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Fighting Irish Positional Analysis: Cornerbacks

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Lo Wood
In the 11th of a 13-part series, looking at each position, here is a quick rundown of the cornerback prospects: those departed, those still on hand, those recruited, what the future holds among current junior recruits, and what the future holds at the position.

(Note: The number listed in parenthesis is the years of eligibility remaining and the listing of a player's class is based upon the upcoming 2012 season.)

On the roster
Cornerbacks departed: Robert Blanton, Gary Gray
Cornerbacks returning: Jr.-Lo Wood (2), Jr.-Bennett Jackson (2), Soph.-Josh Atkinson (3), Soph.-Jalen Brown (4), Fr.-Tee Shepard (4)
Possible position switch: Two players listed among the safeties have cornerback experience - fifth-year senior-to-be Jamoris Slaughter and sophomore-to-be Eilar Hardy. Slaughter would figure to be more of a candidate for the Dog linebacker position than a cornerback prospect. He likely is considered too valuable of a strong safety/drop linebacker to isolate at a cornerback position. Hardy missed the 2011 season with a knee injury. Safety probably is his best position, but he arrived at Notre Dame with some cornerback skills. Verbal commitment John Turner, who won't arrive until this summer, is listed as a safety but has a background at cornerback.

2012 Targets
Committed cornerback recruits: Tee Shepard
Cornerback offers (2011-12): Tracy Howard (Miramar, Fla.), Ronald Darby (Oxon Hill, Md.), Brian Poole (Bradenton, Fla.; Florida commit), Yuri Wright (Ramsey, N.J.; Colorado commit), Geno Smith (Atlanta, Ga.; Alabama commit), Ishmael Adams (Westlake Village, Calif.; UCLA commit), Donaldven Manning (Miami, Fla.; Virginia Tech commit), Armani Reeves (West Roxbury, Mass.), Terry Richardson (Detroit, Mich.; Michigan commit), Marcus Rios (Elk Grove, Calif.; UCLA commit), La'Darius Newbold (Lancaster, Texas; Texas Tech commit), T.J. Davis (Tallahassee, Fla.; Auburn commit), Will Hines (Waco, Texas; Arkansas commit), Anthony Standifer (Crete, Ill.)
Cornerbacks on the ND board: Ronald Darby, Brian Poole, Marcus Rios, Anthony Standifer
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2013 Targets
Junior cornerbacks verbally committed: None
Junior cornerback offers (2012-13): Cameron Burrows (Trotwood, Ohio; Ohio State commit), Kendall Fuller (Olney, Md.), Mackensie Alexander (Immokalee, Fla.; Tennessee commit), Vernon Hargreaves III (Tampa, Fla.), Eli Woodard (Voorhees, N.J.

Analysis
The Irish lose two experienced, talented cornerbacks in Robert Blanton and Gary Gray. Blanton played in 50 games, starting 26, while Gray played in 46 games, starting 33.

While most Irish observers would say that Blanton was a productive cornerback for the Irish with 193 tackles, 27 tackles for loss and eight interceptions, the general impression of his running mate is summed up in two words for some - good riddance - and that's a mistake.

While Gray certainly had his issues in coverage, particularly in 2011, he was a productive, physical cornerback who did many more positive things than the naked eye revealed. He finished his career with 176 tackles and six interceptions, and stabilized a cornerback corps that was solid if not spectacular during the first two years of the Brian Kelly regime.

Without Gray and Blanton, the Irish are very short on experience, knowledge of the system and depth at cornerback. The heirs apparent at cornerback are a pair of juniors with two years of eligibility remaining - Lo Wood and Bennett Jackson. Both played sparingly at cornerback in 2011. Wood began the season as the No. 3 cornerback, but that role fell to Jackson by the end of the campaign.

At 5-foot-10, 195 pounds, Wood doesn't have the size that defensive coordinator Bob Diaco typically looks for in a corner. He is, however, the most experienced cornerback on the roster. He turned an opportunity against Maryland into a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown, although he also lost his job on the kick coverage unit after some early-season problems. Jackson has a couple of inches on Wood and has shown his physicality on the kick coverage units, but his experience as a cornerback is considerably less than Wood's.

Three unknowns enter the picture this spring with sophomores-to-be Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown competing for playing time with Jackson/Wood, as well as early-entry freshman Tee Shepard. The potential productivity of the two sophomores-to-be is underrated because that's what happens to freshmen that do not make an impact at an offensive or defensive position.

Atkinson emerged on the kick coverage units while Brown, a notable 6-foot-0 ½, 198 pounds, should provide some physicality at the position after preserving a year of eligibility. At 5-foot-11 ½, 185 pounds, Atkinson has a reputation for physical play.

Shepard is the shiny new toy to admire, and considering the wide-open nature of the position, he has an excellent opportunity to make an immediate impact, particularly since he'll get his feet wet in the spring. Look for Atkinson and Brown, however, to raise some eyebrows this spring as well.

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