Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly announced official position changes and some shifts in assistant coaching duties on Tuesday as the Irish got ready to start spring practice Wednesday morning.
Bennett Jackson, who first announced his move from receiver to cornerback on his Twitter account, was officially switched the defensive back field.
The 6-foot, 181-pound sophomore proved to be an effective special teams player last season, recording 10 tackles on the return coverage team and amassing 645 yards in kickoff returns.
"We like Bennett's speed and playing with athleticism on the defensive side of the ball gives us an opportunity to have length and speed at the cornerback position," Kelly said.
Austin Collinsworth, who also was primarily a special teams player last season, also moved into the defensive backfield. Collinsworth went from receiver to safety.
The 6-foot-1, 200-pound sophomore had seven tackles on the coverage team and returned a kick for 34 yards.
"One of the things we love about him is his play in special teams last year made it pretty clear that he's going to find the football and he's going to tackle, and he's got outstanding ball skills and great toughness and versatility," Kelly said. "I think he gives us another, what I consider, a player that could help us next year in the backfield."
The other position move Kelly announced was freshman Brad Carrico, an early enrollee, will work out as an offensive lineman. The 6-foot-1, 245-pounder was projected to play on the defensive line.
"Brad showed up in a very short period of time in our conditioning," Kelly said. "He has very quick feet and moves well and a guy that we're going to be able to get out on the offensive line and again gives us some size and athleticism on the offensive line."
On the coaching front, Kerry Cooks will work with cornerbacks this season after coaching outside linebackers last year.
Cooks' move will allow Chuck Martin to focus on safeties after he coached the entire defensive back field last season. Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco will work with both inside and outside linebackers this season.
"We think that breaking down the secondary, to have both of those coaches back there is a great advantage for us, because when we look at our staff on the defensive side of the ball to, have Kerry and Chuck working on the back end of our defense, we are pretty excited about that," Kelly said. "I know I am and I know our players are because they are going to get that individual attention at their positions."
On offense, Ed Warinner added run game coordinator to his offensive line coaching duties.
"I wanted to be able to free (offensive coordinator Charlie Molnar) up, free him up a little bit so he can help a lot more in day-to-day organizational work offensively," Kelly said. "So that's going to help us in the recruiting, evaluation, all of those things, and as you know (Warinner) was a coordinator at Kansas and did a great job. Again, streamlines things.
"One of the unique things of being head coach at Notre Dame for me is that I still have my hand in the day-to-day quarterback play as well as play calling, and sometimes my demands put me in a position where I'm walking into Charlie's office, eight minutes before practice saying, hey, I want to do this, I want to do that, so he gets the opportunity now to pass that run game, so it's a great organizational tool for us as we move forward."
Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o and quarterback Dayne Crist will be limited in spring practice.
Te'o, who led the Irish with 133 tackles last season, had arthroscopic surgery on his knee to clean up some cartilage, Kelly said.
Te'o will be able to practice, but he will be held out of some drills.
"I think it's pretty safe to say right now, we know a lot about what Manti can do," Kelly said. "But it's important that he continues to follow at that position. His leadership skills are needed, and so again, he's going to be involved, but I think you're not going to see him taking a whole lot of reps during the spring."
Crist is returning from his second ACL surgery in as many seasons. He will follow a practice routine similar to last year's spring drills, Kelly said.
"He'll be involved in a lot of our drill work," Kelly said. "Everything but basically live, and we are hoping that that also means – I can tell that you we are going to go with the same plan that we used last year with him. He feels comfortable with it, and I know that it's going to be something that allows him to continue to develop for us."
Kelly said nose guard Sean Cwynar will not participate in spring practice.
The senior had foot and back surgery in the offseason, and while the back surgery went well, Cwynar is still recovering from the foot surgery, Kelly said.
Kelly said he was looking for running back Jonas Gray and receiver Deion Walker to step up this spring and prove they can be relied upon for the upcoming season.
Gray was used sparingly last season and finished with 100 yards on 20 carries. But with Robert Hughes and Armando Allen both lost to graduation, he will be counted out to spell Cierre Wood at running back.
"It's pretty clear that Jonas Gray is a very integral part to our success," Kelly said. "He is no longer that guy that tells jokes and goofs around, and you guys get the message there.
"But the fact of the matter is, football has got to be, outside of academics, a priority for him because he is in an absolute crucial position for us. We have to play with two tailbacks. You can't get by with one guy. We all know that. So this is extremely important for him to show that we can count on him this spring."
Walker didn't have a reception last spring, but with Michael Floyd indefinitely suspended and his future with the team up in the air, Kelly said Walker could be called upon a lot this season.
"His love for the game and commitment, he has shown a totally different side of him in our workouts up to this point," Kelly said. "I'm excited and quite frankly, Deion is a guy that I want to see and he's going to get some reps and get some work and we are going to have a clear evaluation as to where he is in this program after the spring."