Bennett Jackson sees the potential in Notre Dame's cornerbacks

Bennett Jackson sees the potential in Notre Dame's cornerbacks
August 5, 2013, 2:00 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Bennett Jackson missed spring practice after undergoing surgery to repair a torn labrum, so until preseason camp began this week he hadn't put the pads on or hit anyone since the BCS blowout loss to Alabama.

"I'm excited to hit somebody for sure. I haven't in a while," Jackson said Sunday. "I feel like I've been out for a year."

Jackson said he's feeling stronger and has no second thoughts about his shoulder -- something he couldn't necessarily say before his surgery. Last fall, Jackson would occasionally have to sit out a few plays because his right shoulder would go numb, the result from a damaged labrum in it. He couldn't jam receivers like he wanted to, and wrapping up on tackles was sometimes a challenge.

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The senior cornerback was named to the Bednarik Award watch list, a trophy won by Manti Te'o last fall. Perhaps the thinking is this: If Jackson was able to develop into a solid cornerback playing hurt last fall; maybe he can take the next step when he's 100 percent healthy.

"I kinda try to not get involved with too much stuff off the field. At the end of the day, preseason rankings and all that stuff doesn't mean too much," Jackson said. "It's good, I'm happy they put me on it, but you go out and you don't perform it doesn't make a difference. So I don't get too caught up in it."

Jackson didn't miss more than a couple plays here or there last fall, something that certainly can't be said for fellow cornerback Lo Wood, who missed the entirety of Notre Dame's season after rupturing his Achilles last August. He'll be back to contribute this year, and coach Brian Kelly is expecting reserve cornerbacks Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson to have increased roles.

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KeiVarae Russell joins Jackson and Wood to give Notre Dame plenty of depth and experience atop its cornerback depth chart, and incoming freshmen Devin Butler, Cole Luke and Rashad Kinlaw add much-needed talent to the ranks.

Notre Dame doesn't see the benefit of a deeper depth chart as extending to just the cornerbacks. Wide receiver T.J. Jones expects he and his fellow wide receivers will grow from it, too.

"We're seeing some of the best talent in the nation in those three guys," Jones boasted, referring to Jackson, Russell and Wood. "So being able to go against them every day, to fight for contested balls … and you gotta accept the fact they're going to make good plays, because they're great. Learning how to deal with that back and forth with great players on a daily basis is just going to help us better for each game."

The Irish worked their way to a 12-0 season and berth in the BCS Championship last fall with an incredibly thin unit of cornerbacks. It wasn't a sustainable model, and got to the point where running back Cam McDaniel was thrown into the fire without any previous experience as a corner.

There wasn't much competition in the ranks, either, something Jackson said created an atmosphere in which some players "would get lenient and relax."

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Jackson doesn't see the same storyline playing out this fall.

"I feel like just having more depth, it gives you the chance to compete harder," he said. "It helps guys at the bottom push themselves up higher just by competing against one another, something we didn't have last year."


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