SOUTH BEND – Notre Dame has a new leader in its defensive backfield, which is apt considering all the new faces at cornerback.
Safety Jamoris Slaughter has stepped into the leadership role vacated by the graduated Harrison Smith, and its a role Slaughter has embraced.
The coaches push me to be that guy, and I want to be that guy, Slaughter said. Im a lot more vocal, breaking down the huddle with the DBs and the team. It is definitely something Ive been working on this spring.
We got a lot of young guys down low playing corner and nickel, it gives me an opportunity to help them out.
Slaughter and fellow safety Zeke Motta represent the stability of the Irishs defensive backfield as they work in new cornerbacks to replace the graduated Robert Blanton and Gary Gray.
Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood and Josh Atkinson are the three top candidates to replace Blanton and Gray, who combined for four interceptions, 15 pass deflections and 137 tackles last season. The Irish are also working with Jalen Brown and converted running back Cam McDaniel at corner.
Jackson has come the closest to locking down a starting spot during spring practice. He played in 13 games last season, primarily on special teams, and recorded 18 tackles.
The 6-foot, 185-pound junior-to-be has the speed and physical nature to succeed, according to cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks.
Bennett is as talented a cornerback as Ive ever coached, Cooks said. The part that he is missing is the experience part. He got a little bit of that toward the back half of (last) season.
Wood and Atkinson are battling for the other starting spot.
Wood has the most experience of the cornerbacks. Cooks said the 5-10, 195-pound junior-to-be took more than 150 snaps at corner in the 10 games he played in last season while recording six tackles and one interception.
Atkinsons experience last year was primarily on special teams. The 5-11, 185-pound sophomore-to-be played in eight games and had two tackles.
I think they both have different skill sets, coach Brian Kelly said. Josh has great speed. Lo is a pretty technique-oriented player. If you could get Los technique on Josh and put some speed on Lo, you would have the right guy there.
Slaughter, who didnt play as a freshman, worked at cornerback his first two seasons and has been cross training at corner during the spring. The 6-foot, 200-pounder has two interceptions and six pass breakups in three seasons.
One of the things that has precipitated our ability to move (Slaughter) around a little bit is (junior-to-be safety) Austin Collinsworth, who has really had a great spring, safeties coach Bob Elliott said. (Collinsworth) continues to show improvement, and that really allows us to think about those kinds of things.
No matter how things shake out at corner, Slaughter said the backfield will be ready when the season begins.
I think by the time the season starts, they will be a whole lot more comfortable and have confidence, Slaughter said.