Irish coordinator calm in face of ‘D’ upheaval
By Mike Hutton 648-3139 or firstname.lastname@example.org June 13, 2012 11:06PM
Updated: July 15, 2012 3:39PM
SCHERERVILLE — Even the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame has to be proficient at constantly operating in crisis mode.
Kerry Cooks, the co-defensive coordinator for the Irish, arrived at Villa Cesare Banquet Hall in Schererville on Wednesday for the annual Northwest Indiana Notre Dame Club summer banquet on the heels of some not great, yet not completely unexpected news.
Austin Collingsworth, a backup safety for the Irish, is out for four to six months with a torn labrum in his shoulder. In the greater scheme of the Irish defense, losing a backup safety isn’t a huge deal.
But given where Notre Dame is with its secondary, it is a big deal. The Irish graduated their top two cornerbacks, Robert Blanton and Gary Gray, last season and they failed to recruit one cornerback in the latest class. There had been talk that Jamorias Slaughter, a safety for the Irish, might make the move to corner because of the lack of depth. But Cooks nixed that idea, saying that Slaughter was too valuable at safety for them now that Collingsworth, who was one of the best special team players, was done.
Cooks was upbeat and realistic about the situation.
“It has to be the next man in,” he said. “That might not be what people want to hear but it’s the truth. Some of the young guys are going to have to step up.”
Those young guys include Eilar Hardy, a sophomore who was recruited as a safety, and Matthias Farley, another sophomore who initially arrived as a wide receiver. Cam McDaniels, a freshman running back last season, has already made the switch to cornerback. Cooks hinted that there might be some shuffling from offense to the secondary in training camp.
The other big loss for the Irish was the transfer of Aaron Lynch to South Florida. Lynch, the best freshman defensive end in the country, left because he was unhappy in South Bend.
The thin secondary this season appears to be a unique set of circumstances for the Irish. They had verbal commitments from two very good high school cornerbacks — Ronald Darby and Tee Shepherd. Neither stuck. Darby de-committed for Florida State and Shepherd enrolled in January but left in March. Both likely would have competed for early playing time.
ND already has two cornerbacks who have made verbal commitments, Rashad Kinlaw and Devin Butler.
The Irish have upgraded the performance of the defense in Brian Kelly’s first two years, thanks in part to the recruiting efforts of Cooks and Bob Diaco, who share the title of co-defensive coordinators. Cooks was elevated to the defensive coordinator spot after this season, while Diaco was moved up to assistant head coach and defensive coordinator.
Several promising sophomore linemen, such as Stephon Tuitt and drop linebacker/end Ishaaq Williams and Ben Councell should be major contributors this year.
Cook said the Irish, after years of neglecting the defense in prior coaching regimes, have gone out of their way to target great defensive players. Jaylon Smith, a five-star linebacker from Fort Wayne Bishop Luers, is the latest high school player to commit to the Irish.
“We’ve just made it a point of emphasis,” Cooks said. “We wanted to match up with USC and Michigan. We have to play against those guys. There is nothing magical about it.”