Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Notre Dame Football Position Preview: Cornerback

Previously Covered
Halfback and Fullback
Wide Receiver
Tight End
Offensive Line
Defensive Line

Spotlight: Darrin Walls

Also Returning: Mike Anello, Robert Blanton, Gary Gray, Raeshon McNeil
Lost: Terrail Lambert, John Leonis (graduation)
Gained: Michael Garcia, Nick Lezynski, Andrew Plaska, Ryan Sheehan, Joshua Stull (walk-ons), Jamoris Slaughter (DNP as freshman), Kael Anderson, EJ Banks (freshmen)

Darrin Walls wasn't enrolled at Notre Dame in 2008. He's spent most of fall practice nursing injuries. Yet he still enters the season as a starting cornerback. That's just how good this kid is.

In recent years, if someone said that a player could walk right into Notre Dame's lineup at starting cornerback after missing all that time, an Irish fan would have just rolled their eyes and complained about the mediocrity at the position going back to Bob Davie's time. (Especially the "Heisman Makers" who were continually burned by Palmer, Leinart, et al.) But that's not the case this year. Notre Dame has a slew of talented corners this year, and for Walls to beat them out is more of a testament to his own talent than a knock on anyone else's.

Robert Blanton will start opposite Walls. Blanton earned that right after inspired, emotional play in the second half of 2008. Now, the playmaker - who recorded two interceptions and three tackles for loss as a freshman - will have to prove he has the discipline to be an every-down cover guy. Obviously, the Notre Dame coaching staff has faith in him, otherwise they wouldn't be starting him in front of Raeshon McNeil or Gary Gray.

McNeil, seemingly forever in buddy Darrin Walls's shadow, quietly stepped up when Walls couldn't go last year, to the tune of 41 tackles and two interceptions of his own. Now, just as quietly, he will return to his role as a nickel or dime back.

Waiting in the wings are two more talented young players, Gary Gray and Jamoris Slaughter. Slaughter is listed as Walls's primary backup at right corner, while Gray is third left cornerback behind Blanton and McNeil.

Rounding out the depth chart are freshman EJ Banks and special teams ace Mike Anello. But with all the talent this unit provides, Anello probably won't see any defensive snaps until senior day.

Ironically, in a year when Notre Dame's secondary is the best in years, the Irish opponents have few - if any - household names at quarterback and wide receiver. The best quarterbacks Notre Dame will face - Nevada's Colin Kaepernick and Washington's Jake Locker - are known more for their running ability than their passing (although Kaepernick is somewhat of an underrated passer). Michigan, Michigan State, and USC will trot out highly recruited wideouts, as usual, but each school will also be breaking in a new quarterback this season.