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File | Associated Press

Irish safety net

Notre Dame has plenty of new faces in its defensive backfield, and the Irish are counting on other players to take on an expanded role in the secondary.

And one of the Irish's backfield stalwarts from last year, safety Zeke Motta, said the blending in of expanded roles and new players is going well in the secondary.

"All of those young guys are full of competition, and they are very athletic," Motta said Monday. "It is just a matter of learning the defense right now. We've got quite a bit of them."

Motta, who started eight of 13 games last year, and safety Jamoris Slaughter, who started 10 of 13 games, are the major contributors to return on the back end of the defense this season. The Irish lost safety Harrison Smith and starting cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton to graduation.

Motta and Slaughter are being joined at safety by seniors Dan McCarty and Chris Salvi, sophomore Eilar Hardy and freshmen Chris Badger, who returned from his Mormon mission, Nick Baratti, C.J. Prosise, Elijah Shumate and John Turner.

Notre Dame's cornerbacks are even more unproven then the safeties.

Junior Lo Wood is the most experienced, seeing limited action in 21 games his first two seasons. Junior Bennett Jackson, who was the team's special player of the year in 2010, is being counted on as a starter, and the Irish are also breaking in sophomores Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown and Cam McDaniel as well as converted running back KeiVarae Russell at cornerback.

With so many new faces, Motta and Slaughter are doing plenty of teaching while getting ready for the season.

"It is definitely helpful to have Jamoris out there, because he also played corner and knows what it is like," Motta said. "This game is all about confidence, especially at that season. It is make or break. If you go in the tank after one play, you can't do that. Trying to pick them up and help them when it's needed."

The veteran safeties do provide a feeling of security for the inexperienced players in the secondary, Jackson said.

"That's probably one of the main keys," Jacksonsaid. "They run the defense. They are the most vocal on the field, setting everybody up. Having two experienced guys behind us is a major bonus."