Safety Jamoris Slaughter is Key to the Irish Secondary (Photo by Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images)
We've made it to the final depth chart review for this preseason before turning our attention towards the quarterbacks next week. If you've missed any of the previous installments they are listed below:
Today we look at the Irish secondary, an area on the team with many question marks heading into the season.
* Denotes 5th-year eligibility
Bennett Jackson, Junior, 6'0" 185
Jalen Brown, Sophomore*, 6'1" 199
Elijah Shumate, Freshman, 6'0" 198
This is going to be Jackson's first season a starter and his first time seeing the field on a regular basis. We know he has the speed and he's also shown remarkable toughness for a player his size. With the long-term injury to Lo Wood it now becomes even more important that Jackson stay healthy and be a productive starter for this defense.
Jalen Brown was someone many expected or hoped would step up this preseason, but we've heard precious little about his progress. Brian Kelly mentioned in his press conference on Tuesday that the lines between boundary and field corner may be blurred a little bit, so Brown could be a starting candidate for 2012. He's got perfect size for Diaco's defense and let's hope he can step up with the lack of proven depth around him.
Elijah Shumate went from being on the bubble to likely playing this year with Wood's injury. Shumate was a top candidate for special teams work anyway, but now he may have to see the field in some nickel and dime situations. He's definitely got the size (Elijah looks heavier than 198 to me) and might be a pleasant surprise among the freshman seeing the field this year.
KeiVarae Russell, Freshman, 5'11" 182
Josh Atkinson, Sophomore, 5'11" 185
Cam McDaniel, Sophomore, 5'10" 195
Lo Wood, Junior, 5'10" 195 (injured)
With Lo Wood's torn achilles tendon keeping him out for the season, field corner becomes a major weakness on defense. Could it get worse? Why yes, it could.
Josh Atkinson has been with the program for a year now and has some playing playing experience, not much, but some. However, recent practice updates suggest that Atkinson may have been passed on the depth chart by freshman KeiVarae Russell. However it breaks for the first game, it's likely one of these athletes are going to have to step up into a major role this season.
I have a hard time believing that Atkinson was in the running to start opposite Jackson not long ago, and now has fallen behind a true freshman with less than 20 practices under his belt. Perhaps Russell really is that impressive for his age but it wouldn't shock me to see Atkinson take this position by next week.
Cam McDaniel has recently been cross-training at both corner and running back, but he might have to prepare for a full-time switch to corner now. I really like his quickness and he's always struck me as someone who is going to make an impact for this team---keep an eye out for him.
Jamoris Slaughter, Senior, 6'0" 200
Matthias Farley, Sophomore*, 5'11" 200
Chris Salvi, Senior*, 5'10" 190
Chris Badger, Freshman, 6'0" 193
John Turner, Freshman, 6'2" 207
Outside of Manti Te'o, there may be no more important player on defense than Jamoris Slaughter. Ideally he could have been used in a variety of ways this season, but Kelly mentioned in his recent presser that Slaughter definitely will not be moving to corner, so forget about that.
Former walk-on Chris Salvi was the backup at one point, but it appears Matthias Farley has played very well this fall and could possibly start some games at safety. There are a lot of bodies at strong safety but only Salvi and Farley should realistically see the field. Slaughter's versatility may depend upon how comfortable the staff is with playing the inexperienced Farley and under-sized Salvi, and from the looks of it, they are.
I suspect Badger and Turner are going to be long-term projects, although Badger's age and physicality might make him a good candidate for special teams this year. Turner has great size and a few people have remarked that he moves well in his body, but he's probably a couple years away from making an impact.
Zeke Motta, Senior, 6'2" 215
Dan McCarthy, Senior, 6'2" 205
Eilar Hardy, Sophomore*, 5'11" 185
Nick Baratti, Freshman, 6'1" 206
Austin Collinsworth, Junior, 6'1" 202 (injured)
The injury to Collinsworth was really a big blow to the defense as the Kentucky native was slated to play nickel corner and could have allowed the staff to move Slaughter around a little bit more. Hopefully he can come back at some point this season and make an impact.
Likewise, hopefully Motta can improve his angles this year and have a strong final season in South Bend. Remember I have him as the surprise player of the year. If he can play steady football this secondary might survive just fine in 2012.
Dan McCarthy has been getting plenty of second team reps for two years now, but he's yet to see the field in any meaningful situations. During this 5th year of his, that might have to change this fall as the team needs his experience and leadership.
Not much has been reported on about Eilar Hardy who may still be recovering after surgery last year. He's one of the most acclaimed recruits in the secondary right now and it would be nice if he made a name for himself this season.
It doesn't appear that Baratti is moving to linebacker or getting cross-trained as a nickel corner, but the possibility exists that he's used in special teams as a freshman.
The word out of South Bend is that Jamoris Slaughter will be used as the nickel corner, at least early in the season. That means we're likely to see Matthias Farley on the field at strong safety playing significant minutes.
Discuss the secondary Irish fans!