Notre Dame Football: Harrison Smith

Bennett Jackson knows life is about to change. Back in South Bend, Ind., to complete his training, the former Notre Dame cornerback is relishing the time spent with many of his Irish teammates before they go their separate ways following next month's NFL draft.

"The good thing about it is you're all going through the same thing," Jackson told ESPN.com. "Everyone's a little different, but I feel like it helps you bond more with each other. We'll still see each other and keep in contact, but it's not like we're going to be running (into each other) around the corner anymore."

[+] EnlargeJeremy Langford
AP Photo/Michael ConroyNotre Dame cornerback Bennett Jackson had six interceptions in his college career.
Fitting that the Hazlet, N.J., native uses that term, considering Jackson's running ability is what has put him in position to be drafted. He had a foray as a track star during his time at Notre Dame and, less than thrilled with his 40-yard dash time at the NFL scouting combine in February, improved his mark at pro day, from a 4.51 to 4.40. It would have been good for fifth-fastest among his position group in Indianapolis. His 20-yard shuttle time of 4.00 matched the best among all corners as well.

The 6-foot, 195-pound Jackson switched to corner after arriving to Notre Dame as a receiver. A junior season as a pivotal piece on the nation's No. 2 scoring defense, followed by a senior campaign in which he was the lone defensive captain, offered pro scouts plenty of work to judge, as he is projected as a mid-to-late round pick.

Still, the benefit of a late-career position switch might be upside, as Jackson could still be far from his ceiling as a cover man.

"I think my better days are ahead, for sure," Jackson said.

NFL clubs have discussed a move to safety, something Jackson is open to. He had spent time in the winter in Knoxville, Tenn., working with Charles Petrone, the same athletic trainer who helped Harrison Smith as the former Irish safety became a first-round pick with the Minnesota Vikings two years ago.

Jackson has spoken with roughly a half-dozen teams. From the combine through this final stretch of conditioning, the pre-draft process has been exhausting and rewarding all at once. But Jackson has come to appreciate it, and he will happily watch everything unfold with his mom in New Jersey next week as he waits to hear his and his teammates' names called.

"You think as a player there are all these unnecessary tests, but when I sit there and look back at it, they put millions of dollars into these players," Jackson said. "When I look back at it, I understand why (NFL teams) do it."
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Matthias Farley reasons that the story of his career has been adapting to new situations. From scout-team receiver to starting safety in a matter of a year in 2012, the redshirt junior has been all about maintaining flexibility for a defense often offering multiple looks.

So with new coordinator Brian VanGorder aboard for his first spring at Notre Dame, Farley more than welcomed the fresh start that the switch from safety to cornerback could offer him in 2014.

"I had no reservations about it," Farley said. "I'd never been so set in my ways in any way because I've only been playing for such a short period of time. It's definitely going to be a challenge, but I'm very, very excited about it."

[+] EnlargeMatthias Farley
Cal Sport Media via AP ImagesMatthias Farley made interceptions in two of Notre Dame's biggest wins in 2013, against Michigan State and Arizona State.
Farley's production stagnated last season, his second as a starter, as he made 49 tackles for the second straight year. Head coach Brian Kelly believes the Fighting Irish might have stretched Farley too thin and didn't properly utilize the 5-foot-11, 204-pound Farley's skill set.

"We were trying to get him to replace Zeke Motta and Harrison Smith, two pretty good players and two physical players, and he's not that kind of player," Kelly said, referring to a pair of NFL players who had three inches and roughly 10 pounds on Farley during their college days. "And so he kind of got that tag of, 'Well he's not as physical.' Well, that's not his best trait. He's really smart. He's got some tools that, I think, if we play him in the right position, can really help our defense.

"So I'm not going to say he was unfairly evaluated in a sense, but he was put in a very difficult position last year and we think he can really help our defense in a role that doesn't focus on him being a hard-hit safety."

Farley believes he could have done a better job of playing more relaxed last season with the increased workload, though he never felt incapable.

The Charlotte, N.C., native is entering just his sixth season of organized football, and the adjustments this time around deal with playing closer to the line of scrimmage and playing with a narrower vision.

Farley played some nickel early in Notre Dame's first spring practice Monday, and he is confident that he will adapt to the accelerated learning curve wherever VanGorder decides to use him.

"He's been very upfront and honest about it the whole time," Farley said. "The conversation started several weeks ago -- here and there, nothing nailed down. And it was official last week. So I'm really excited about it. It's a new system, it's a fresh start, so why not change positions?"
If the early forecasts are any indication, Notre Dame could have its most successful NFL draft in two decades.

Mel Kiper Jr. released his initial mock draft this week , and three Irish players make the first round.

Louis Nix leads the trio at No. 15 (Pittsburgh Steelers), with Zack Martin (No. 20, Arizona Cardinals) and Stephon Tuitt (No. 23 Kansas City Chiefs) not far behind.

Notre Dame has not had three players drafted in the first round since 1994, when Bryant Young (No. 7, San Francisco 49ers), Aaron Taylor (No. 16, Green Bay Packers) and Jeff Burris (No. 27, Buffalo Bills) all were taken that early.

The Irish did land two players in the first round two years ago, when Michael Floyd (No. 13, Cardinals) and Harrison Smith (No. 29, Minnesota Vikings) were taken on Night 1.

With Tyler Eifert having been taken No. 21 overall by the Cincinnati Bengals last year, Notre Dame is on track to go three straight years with at least one first-round draft pick.

Irish lunch links

July, 11, 2013
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Ha.
The day is finally here. All the build-up, all the hype -- finally, we get to see which college stars land where.

And for the second straight year, it is likely that multiple Notre Dame players will hear their names called at Radio City on Night 1.

Tyler Eifert and Manti Te'o are both widely expected to be first-round picks. Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith were last season.

The last time the Irish had multiple first-round picks before 2012? That would be 1994, when Bryant Young, Aaron Taylor and Jeff Burris all went in the first round.

The last time Notre Dame had multiple first-round picks in consecutive years? That, also, would include the 1994 NFL draft, which followed a 1993 event that saw four players from South Bend, Ind., get selected in the first round: Rick Mirer, Jerome Bettis, Irv Smith and Tom Carter.

The only other times that has happened with Notre Dame players, according to the school, are 1944-45-46 and 1954-55.

So just where will Eifert and Te'o end up? That depends on who you ask.

Mel Kiper Jr. has the tight end going to the Pittsburgh Steelers at No. 17, which is 11 spots lower than Todd McShay's forecast, which has the Cleveland Browns jumping on Eifert at No. 6.

Kiper is higher on Te'o, who he has going to the Chicago Bears at No. 20. McShay sees Te'o joining a bunch of old college buddies with the Minnesota Vikings at No. 25.

Our NFL bloggers had a mock first round of their own this week, with Eifert ending up in Pittsburgh at No. 17 and Te'o closing out the night by going to the Baltimore Ravens at No. 32.

Scouts Inc.'s Steve Muench and Kevin Weidl, meanwhile, went the distance, projecting all seven rounds and 254 picks, right down to Mr. Irrelevant (FIU end/linebacker Tourek Williams, for those wondering).

Muench and Weidl don't see the rest of the Irish contingent getting in on the fun until the sixth round. There, the duo projects Zeke Motta to land at No. 178 with the New York Jets.

The seventh round then becomes Notre Dame-heavy, with Theo Riddick slotted for the Denver Broncos at No. 234, Jamoris Slaughter to the Ravens at No. 238, Cierre Wood to the Atlanta Falcons at No. 243 and Kapron Lewis-Moore to the Ravens at No. 247.

I'm a little surprised to see Braxston Cave's name absent form the seven-round mock, and I wonder if any NFL team takes a chance on former Irish and Kansas quarterback Dayne Crist after all of his injury problems in college.
Nearly two-dozen current and former NFL players will be at Notre Dame during the weekend of the annual Blue-Gold spring game, albeit for more than just spring football.

The NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial "Investment for Impact" program will take place April 18-21 at Notre Dame, hosting 13 current and 10 former NFL players.

Notre Dame graduates Brady Quinn and Jeff Faine helped start the program with NFL Player Engagement, and the two will speak at the event along with Warrick Dunn, Rick Mirer, Jeremy Bloom and Deke Cooper.

“The opportunity to play in the NFL has provided a platform to have an impact on our communities,” Quinn said in a statement. “It is my hope that through the Notre Dame Entrepreneurial program, attendees may learn how to invest with an impact for the greater good.”

Panels featuring experts from the academic and business world will take place.

And yes, a trip to Notre Dame Stadium for the spring game is included.

“I’m proud to have had a hand in bringing Investment for Impact to my alma mater, and assisting in forming a partnership between University of Notre Dame and the NFL for the continuing education of professional athletes,” Faine said in a statement. “It has been a longstanding goal to give back in a meaningful way to the game that has provided so much opportunity for me. This course will provide a template on how to bridge traditional business models with a focus on the greater good of humanity. I believe social entrepreneurship is the wave of the future.”

The following is a list of the 23 former and current NFL players scheduled to attend:

Jon Alston
Charlie Batch
David Bruton
Riki Ellison
Jeff Faine
Josh Gordy
Lamarr Gouston
Winston Justice
Sean Mahan
Corey Mays
Kyle McCarthy
Kerry Meier
Duke Preston
Brady Quinn
Vincent Rey
Mike Rivera
Harrison Smith
Stephen Spach
Shawntae Spencer
Matthew Tennant
Adalius Thomas
Gregory Tolver
Maurice Williams

Irish name four captains

August, 27, 2012
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Zack Martin, Tyler Eifert, Kapron Lewis-Moore and Manti Te'o will captain the Notre Dame football team in 2012, head coach Brian Kelly announced Monday evening on Twitter.

Kelly had said at media day 11 days ago that he was unsure of whether he would name captains on a game-by-game or a season basis, and he ultimately chose the latter.

Martin, a left tackle, and Eifert, a tight end, are both seniors with one year of eligibility remaining. The defensive end Lewis-Moore is a fifth-year senior while Te'o, an inside linebacker, is in his fourth and final year with the program.

Both Eifert and Te'o have appeared on numerous preseason All-America teams, and both passed up the chance to be an early-round NFL draft pick following the 2011 season.

The Irish do have a number of experienced seniors in key positions this year who figured to be in the mix for a captain title, notably running back Theo Riddick, receiver Robby Toma, center Braxston Cave, right guard Mike Golic Jr. and safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta.

Safety Harrison Smith ended up being the Irish's only season captain in 2011, as receiver Michael Floyd was stripped of that title following an off-season DUI arrest. Floyd rebounded and was eventually named a game captain for the Champs Sports Bowl, something he was able to do because he had graduated and was off school probation.

Top 25 player countdown: No. 17

August, 9, 2012
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No. 17. Zeke Motta, S

2011 numbers: Motta started eight of 13 games last season, splitting time with Jamoris Slaughter opposite Harrison Smith. Motta recorded 40 tackles, had an interception and returned a fumble 29 yards for a touchdown in Notre Dame's Champs Sports Bowl loss to Florida State.

Making the case for Motta: The secondary will be under the spotlight this season, as the Irish face vaunted passing attacks like Oklahoma and USC while breaking in two new starting cornerbacks. Having a veteran safety helps, and no one is more experienced than Motta. Thrown into the fire as a sophomore in 2010 because of injuries, Motta has played in all 38 games of his college career through three seasons. His job has become all the more important following the off-season shoulder surgery of Austin Collinsworth, who could miss the season. The Irish will need him and Slaughter to be anchors in the back of the defense this season.

Irish Lunch Links

June, 8, 2012
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I'll Have Another. Bummer.

Irish Lunch Links

June, 6, 2012
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Programming note: AD Jack Swarbrick will be on "College Football Live" today (3:30 p.m. ET, ESPN).

100 Days Countdown: Notre Dame

May, 22, 2012
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As part of "College Football Live's" 100 Days Till Kickoff countdown, here's a look at Notre Dame's top 10 players.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame's Manti Te'o
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesManti Te'o could be the best inside linebacker in all of college football.
1) Manti Te'o: The senior passed up NFL millions and returns as perhaps the top inside linebacker in the nation. He will look to build off consecutive 120-plus tackle campaigns and anchor a front-seven primed to take the next step under third-year coordinator Bob Diaco.

2) Tyler Eifert: Like Te'o, Eifert also passed up NFL dollars and dreams to return for one more year. And, like Te'o, Eifert may just be the nation's best player at his position as well. But the tight end will resemble more of a receiver this season, moving all over the field and serving as the No. 1 target for whoever ends up throwing the ball for Notre Dame.

3) Cierre Wood: Coming off a 1,000-yard season in which he lost snaps to Jonas Gray late in the campaign, Wood returns as the Irish's No. 1 running back. Depth in the backfield may keep carries down again, but Wood figures to have another strong season with a proven line blocking for him.

4) Jamoris Slaughter: He probably won't be a first-round draft pick the way Harrison Smith was, but the fifth-year senior is a versatile playmaker who can move up and play linebacker while serving as the voice for a young secondary.

5) Stephon Tuitt: He didn't put up the big numbers like fellow class member Aaron Lynch, but he may be even better. Tuitt has shown the versatility to play end and nose guard, and he will only get better after bursting onto the scene as a freshman.

6) Zack Martin: Want to know what helps with the quarterback transition the most? A proven offensive line. At left tackle, Martin keys that group, as he enters his senior year with 26 straight starts under his belt (two at right tackle).

7) Theo Riddick: You'd be hard-pressed to find someone who stood out more this spring. The running back/slot receiver is a playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands. If he can stay healthy and succeed as a punt returner, he will find his name much higher on this list a few months from now.

8) Braxston Cave: Another veteran piece on this line, Cave stars in the middle and is an important locker room voice. Limited this spring after a foot injury sidelined him late last season, Cave is back for a fifth year, his third in a row as the starting center.

9) Louis Nix: A sub-par spring forced Nix behind Kona Schwenke on the depth chart, but the nose guard is an invaluable cog in the middle for the Irish's young line. A strong preseason camp -- and a capable replacement in Schwenke -- should only make Nix better in his second year of game action. (He redshirted his freshman year.)

10) George Atkinson III: Atkinson returned a pair of kickoffs for touchdowns as a freshman. Now, he's hoping that play-making ability translates on the offensive side of the ball. He netted 178 yards of offense in the spring game but coughed it up twice, and he'll have to ease the staff's concerns since Wood and Riddick are ahead of him.

Notre Dame spring wrap

May, 10, 2012
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2011 overall record: 8-5

Returning starters: Offense: 7; defense: 7; kicker/punter: 1

Top returners
QB Tommy Rees, QB Andrew Hendrix, RB Cierre Wood, RB/WR Theo Riddick, RB/WR George Atkinson III, TE Tyler Eifert, LT Zack Martin, LG Chris Watt, C Braxston Cave, C/G Mike Golic Jr., WR Robby Toma, WR John Goodman, WR T.J. Jones, DE Stephon Tuitt, NG Louis Nix, DE Kapron Lewis-Moore, ILB Manti Te'o, ILB Dan Fox, OLB Prince Shembo, S Jamoris Slaughter, S Zeke Motta

Key losses
WR Michael Floyd, RB Jonas Gray, RG Trevor Robinson, RT Taylor Dever, DE Aaron Lynch, NG Sean Cwynar, DE Ethan Johnson, OLB Darius Fleming, S Harrison Smith, CB Gary Gray, CB Robert Blanton

2011 statistical leaders (* returners)

Rushing: Cierre Wood* (1,102 yards)
Passing: Tommy Rees* (2,871 yards)
Receiving: Michael Floyd (1,147 yards)
Tackles: Manti Te'o* (128)
Sacks: Aaron Lynch (5.5)
Interceptions: Robert Blanton/Gary Gray (2)

Spring answers

1. Tyler Eifert: His offensive teammates -- and the next starting quarterback, in particular -- owe Eifert the world for returning. New offensive coordinator Chuck Martin will use Eifert in a variety of different ways this season, and his position will resemble that of Michael Floyd's more than it will a traditional tight end's. A strong season will likely propel Eifert into the first round of next year's NFL draft.

2. No shortage of skill players: Yes, the all-time leading receiver is gone. But the Irish still boast a plethora of skilled, versatile assets who can make big plays with their speed. Tony Alford is in charge of the running backs and slot receivers this season, and Cierre Wood, Theo Riddick, Robby Toma and George Atkinson III all have the ability to make things happen out of the backfield. Look for a big year from DaVaris Daniels on the outside as well.

3. Defensive leaders: Manti Te'o would appear to be a shoe-in for a captain role this season, and he'll have plenty of help bringing along some of the unit's young talent. Jamoris Slaughter is back for a fifth year, and becoming a father this spring has forced him to grow up fast. Kapron Lewis-Moore is back for a fifth year as well, and the defensive end is one of the more respected voices on the team.

Fall questions

1. What will happen to Tommy Rees and, by extension, the QB race? Rees' immediate future is up in the air following his May 3 arrest, though his chances of starting this season figure to have greatly diminished in light of being charged with four misdemeanors. Andrew Hendrix and Everett Golson will likely benefit the most and should enter camp as the favorites, while prep phenom Gunner Kiel continues to adjust after enrolling in January.

2. What about those corners? Bennett Jackson has the talent to play well at the boundary in his first year starting but will likely have to endure some growing pains, especially against some of the elite passing offenses the Irish will face in 2012. At the field, Josh Atkinson has pushed Lo Wood for the No. 1 spot, and that will be one of the more intriguing position battles once preseason camp opens.

3. Can anyone handle this schedule? The two Big Ten favorites, the Big 12 favorite, the Pac-12 favorite. A trip to Dublin. The 2012 schedule is absolutely loaded, and the Irish will have several new pieces in key places entering the season. How quickly everybody can adjust to their roles will go a long way in determining whether Brian Kelly's third season at Notre Dame is a success.

Irish Lunch Links

May, 8, 2012
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Just how the Rangers drew it up ...

Irish Lunch Links

May, 2, 2012
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Abro was all that was right about college sports. Cheers.
On Thursday, Michael Floyd and Harrison Smith gave Notre Dame multiple first-round draft picks for the first time in 18 years. Chances are the Irish won't have to withstand another drought like that anytime soon, as they may just have players get taken from each side of the ball next April 25.

Notre Dame breathed a sigh of relief this winter when Manti Te'o and Tyler Eifert announced their returns to school, and with good reason. Each is considered to be among the best players at his respective position entering the 2012-13 season.

NFL.com's Bucky Brooks has Te'o as the sixth overall prospect in his early top-30 prospect rankings for 2013, and his colleague Chad Reuter has Te'o as the No. 2 inside linebacker prospect and Eifert as the top tight end prospect.
Inside linebackers aren't routinely valued at a premium, given the proliferation of the passing game at the pro level, but Te'o is a special player with extraordinary skills. He is athletic enough to roam freely from sideline to sideline against the run or pass while also providing a stout presence within the box. Given his unique skills and versatility, Te'o could emerge as a blue-chip talent by season's end.

CBSSports.com has Te'o as its No. 1 inside linebacker for the 2013 class. It actually has Eifert listed as the No. 1 tight end for the 2014 class, as he would technically have another year of eligibility remaining after this upcoming season. Still, the chances of him playing a fifth year in college are, to be generous, slim to none.

SI.com's Andrew Perloff, meanwhile, has neither player in his early 2013 mock first round.

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