SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- It would start what felt like a pinch in his right shoulder, then dissolve into pins and needles and eventually numbness lasting for a few minutes. It was a feeling Notre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson experienced on more than a few occasions last year, causing him to miss a few plays here and there.
"You're like, (expletive), my shoulder's out," Jackson said.
The senior-to-be sat out practice this spring, as he finally underwent surgery following the BCS Championship to repair a torn labrum that was at the root of his problems. Jackson said he initially hurt the shoulder his sophomore year, but worked to play through it. In the process, he went from playing wide receiver to ascending Notre Dame's depth chart as a cornerback.
"I just got so used to the feeling that it really didn't bother me too much anymore. It was just kinda part of the game to me," Jackson said. "Later on down the season, obviously (with) wear and tear, wear and tear, it started to get to that level where I was like damn, this hurts."
The threat of having his shoulder pop out limited what Jackson was able to do in 2012. He admitted the injury made him weaker, and he couldn't jam and punch receivers the way he wanted to. Wrapping up on tackles was sometimes a problem, and one-handed tackles with his right arm were difficult. He couldn't sleep on his right side, either.
Still, he managed to turn in a solid season, contributing positively to a secondary few expected to be any good after season-ending injuries to cornerback Lo Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter.
"He would never complain, he would never say anything, he would give you everything he has each and every play, whether he felt like it or not," safety Matthias Farley said. "There's never question for his love of the team or love of the game."
When Notre Dame opens the 2013 season on Aug. 31 against Temple, its defense will feature three cornerbacks with good experience: Jackson, Wood and sophomore KeiVarae Russell. That's a luxury Notre Dame didn't have last year, when running back Cam McDaniel was called upon to play some cornerback because the depth chart was so thin. Plenty of those times came when Jackson had to miss a few plays after his shoulder popped out, and Russell sustained a concussion in Notre Dame's win over Boston College Nov. 10.
With Jackson, Russell and Wood, Notre Dame has more much-needed depth. They're hopeful Josh Atkinson (who struggled in Notre Dame's spring game) and Jalen Brown improve to the point where they can be reliable backups, and freshmen Devin Butler, Rashad Kinlaw and Cole Luke are on the way, too, to bolster the unit.
"Just having that guy that you could put in there, or even if you wanted to give someone a break, because there would be games where we could be exhausted but you couldn't go out because, you know, you don't have that guy who's ready to go in yet," Jackson explained. "Just with that, you can get a break here and there, you can play to your potential, high energy each play. That's just going to help improve each individual's game."
Jackson, too, said he was able to find a positive to watching spring practice from the sidelines. He expects to be ready for summer and fall workouts, but by stepping off the playing field, he felt the different perspective helped him pick up a few things that'll help with his grasp of the defense. And it didn't mean he wasn't a participant in practices, at least from a leadership standpoint.
"If you didn't know he wasn't out with a shoulder, you hear him all the time," Farley said. "He's very vocal, he's always loud, he's always engaged, he's always encouraging. Even though he's not necessarily on the field running around with us, he definitely has a vocal presence as a leader regardless."