Competition in Notre Dame secondary a 180 from 2012

Competition in Notre Dame secondary a 180 from 2012
July 31, 2013, 7:00 pm
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JJ Stankevitz

It was roughly around this time last year -- late August, to be exact -- when Lo Wood went down with a season-ending Achilles injury. An already-thin secondary looked toast as a fair question was posed: Could the unit be a significant enough weak link to bring down Notre Dame's defense and, too, its season?

That was before Jamoris Slaughter suffered a season-ending Achilles injury in Week 3 at Michigan State, too.

Notre Dame wound up going undefeated in the regular season without Wood. KeiVarae Russell, who never played cornerback before last summer, stepped in and did a fine job learning on the fly. Bennett Jackson managed to be the team's best cornerback despite a shoulder injury that frequently hampered his ability to press receivers and wrap up on tackles.

At safety, Matthias Farley went from special teams afterthought to capable starter alongside Zeke Motta. Manti Te'o had seven interceptions, but others stepped in too: Dog linebacker Danny Spond stayed on the field in nickel situations, while Elijah Shumate broke up three passes and had nine tackles.

[More: Kelly, Notre Dame working on plan for Golson's return]

Depth remained an issue, though, to the point where running back Cam McDaniel flipped to cornerback for a few weeks.

On paper, that doesn't appear to be a problem heading into 2013.

Jackson underwent surgery to repair a torn labrum and doesn't anticipate playing hurt this fall. Wood, who would've started last year had he not been injured, received positive medical reports during spring practice, although his participation was limited. Russell is no longer a greenhorn at cornerback. Coaches like what they've seen from Jalen Brown, who played a limited role last fall.

Add in a pair of incoming freshmen in Cole Luke (four stars) and Rashad Kinlaw (three stars) and Notre Dame's cornerback depth looks a whole lot better than it did at this time last year.

[More: Kelly disagrees with Vanderdoes ruling]

Despite losing Motta to graduation, Notre Dame has plenty of depth and talent at both safety positions. Behind Farley are Austin Collinsworth -- who's healthy after dealing with a number of injury setbacks over the last year or so -- and Eilar Hardy, who Farley pointed to as one of the most improved players during spring practice. Opposite him is the trio of Shumate, Nicky Baratti and Max Redfield, the latter of whom comes to Notre Dame with a five-star pedigree.

"We want competitionn," coach Brian Kelly explained in March when asked about a crowded secondary. "Your program is in good shape when there's competition within. And competition, without thinking about who's coming in. We want that competition. So it's going to be a competitive situation. The best guys are going to play. We'll choose the right 11."

In 2012, that competition didn't exist. Notre Dame managed to get by without it, but Kelly knows having it is a far more sustainable model.

"That's part of our job as coaches to recruit so there is competition amongst the ranks. We didn't have much of it," he said. "Now we're excited that we're gaining more and more competition."