This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months BlueandGold.com will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Zeke Motta — S
Height: 6-2 Weight: 215
Experience: 38 appearances, 16 starts
Stats: Two career interceptions, 102 tackles (two for loss), six pass deflections, one forced fumble, two fumble recoveries (one returned for a touchdown).
Once a rotational member of the Notre Dame secondary, senior safety Zeke Motta now finds himself in a starring role alongside Jamoris Slaughter. Motta started eight games last season when Harrison Smith was the leader of the back line, splitting time with Slaughter. Now the duo is charged with holding down the back line while supporting a fresh group of cornerbacks.
With Smith earning so much praise for his rise from mediocre utility player to standout safety, and Slaughter’s versatility and physical play drawing headlines, Motta has often been the forgotten man in the backfield. His 29-yard fumble recovery for a touchdown against Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl last December is just one example of the kind of plays Motta can make.
Tackling in open space was a criticism Motta appeared to take to heart last fall and he finished the season strong with a number of solo stops over the team’s final four contests. It was another step in the right direction after being named the team’s most improved player after the 2010 season.
It took a while for Motta to grow comfortable in Notre Dame’s defense. Now that he doesn’t have to think about assignments as much, Motta, who has shown far better angles of attack, has the ability to be a punishing force in the secondary.
And now that Motta will be an every-down player next to Slaughter, it should be easier to find a rhythm. The Fighting Irish took a big hit this spring when Austin Collinsworth went down with an injury, but if Slaughter and Motta can remain healthy, the unit will be in good shape. What Motta must develop in his senior season is a louder voice on the field. With plenty of experience, the time is now for him to take partial ownership of the defense.
What’s A Good Season?
Motta has the sixth-most returning tackles (40) heading into the 2012 season. Only Manti Te’o, Dan Fox, Slaughter and Louis Nix had more last fall. As was pointed out in our season projection on Slaughter, Motta must find a way to get his hands on the ball more often. One major factor that may decide whether the Irish have a good season or another average year is the number of takeaways the defense can produce.
Notre Dame was tied for 93rd nationally in 2011 with just eight total picks. If Motta and Co. can be more disruptive instead of just containing, the Irish will have a much better chance of navigating a daunting schedule that features a number of top passing teams.