March 28, 2012 // Notre Dame Football

Irish Secondary Has Plenty to Prove

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Notre Dame will be looking for Jamoris Slaughter to lead an inexperienced, but talented secondary that could be the key to the Irish defense in 2012 (Photo - Robin Alam/Icon SMI)

Notre Dame’s 2012 defense will be highlighted by one of the strongest front seven’s in the nation, led by senior linebacker Manti Te’o, and standout sophomore’s Aaron Lynch and Stephon Tuitt.  The Irish secondary, however, is a relatively unproven unit with plenty of questions to answer during the 2012 season.

The Irish secondary will be led by fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter.  Slaughter spent the last season as a hybrid between a safety and a linebacker, recording 45 tackles, one interception, and one forced fumble.  He’ll occupy one of the safety spots for Notre Dame this coming season and will be expected to quarterback the inexperienced Irish secondary as one of the few experienced defenders roaming the Notre Dame defensive backfield in 2012.

Likely starting alongside Slaughter at safety will be the only other veteran member of the Notre Dame secondary, Zeke Motta.   Motta has seen significant playing time over the last two seasons recording a combined 90 tackles while returning a fumble for a touchdown last season and recording an interception each of the last two seasons.  Motta has some big shoes to fill with Harrison Smith graduating and departing for the NFL.

With little depth behind Slaughter and Motta, Notre Dame can ill afford for either to go down with injury.  Senior Dan McCarthy who has seen most of his playing time on special teams will provide some veteran leadership while Austin Collinsworth will add much needed depth.  Collinsworth possesses the versatility to play both safety and corner while also being the Irish’s jack of all trades on special teams.

Notre Dame will get sophomore Eilar Hardy back from injury after the Ohio native missed his entire freshman season due to injury as well.   Incoming freshman Nicky Baratti of Texas and Chris Badger who returns from a Mormon mission that has caused him to not play competitive football in two years will be in the mix and could very well be thrown in the fire in the fall.

Unfortunately, Notre Dame has just as many, if not more, questions at cornerback where the Irish will be replacing incumbent starters Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.  The Irish must find new talent to replace them this spring and with the returning cornerback corps being young and inexperienced, it is imperative that they find someone to fill the void quickly.

Brian Kelly mentioned at his press conference to kick off spring practice that junior Bennett Jackson and sophomore Lo Wood enter the spring as the starters.  Despite having only played the position for just over a year a lot is expected of Jackson this coming season.  Jackson has been targeted as the most likely of the cornerbacks to step up and become a standout this season by the Irish coaching staff.  Jackson spent the early part of last season on special teams adjusting to the switch to cornerback from his old position of wide receiver.  Towards the latter part of the season came around, however, Jackson found himself receiving significant playing time in the cornerback rotation.  Jackson has all the tools to be an elite corner, size, length, athleticism, and speed, in fact he has begun running for the Irish track team in the offseason.  Jackson is integral to the success of the Irish secondary and will be expected to be Notre Dame’s number one corner.

Across from Jackson, Lo Wood is the frontrunner to start for the Irish.  Wood was Notre Dame’s first option on the cornerback depth chart after Gray and Blanton to start last season.  As the season went on Wood’s playing time dropped in favor of Jackson.  Wood does not possess the size of the other corners on the Notre Dame team and is critiqued for not being physical enough.  Wood showed he is capable of making plays last year though with his interception return for a touchdown versus Maryland.  The Irish will need more plays like that this season as Wood is the most experienced of the Notre Dame cornerbacks at playing the position at the college level.

Apart from Jackson and Wood the Irish have plenty of potential with the talented yet unproven sophomore duo of Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown.

Atkinson, brother of standout Irish kick returner George Atkinson III, is a brilliant, raw talent who saw most of his time during his freshman campaign on special teams.  Atkinson is extremely physical and fast.  Atkinson is also regarded by Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks to have an incredible work ethic.  Cooks stated as a freshman the only thing keeping Atkinson of the field was adjusting to the Irish system.  Now that Atkinson has had over a year to learn the system he has the potential to be a force for the Irish this coming season.

Plenty is also expected of Jalen Brown this season.  Brown didn’t see the field much for the Irish last season but that’s going to change this year.  Projected NFL first round draft pick and Irish receiver Michael Floyd credited Brown for consistently battling him on the practice field as a reason for his success on the field.  Brown is another physical Irish corner; his physicality coupled with his ever-improving footwork allows him to have the potential to be a big factor for the Irish.

Notre Dame suffered an unfortunate blow at corner with the departure of Tee Shepard from the University.  Shepard was expected to see immediate playing time for the Irish.  In fact, many had Shepard penciled in as a starter heading into the season.  His departure, however, leaves the numbers thin for Notre Dame at corner.  As a result of Shepard’s departure Cam McDaniel has been converted from a running back into a corner.

After the departure of Shepard, the Irish ended up not having a cornerback on the roster from the 2012 recruiting class.  Signing Shepard was of the upmost importance for the Irish’s 2012 class with the late decommitment of Ronald Darby at the cornerback position and the late recruiting loss of Anthony Standifer.

With Shepard gone it becomes of paramount importance that the Irish coaching staff can bring in at least three cornerbacks in the 2013 class, preferably two of which that can see significant playing time immediately.  Notre Dame picked up its first commitment at cornerback for 2013 earlier this week when New Jersey’s Rashad Kinlaw committed to Notre Dame, but the Irish will be looking for more.

Two of the Irish’s top 2013 cornerback targets, Eli Woodard and Cameron Burrows, committed to Ohio State early in the process, further amplifying the importance of finding talent at the position to go along with Kinlaw.  Some of Notre Dame’s top remaining targets include Tre Bell, L.J. Moore, Vernon Hargraves, Priest Willis, Kendal Fuller, and Chris Hawkins.  Tre Bell of New Jersey visited for Notre Dame’s junior day and is close friends with 2012 Irish safety recruit Elijah Shumate.  L.J. Moore of Central High (Fresno, Ca) says he talks with Tee Shepard every day.  Chris Hawkins of Rancho Cuchamonga, California is considered to be leaning towards in-state programs.  Hargraves, Fuller, and Willis are some of the top prospects in the entire 2013 class and Notre Dame will likely pursue them relentlessly.

Notre Dame also has its sights set on replacing Slaughter and Motta with 2013 recruits.  Su’a Cravens of Vista Murrieta, California tops the Irish wish list at safety along with Vonn Bell of Roseville, Georgia.

Apart from quarterback play the Irish secondary will be the most scrutinized unit on the team this season.  While the unit is relatively unproven, it is certainly capable of performing for the Irish this fall.  How much the green Irish Irish secondary develops this spring and fall could very well be the difference between a mediocre season and a great season for Notre Dame.

Pierce O’Leary is a volunteer writer for UHND. You can follow him on Twitter @PierceOLeary

Comments to this Article

  • JC commented on March 28th, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Well done Pierce,

    The secondary is a concern however seems like we have excellent talent to cover with proper coaching. I….like others here do indeed have more concern over the QB position. So far, Kelly’s lengendary spread offense has yet to arrive at ND? Further, I don’t like QB derbies by Kelly. They seem to miss the mark altogether with negative results to date. I hope this is not the case this year. My view is Kelly already knows who his starter is so skip the drama and lets get to work with the 1st team ASAP. We already know winning the QB derby with Kelly can be short lived. Like 1/2 a game?

    Go Irish!

    [Reply]

    jack replied on March 28th, 2012 at 6:06 pm

    JC,

    Couldn’t have said it better. BK needs to pick a QB and ride with him. By always having these derbies he shows a lack of confidence in his decision making which is not good. He needs to soldify his team by picking a leader on offense which he does not have at this point in time.

    [Reply]

    JC replied on March 28th, 2012 at 6:41 pm

    Thank you Jack!

    Man, what’s going on here? They are going to run us out of NDville for agreeing twice in one day! hahahahah!

    Go Irish!

    [Reply]

  • SteelFanRob commented on March 28th, 2012 at 7:39 pm

    What the heck is going on here? jack and JC in agreement?!

    I have to say that I like the level of discussion of late. I have to say I do miss some of the old heat. I’m sure we’ll get some of that back when the season starts to heat up and our passions along with it.

    JC, I totally missed on the call of Manning to Miami. Really didn’t see him going to Denver. What’s your take?

    jack, Right on. BK needs to pick a QB sooner rather than later (so long as it ain’t “turnover” TR).

    Let me stir the pot a bit. Is it just me or do we seem to be offering too many mid-grade recruits? Does anyone know how many of current verbals figure to be top-rated recruits by the national scouting services. I know that “stars” and other such rankings aren’t infallible but they’re also not meaningless either. Thoughts?

    [Reply]

    jack replied on March 28th, 2012 at 8:31 pm

    Steelfanrob,

    JC and I agree because of one reason, BK didn’t learn from his mistake in which he made last year. He needs to understand that great teams have leaders on both sides of the ball. ND has Teo on defense but no leader on offense. Look last year there was no offensive captains at the press conferences. Being a former QB you need to be the leader of the offense. It starts and stops with you. I didn’t see that last year from any of the QB’s. I think part of it is that BK wants to be the leader like the QB. He can’t he is a coach and needs to understand that a QB looking over his shoulder plays to not fail. You need a guy playing to win and having confidence. I didn’t see it from any of the QB’s last year. I saw them looking over their shoulder.

    As far as offering mid level recruits, don’t see that either. Several of the o-lineman were highly ranked recruits. The QB is a sleeper and the D-back from Jersey is also a sleeper because of a leg injury. I see BK recruiting for needs at positions. Some of ND’s best players in the past years were 3 star recruits. Shark, Britton, Walton wasn’t even recruited and I think Zibby was a 3 star. You never know.

    [Reply]

    JC replied on March 28th, 2012 at 10:28 pm

    Yeah Rob,

    Shut the front door on Manning! I would have bet serious money he would have gone for WARM weather with that neck injury. He must be feeling better than I ever imagined. Especially with Elway evaluating his work out with the Broncos. Elway definately knows about playing injured.

    I guess a 95 million dollar contract and total control of the offense affirms the deal for Manning. What’s not to like in Manning’s position? Bitter/Sweet nose thumb at the Colts! I wonder how the Colts are going to like watching Manning in the play-offs?

    [Reply]

    scav replied on March 28th, 2012 at 11:16 pm

    It seems to me that Kelly is recruiting a profile, not a ranking. Long athletic lineman, versatile athletes that can play multiple positions. I really think we are starting to see his “RKG” now that he has plugged some holes with depth.

    As far as the QB goes, I don’t think it’s an accident they are going back to the basics on offense. He has gone back to implementing the offense ND was supposed to run when he got here. Heard him speak in an interview today and again, it seems that he is making sure that all QB’s are looked at, but it’s more of who’s going to run the offense the way it’s supposed to be run.

    [Reply]

    jack replied on March 29th, 2012 at 7:29 am

    Scav,

    I understand where you are coming from, but he needs to pick a leader for the offense. Someone who will be out front as the leader of the offense. That person needs to be the QB. BK dropped the ball last year and dragging this out will only cause the inconsistancy in the offense we saw last year.

    I agree with you on the recruiting trail. I like how he recruits to position need not stars. I like a lot of stuff BK does just not the way he handles his QBs.

    [Reply]

    scav replied on March 29th, 2012 at 11:51 pm

    I’m with you Jack. I think he needs to pick a leader as well.

    My take on this is that he has not named Rees the leader, which means the QB position is probably heading in a different direction.

    Golson or Hendrix will start and Rees will be the trusty back-up.

    Shazamrock replied on March 29th, 2012 at 8:17 am

    SFR, JC, jack,

    What the heck is going on here? jack and JC in agreement?!

    It’s The Eighth Seal!

    And behold, when the eighth seal was opened, and lo, Jack and JC were in agreement! There was a great earthquake, and the sun became as black as sackcloth and the
    Moon became as blood.
    Wolves live with lambs, leopards lie down with goats. Calves, cub lions, and yearlings will be together, and little children will lead them.
    For the great day is come; and who shall be able to stand.

    ND-Revelations 1:1

    [Reply]

  • JTRAIN commented on March 29th, 2012 at 10:14 am

    Lets hope one of these guys makes the decision easy this spring. I too think kelly already has an idea who he wants but he might just be waiting for that individual to seperate himself. I just worry that one or more of these guys is a great pratice player (rees) and will complicate the process.

    [Reply]

  • SteelFanRob commented on March 29th, 2012 at 12:12 pm

    Shaz,

    LOL!

    Never knew you were also a Bible scholar in addition to ND football guru.

    Now, if the Cubs manage to make it to the series this year then we’ll know for sure it’s the apocalypse!

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on March 29th, 2012 at 1:47 pm

    SFR,

    If the cubs make it to the world series, which is immediately followed by the apocalypse, that’s really gonna suck….

    On the upside, at least we won’t have to listen to the whole “wait until next year” thing agian!

    [Reply]

  • SteelFanRob commented on March 29th, 2012 at 2:49 pm

    jack,

    Good observations. Hope you and JC keep the good vibes going.

    I agree that the recent OL recruits are higher rated. But some of the others like you say are “sleepers”. That’s my point. Too many of these recruits eating up slots for higher-rated recruits. Now, BK makes this formula work that’s OK. If not, then he’ll be out at ND watching the Meyers, Sabans, etc. of the college-football world winning titles with top-ranked recruiting classes.

    It seems to me that all the college football powerhouses are also the ones that recruit the best. ND is getting back there under BK. Win and the blue chippers will come to S. Bend.

    [Reply]

    jack replied on March 29th, 2012 at 4:11 pm

    SFR,

    I do agree with JC and other from time to time. My thoughts on BK is let him finish his contract. However, I played QB and put myself in the shoes of the guys playing for BK and don’t like what I am seeing. I was pulled my senior year because the team wasn’t performing. It killed my confidence. I had a coach that would scream at me the second I left the field and it didn’t work for me. As a head coach your offense only goes as well as your o-line and QB. Last year the O-line was good enough to win, but the QB play was horrible at times. It is a reflection of the B.S. open competition he had between Dayne and Tommy caused this problem.

    I support BK in a lot of aspects and will debate with people over the ones I agree with BK on, but the QB debacles will get him fired. He needs to stop the games and find a QB and ride with him in good times and bad times.

    [Reply]

    natharmarshall replied on April 1st, 2012 at 10:35 am

    I agree Jack just because you have an issue with the way Kelly conducts some aspects of the team doesn’t mean you don’t support him overall. I have 85% faith in Kelly and the lack of complete faith comes from pulling a qb after 1 half of football. A qb you put thru the derby and said won it and was your starter. That still floors me to this day. Also what I didn’t like was after the game Kelly said, “it’s not my job to cover Dayne’s butt,” but then proceeded to make excuses for Rees the rest of the season. I think he’s done a great job with the rest of the team but I think last season and to a point so far this year has completely mismanaged the qb situation. Here’s to hoping it gets better.

    [Reply]

  • Shazamrock commented on March 29th, 2012 at 3:25 pm

    When it comes to recruiting at ND, lets not forget that there are always a number of 5 star guys that ND won’t even look at.

    Like if they can’t make the grades, then there is no point wasting time and money bringing them to ND only to have Admissions turn them down or have them struggle in the classroom and never see the field anyway.
    Or guys who tend to get in trouble or have a history of poor behavior.

    ND’s reputation is of the highest standards. We know that.

    Saban will often “over Recruite”. He will offer a scholarship to a big time incoming freshmen and then pull a scholarship from a second rate sophmore to accomodate the numbers.
    This forces the second year player (in most cases) to “Gray Shirt” or pay his own way if he wants to stay on the team.

    Meyer has offered a number of recruites with questionable behavior. Just look at his suspension numbers from his time at Florida.

    That would never fly here.

    Kelly has to find kids that can make in the classroom as well as stay out of trouble. Then he has to try to level the playing fiels with superior coaching, development, and modivation.

    Meyer and Saban are always looking for the superior athelete.
    ND is always looking for the superior Student Athelete

    [Reply]

  • JC commented on March 29th, 2012 at 11:26 pm

    Shaz,

    In addition to the arduous ritual searching for the ideal ND football recruit. What about the HUGE NBC College Football Welfare Check ND receives year after year? Is it endless and forever?

    Do you think the administration really cares about winning a BCS Bowl as long as they get their big football welfare check from NBC? So what if the fans and alums get upset as long as we get our big welfare check from NBC! Ok so the fans and alums are upset, so we will makes changes and bring in a new Head Football Coach to pacify them; just make sure we get our NBC Welfare Check!

    Any mega-stimulus laziness come to mind here? Sit back and relax and enjoy the game regardless of the outcome? How about if the NBC Welfare Check ran out? HOW HUNGRY ARE WE TO WIN? What would our preppy adminstration do next? Joint a conference out of desperation or discontinue ND football? Or sell the fat cushy leather executive chairs they are so use to in exchange for a perfect season? I think we would have a better chance for food stamps; what do you think?

    [Reply]

    Shazamrock replied on March 30th, 2012 at 8:21 am

    JC,

    Happy Friday to you sir!

    You make a really good point about the higher-ups being “Fat & Happy”

    Does money (and the security it brings) encourge complancentcy?
    Human Nature says yes.

    Not only does ND have their NBC deal, as a member(with an impressive amount of influence) of the BCS, ND also benefits from that cash cow as well with yearly payments made to us regardless if ND plays in a BCS game or not.
    (Which goes a long way in proving your point)

    When I was younger I wanted ND to win at all costs.
    Now that I am a bit older I can see the bigger picture.

    ND is, and always will be, a private,Religious driven, education first, institution.

    They hold true to their moral, religious, and educational values. And for that I am greatful.

    They believe that organized sports enhances the overall college education, instilling life long values such as hard work, self sacrifice, team work, fair play, and sporsmenship.
    Now this may sound outdated and even old fashioned, but that doesn’t mean it is wrong.

    I see way too much lying, cheating, stealing, greed,win at any cost, and poor sportsmenship in college football.
    To me, this is an inappropriate message being sent to our college youth who will one day be the leaders of our society.

    I still believe ND can win championships (see Stanford’s recent success) without wallowing in the mud with the likes of USC, Ohio St, and the Alabama’s of the college football world.

    In my humble opinion, I think the status of the amateur college athelete and the modern professional player have become too intertwinded when it comes to college football.
    These 18, 19, & 20 year old kids and amateur student athletes, deserve a proper college education and experience first and foremost.

    Do I want that ND national Championship? Absolutly!

    But I want us to win it where it will have a real, honest, and lasting influence.

    An example to all others that you can win on all fronts without selling your soul or your principals, and to do it in such a manner that way is truely worthy of greatness.

    [Reply]

    JTRAIN replied on March 30th, 2012 at 9:11 am

    you cut to the core of me shaz…lol…i think its awesome to see guys like aaron lynch talk about how well he has done in the classroom. Especially a guy like him who could have gone anywhere and not had to have gone to class. Imagine that! You can kick @$$ on the field and the classroom…what a concept…

    I would really like to see the academic standards for the ncaa tighten up. Just because a kid can play football doesn’t mean he shouldn’t be held accountable in the classroom…accountable now thats a scary word…….

    [Reply]

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