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Restocking: Secondary

Feb 19, 2013, 1:26 PM EDT

Bennett Jackson 2

After 40 days of prep and a January match-up, Alabama coach Nick Saban and offensive coordinator Doug Nussmeier finally designed a game plan that beat a young Notre Dame secondary that many thought would have plenty of troubling Saturdays. Yet even as injuries forced inexperience and youth into the lineup, Kerry Cooks and Bobby Elliott worked miracles with a group that in season’s past would have been the Achilles heel of the team.

Losing key building blocks like Lo Wood and Austin Collinsworth before the season and then starter Jamoris Slaughter early in the year was a recipe for disaster, yet the unit played well all season, with only AJ McCarron slicing and dicing the group with precision.

Heading into 2013, the Irish are positioned to have one of their strongest secondaries of the Kelly era. While they’ll need to replace Zeke Motta and Slaughter, who was denied an appeal for a sixth season last week, they’ll have plenty of experience returning, with 2012 acting as a jump start in development for several young players.

Let’s take a look at the last few recruiting classes and see just how much work this coaching staff did to replenish the roster.

E.J. Banks — Spent 2009 season redshirting before leaving program in 2010. Now at Pitt.

Chris Badger — Enrolled early only to go on Mormon Mission. Redshirted during 2012 season.
Spencer Boyd — Early enrollee who left campus before ever suiting up. Now at USF.
Austin Collinsworth — One of Brian Kelly’s first scholarship offers. Will compete for starting job.
Lo Wood — Inside track to starting cornerback job last year until Achilles tear.
Bennett Jackson — Started career as WR. Will sit out spring drills, but locked in as starting CB.

Matthias Farley — Spent ’11 season as a redshirt WR. Started at safety after Jamoris Slaughter went out.
Josh Atkinson — Special teams contributor in first two seasons. Speedster limited athletically.
Jalen Brown — Great size for corner. Saw time as reserve DB after redshirting in 2011.
Eilar Hardy — Knee injury cut short freshman season. Reserve safety saw limited minutes in ’12.

Nicky Baratti — Hard-hitting safety logged some key minutes during freshman season.
CJ Prosise — Jumbo safety worked as a weak-side linebacker, but stayed off the field.
KeiVarae Russell — Switched to cornerback in fall camp. Won starting CB job as true freshman.
Tee Shepard — Highly touted early enrollee never stepped for on playing field.
Elijah Shumate — Played key minutes as freshman nickel back. Played CB after starting as a safety.
John Turner — Big-bodied safety redshirted his freshman season.

Devin Butler — Projects to start career as a big-bodied cornerback prospect.
Cole Luke — Needs to gain weight, but one of the elite cover corners in the recruiting class.
Rashad Kinlaw — Injuries shortened junior and senior seasons. Pure athlete, projected as DB.
Max Redfield — Five-star prospect immediately enters race for time at safety.

Way too early spring projection

It’s worth keeping an eye on the guys returning from injury. Both Wood and Collinsworth would have played major minutes last season. The official departure of Slaughter makes the safety spot really an open competition. A handful of guys should feel like they have a legitimate chance to win jobs. For every logical candidate like Farley, Collinsworth and Baratti, there are a handful of other guys worth watching, like Shumate and Hardy.

At cornerback, the Irish welcome back starters, but should see competition behind them be tight. Wood will expect to fight his way back into the rotation while Atkinson and Brown will take a step forward after another season of development. It’s worth watching what happens with Shumate, who has the athleticism to play either position.

After really thin numbers in previous years, the secondary’s depth chart is finally getting healthy.

  1. notredameirish1980 - Feb 19, 2013 at 2:35 PM

    Excellent combination of experience, depth and potential. Should be a position of strength both this year and in the future.

  2. mtmk0586 - Feb 19, 2013 at 2:40 PM


  3. andy44teg - Feb 19, 2013 at 2:56 PM

    I can’t remember a time when I felt more confident in ND’s secondary than this coming season. There are finally athletes back there instead of Carlton Banks…I mean Clifford Jefferson…

  4. irishdodger - Feb 19, 2013 at 2:57 PM

    The key for a lot of the “vets” in the secondary is staying healthy. I’m not convinced Collinsworth & Wood will be 100%. It’s too bad b/c both looked like bona fide starters…especially Collinsworth.

    Josh Atkinson is going into his junior season (can’t remember if he’s burned his RS yet?) and really hasn’t pushed for a starting role. Starting to look like a career backup. I’m wondering if Badger may be resigned to the same fate?

  5. dudeacow - Feb 19, 2013 at 3:55 PM

    Let’s look at last season’s starting lineup
    Bennett Jackson: Junior who switched from WR. No significant minutes, spent most time on special teams. Second year at CB
    Keivarae Russel: Freshman RB who only played a little bit of safety in high school
    Matthais Farley: Sophomore who switched from WR. First year at CB
    Zeke Motta: Senior who showed significant improvement as a backup throughout 2011.

    So, this group of 3 former offensive players, two underclassmen, the first frosh CB to start for ND (who was only recruited as an running back), and only one player with significant minutes on defense is going up against the likes of Denard Robinson, Stephen Morris, Riley Nelson, Landry Jones, Tino Sunseri and Matt Barkely? This does not look like a top-20 regular season pass defense group to me. Imaging what they can do next year.

    • masalaswag - Feb 19, 2013 at 4:35 PM

      I am also worried about this position group – it shows a lot of potential, but I’m afraid the year for hoping for the best and actually getting it was last year. ND won’t have the leadership of Te’o or Motta to quarterback the youngsters in the fashion they did last year to fulfill the hope for the best.

      That’s going to put a lot of pressure on a group that will likely see two new starters at safety, which is why picking up Max Redfield was such a big deal.

  6. 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 19, 2013 at 4:02 PM

    i want cj prosise to have a break-out year. that kid has got big time size and looks like he could even add a bit more to his frame. i like to think about him and redfield presiding over that secondary in a year or two, and making receivers sincerely scared about coming across the middle.

    • mtflsmitty - Feb 19, 2013 at 10:31 PM

      Baratti is a big safety, and Keith is correct when he described him as hard-hitting. On top of that one heck of an impressive athlete. Played QB, RB, and TE in high school; and was 1st team all state in TX at TE. I’d love to see him and CJ battle it out for strong safety, which I suspect would be there natural position.

  7. papadec - Feb 19, 2013 at 4:52 PM

    With all the hand-wringing, and moaning going on – I’m still viewing this team as overall more experienced and better than last year. My son is headed for Vegas, with his friends, on March 11th. I’m going to have him bet on ND to win the NC, again. I doubt that I’ll get 18-1 odds like last year though. GO IRISH!!!!!!!

    • dudeacow - Feb 20, 2013 at 12:48 PM

      I agree. The offense will be much improved and even though we lose Te’o, the pass defense looks to be better and so does the defensive line. The schedule also looks easier with the only really hard matchup being the Stanford game. I can see another undefeated regular season, but since that happens so rarely, I’m shooting for 11-1.

  8. seanb20124 - Feb 19, 2013 at 6:25 PM

    Spencer Boyd left USF prior to last season, was toiling away at some school lower level school in WV I recall

  9. bernhtp - Feb 19, 2013 at 6:26 PM

    Some young athletes developing, key guys coming off injury and big recruits like Redfield and Cole coming in combine to make a significant improvement in the defensive backfield.

  10. stedward - Feb 19, 2013 at 7:26 PM

    This group is kind of like the running backs. There is plenty of physical talent and experience and a lot of solid choices to fight for playing time. The injuries like last year really hurt down depth chart in special teams so hopefully these guys stay healthy.

  11. mtflsmitty - Feb 19, 2013 at 10:36 PM

    BK, BD and BE (The killer B’s) are going to coach these guys up big time. Last year was amazing example of boot-strapping. In 2013 these guys are going to be really good. AND I expect Redfield to be redshirted.

    • bernhtp - Feb 20, 2013 at 9:35 AM

      It’s rare to redshirt a 5-star athlete outside of a couple of positions (OL and QB) given that it’s normally difficult to keep them for four years, never mind five.

      I expect Redfield to quickly/immediately make it into the 2-deep and get playing time. He might also be used on special teams where ND desperately needs more athletes.

  12. domerboyirish - Feb 20, 2013 at 2:47 PM

    So with Slaughter officially out, where are we currently on number of scholarships? I know that the fifth year kids are yet to be determined but best guess? With the fifth year guys that we want our expect back, are we still over 85?

    • bernhtp - Feb 20, 2013 at 6:41 PM

      I think that puts us at 84. Absent a transfer secretly in the works, I expect one of the walk-ons or Tausch to be given a scholarship for this year (only).

      • papadec - Feb 20, 2013 at 9:03 PM

        bern – I thought all the scholarships were given on a one year basis. I agree with your expectation regarding Tausch & (preferred) walk-ons.

  13. irish13pa - Feb 28, 2013 at 2:31 PM

    There will be no way Redfield redshirts. I believe Redfield will start right off the bat. They have to find a spot for Shumate, too talented of an athlete to be riding the pine or playing nickle back.

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