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Cooks in familiar role

Notre Dame assistant coach Kerry Cooks returned to coaching cornerbacks this spring after working with outside linebackers last season.

It is a role he is very comfortable with after coaching defensive backs at Western Illinois in 2004, at Minnesota in 2005 and at Wisconsin from 2006-09.

Cooks also played strong safety for Iowa form 1993-97, and he played for Minnesota, Green Bay, Atlanta and Jacksonville in the NFL and for the Chicago Enforcers in the XFL.

"It's been fun for me," Cooks said of working with the cornerbacks "It's something that I love, something that I enjoy. I've played it since I was a little kid and in college and the NFL. Moving back to be able to assist Coach (Chuck) Martin with the secondary has been awesome. The kids have been good. It's what I enjoy. It's what I do. It's what I consider myself to be an expert in, teaching techniques and things like that.

Martin worked with the entire defensive backfield last season, but this year, Martin is working primarily with safeties.

Cooks said utilizes two coaches for cornerbacks and safeties makes sense because of the demands of the two positions.

"If you look at it, our safeties, we ask those guys to do a lot of different techniques, a lot of different keys with their eyes, as well as the corners," Cooks said. "Having the ability to have two coaches back there to where they can separate and really coach and teach those techniques to the individual positions to me makes a lot of sense."

Here are some more thoughts from Cooks:

On making Lo Wood and converted receiver Bennett Jackson a third cornerback behind Robert Blanton and Gary Gray: "We are going to try to force them to be, but really, it is up to those guys. I'm going to continue to throw them into the fire. They are taking a lot of reps right now in spring ball to determine and evaluate which one of those guys is going to be the third corner. We just need to continue to add depth with both of those guys, be it Lo or Bennett. We got to get to a place where we can have that rotation just to take reps off (Blanton) and Gary."

On using Wood or Jackson in the nickel package: "I want those guys just to master corner right now. We feel like if can find one of those two guys to master corner, we can always make our nickel package work. (Blanton) played it last year. … We've got a guy who can move inside if we feel comfortable at being on the edges.

On the potential he sees in Jackson, who primarily played on special teams last season: "I saw a lot of potential with him just running down on special teams, making plays and being aggressive. He's got tremendous speed. Since he's been over at corner, you see the ability for him in the last five practices that we've had to flip his hips, to take the proper footwork, to be able to align in the right way to have his eyes in the right position. He's got a long way to go as far as making plays and really understand the concepts of our defense, but I'm very pleased with where he is at at this point in the spring."

On what Jackson needs to work on the most at cornerback: "Right now his urgency to get into his cover and get into his responsibility really needs to pick up. That's really the thing that stands out. If he's playing the cover three, he's kind of easing out and drifting, instead of really understanding that those wide receivers are going to be on top of you right now. He played the position, so that's the irony of it, you would think he would understand OK I got to make sure of my cushion and my depth. He's having that issue in all the coverages. That's something that is easily corrected. He's just got to continue to get a feel for what we are asking him to do. It is different. He's got to do everything running backwards instead of running forward. He's not dictating the terms any more."

On the four incoming defensive backs (Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown, Matthias Farely and Eilar Hardy): "We know that we've got really four outstanding athletes coming in, and we know they've all got great size. They all could probably play corner or safety. If you are asking me as a cornerbacks coach, I would like to have all four of them. You know start them out at corner, figure out which ones can run and flip their hips, and then move the other ones inside to safety. Coach Martin wouldn't agree with that. He would like to have it just the opposite. We will evaluate that when they get to campus."

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