looks like in the coming days, but Mickens needs to hit the ground running on the recruiting trail. With it being over a month since the Irish had a cornerbacks coach there is little doubt the staff has fallen behind with some of its top targets.
Mickens needs to quickly get up to speed on the cornerback board, prioritize the top targets and immediately reach out and start building a relationship. Recruiting must be a priority for Mickens, and the sooner he can get started the better.
From a recruiting standpoint this is a huge year for Notre Dame, who needs a boost in talent at the position. Notre Dame needs Mickens to have the same immediate success on the recruiting trail that running backs coach Lance Taylor had. The coach Taylor replaced did a poor job on the recruiting trail, but Taylor quickly made up for that, landing Top 100 running back Chris Tyree.
Lyght had much better recruiting success than Autry Denson, but the overall recruiting at the position still lagged behind other positions on defense. If Mickens can provide an immediate boost, much like Taylor did, the 2021 class is going to be special.