On Monday, I combined with Bayou Irish to break down the performances of the quarterbacks in this past weekend’s Blue-Gold Game. Naturally, I had to watch every single pass thrown in the game multiple times. So it only makes sense that I would break down another big question mark position group for this upcoming season: the cornerbacks.
The secondary is pretty unique this year, in the sense that we have a ton of experience at the safety position, but virtually none at all when it comes to the cornerback spot. But while you certainly wish that you have more seasoned corners on a team than we do now, it is fortunate that we do have a stable of veterans at safety, that will be able to help line the guys up, and hopefully provide a calming and stabilizing presence behind the front seven.
Anyways, when discussing the cornerbacks, Bennett Jackson is the first guy that should be mentioned. Converted to corner after initially starting out as a wide receiver, he has been praised by the coaching staff all spring, and he has locked down his position as the boundary corner. Two seasons ago he won the Special-Teamer of the Year Award for the Irish, and is a very sure, sound tackler. It is interesting to note that he also runs track in the offseason, participating in both sprints and hurdles. Potentially the fastest guy on the team. I have to mention all of this because there wasn’t much Bennett Jackson action in the game Saturday. He has been battling chest and shoulder injuries, and wasn’t expected to play at all, but did get on the field for one series, and managed to find his way onto the stat sheet with a tackle. Not much to draw from his “performance”, and he has very little actual game experience, but we just have to trust the coaching staff that he is ready to come out and be our number one shutdown corner. We have only heard good things about #2.
Moving on to one of the most pleasant surprises of the Spring Game, Lo Wood. Lo is leading the rest of the pack battling for the field corner spot. Of all of the CBs, he has actually had the most live game action, including the very notable pick six against Maryland in Washington, DC. On Saturday, he was the second-leading tackler for the Irish, racking up seven of them. Now, you might say that it is probably not a good thing if a corner has seven tackles, as that means he has potentially given up seven receptions. But when you look at a lot of the throws made by the QBs in the game, many of them were screens, quick slants, and dump offs. Wood did an excellent job keeping guys in front of him and containing the play, and displayed surprisingly good tackling technique (he is one of the smaller players, and known more for his ball skills than tackling). He also showed that he was able to track the ball well while it was in the air, and was able to get his head turned around in time to make plays. All in all, a very positive day for Lo Wood, potentially building upon his lead for the second corner spot.
After Lo Wood, a lot of the guys were harder to get a read on. But Josh Atkinson stood out as a confident player, and one that didn’t want to get shown up by his brother (although, it happened anyway). He displayed good toughness and physicality, and stuck his nose into quite a few plays. He officially tallied three tackles and a pass breakup, and his good positioning stood out often, most notably in the endzone against John Goodman, although the ball was a badly thrown one by Tommy Rees. In general, he seemed to play better in the red zone, where he could press tighter and be a little more aggressive as it gets less likely that quarterbacks will throw over the top. Regardless, a solid day for Josh Atkinson as well.
Cam McDaniel was another guy who impressed out there on the field Saturday. He just recently converted to CB from RB at the start of spring football, so I didn’t know what to expect at all in terms of his readiness. He seemed to have good instincts in coverage, or at the very least looked like he knew what he was doing, never appearing to be lost out there. He was pretty physical for a corner, also totaling three tackles. I don’t recall any plays where I really cringed with Cam involved, which is pretty good considering how new he is to the position.
Jalen Brown, not too much to say on him. He was pretty invisible out there Saturday, but that may not be the worst thing to be as a corner, as he wasn’t frequently targeted by any of the quarterbacks. Word is that he isn’t as ready as some of the other guys, and is still pretty raw, but he does have very good size for a corner, and barring injuries ahead of him, still has time to improve. The jury is still out on young Jalen.
Overall, it was a solid day from the corners, which are going to remain a huge question mark for the Irish this year. While none of the quarterbacks REALLY wowed people, hopefully we can attribute that to some solid play in the secondary on Saturday. Considering how unsure we are of how these guys will pan out, you had to come away feeling better about the group than you did going in.
A couple final notes:
– We saw cornerback blitzes on several occasions, so look for that to appear more frequently, mainly because the coaches are confident that the safeties will be back there ready to make a play.
– Speaking of the safeties, Matthias Farley, Eilar Hardy, Austin Collinsworth, and Chris Salvi split most of the reps, as Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter have more than locked up their starting roles. Expect safety to be a real strength for this team. Collinsworth was in on a lot of plays, and showcased his willingness to hit players — hard — finishing with 5 tackles. Farley and Salvi both had interceptions, mainly because they were in good position as opposed to making spectacular plays on the ball. Good days for both of them, although Salvi did take a poor angle on the Eifert touchdown from Andrew Hendrix.
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