SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame cornerback Cole Luke grew up around football — his uncle is former Dallas Cowboys safety Darren Woodson — so cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks isn't surprised the freshman is picking things up quickly.
Luke has worked with Notre Dame's nickel defense in practice and appears in line for playing time in a package the Irish couldn't fully utilize last year. With extremely thin cornerback depth, Notre Dame was often forced to leave "dog" outside linebacker Danny Spond on the field in nickel situations — and while he performed well, the lack of a true nickel back limited what the Irish defense could do.
Notre Dame has better cornerback depth this fall and returns a pair of players in KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson with starting experience. That's allowed Notre Dame to work Luke out in nickel situations, and Cooks said he's been a fast learner.
"He's picked up on the complex stuff," Cooks said. "We haven't simplified anything, which has been awesome. We've been rolling with our package and our install has been exactly what we wanted it to be up to this point, and he's handled it all."
The transition from corner to nickel isn't as easy as it might seem. There's more responsibility to playing nickel than just covering your receiver — a player is lined up inside and has to not just cover the slot but also be able to pass rush and defend the run.
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Cooks said Luke's getting everything about the position and hasn't been overwhelmed by it. And while he's not entirely fundamentally sound just yet, Cooks thinks he's well-equipped to handle the job.
"He has some knowledge that a lot of kids that come in as 18-year-olds don’t have," Cooks said. "He’s put himself in position by understanding the game and being savvy, those things that you can’t teach. He’s got a great feel for the game, and all the other stuff will come."