Irish corners pressing ahead without Wood

August, 23, 2012
8/23/12
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tapping into the archives to learn more about the shoes he needed to fill, Bennett Jackson instead learned more about his own progress.

While watching film this week of former Notre Dame cornerbacks Robert Blanton and Gary Gray, Jackson stumbled across a few clips of himself featuring sloppy play and weak technique. He didn't like what he saw, and he didn't recognize it, either.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Bennett Jackson
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesBennett Jackson has become the elder statesman of Notre Dame cornerbacks.
"I didn't really know what I was doing, I was just kind of just running around," Jackson said of his younger self. "But then I look to myself now and just see the change. So that's a confidence booster for sure."

It all re-affirmed for the junior just how far he has come since switching from wide receiver to corner two years ago. And with Lo Wood's season-ending Achilles injury Monday, Jackson knows the margin for error is slim, as his nearly two years of experience and limited reserve action at the position has forced him into the role of elder statesman for a unit re-tooling on the fly.

"Me and Lo, we tried to lead by example on the field," Jackson said. "But with Lo out, obviously me being the older cornerback, I kind of have to take charge. I took charge before, but now it's more on my shoulders I feel. All the younger guys are working, we're all a great unit. We have great chemistry and I want the best for the guy who's going to be next to me, for sure, all the guys."

Jalen Brown, Josh Atkinson or KeiVarae Russell will likely be that guy next to Jackson come Sept. 1, with Russell providing the most interesting rise through camp so far.

Recruited as a running back out of Mariner (Wash.) High School, Russell arrived on campus this June and made the switch to corner, where the Irish were already down one big prospect following the spring departure of early-enrollee Tee Shepard.

No stranger to switching sides of the ball himself, Jackson has been impressed by Russell's quick adjustment from taking the hits to delivering them.

"Everybody's surprised," Jackson said of Russell. "Everyone's happy with how he's coming along. He's adapting to it really fast for sure, but he's got a great group of guys around him. Everybody's helping him. He's a really smart kid. I'm surprised he caught on to it that fast. He's doing a great job."

With one fateful misstep Monday -- teammates saw Wood stumble and walk off the field, figuring he had rolled an ankle -- the learning curve has been accelerated for Russell and the rest of the healthy cornerbacks, none of whom have seen more than marginal playing time in the secondary.

"You're young, you're inexperienced, but you're excited," safety Matthias Farley said of his defensive backfield-mates. "Because you want to get in the game, you want to prove you can make an impact at whatever position you're in, contribute to the team. And I would say across the board everyone is in high spirits and fully confident that they can do the tasks that are assigned out for that position, whatever it may be."

Matt Fortuna | email

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