None of the trio had ever started a game at Notre Dame, and after each suffered his season-ending injury for 2012, each faced a career crossroads.
Austin Collinsworth, Alex Welch, and Lo Wood. Three members of Brian Kelly's first recruiting haul -- the "class-on-the-fly" that bridged the gap between Kelly and the previous regime -- each of whom watched from the sidelines last fall as their teammates ran all the way from unranked to the BCS Championship game.
Now the entire senior trio is in position to play key roles for 2013, Welch and Wood guaranteed prime backup roles with Collinsworth the headliner, his late surge securing a starting spot in a secondary that returned three of its four starters from 2012.
"He did a great job this summer with (strength and conditioning) coach (Paul) Longo, and he made himself into the same guy he was before, maybe a bit better physically," said safeties coach Elliott of Collinsworth. "That was really what we were looking for. We wanted him to get back to where he was and he's maybe a little bit better as far as being physical and getting his explosion back."
As noted by his head coach today, Collinsworth will share plenty of snaps with sophomore knock-out hitter Elijah Shumate. The pair bring divergent strengths and weaknesses to the table.
"Both will play. I think it's a 1A, 1B situation," Kelly said. "Depending on where we are in the game, down and distance, a lot of those factors will be involved. I think you've got to look at both of those guys playing an equal amount of football."
From Film to FieldCollinsworth is ready for football at any of four positions in the secondary thanks to plenty of film study and some extra spring training.
"I'm as comfortable as i've ever been," said Collinsworth near the latter end of August camp. "I spent a lot of time looking at film last year. I spent a lot of time on my rear end so looking at film was a good thing to get my mind off my injury."
His primary spot will be the field safety role -- one vacated by Zeke Motta's graduation. Matthias Farley returns to start on the boundary, where Collinsworth can fill in when necessary, perhaps allowing Shumate to play alongside him as the season progresses to give the advanced Farley an occasional respite.
"Last spring we taught him a new position, we taught him the boundary safety so he could do both," said Elliott. "We hope that doesn't have to happen, but we're not afraid to play him in both positions as Farley did a little bit last year (when) he switched off a little bit and we strategically moved Zeke (Motta) into some other positions. Matthias had to move to the other and he was able to handle it. We hope Austin is the same way."
He'll also be asked to serve as the team's dime 'backer, a maneuver that would likely put Shumate at field safety in a three safety, three cornerback, one linebacker, four defensive linemen package.
"He's smart enough to play multiple positions. It's not complicated, but it has some bells and whistles to it that you have to be able to understand what we're trying to do here," said Elliott of the dime position rarely utilized by Notre Dame last season.
"It's a unique defense, you're playing linebacker, but you're playing linebacker with the ability to go out on a wide receiver and cover him. There's not many guys that can do that and know all of the nuances of that position and play a second position, and a third position, and he's also been a great special teams guy. So he'll really be playing all over the field. You have to be smart, you have to have some physical tools, but he's capable of doing it."
Collinsworth welcomes the opportunity for as many reps as the coaches will offer.
"I have a full understanding of both safety positions, I enjoy both and would be happy at either," he said. "Mentally and physically I feel really good at safety (and dime) and both have become easier to play.
"We've been working on (special teams) pretty hard this fall camp and I'm ready to be part of it, too."
Far from a finished product in his first go-round as a full-time player, Collinsworth has the mental aptitude to handle the work load.
"The field and the boundary are two completely different positions as far as responsibilities and knowledge and technique," said Elliott. "There aren't very many guys that can do that. (Jamoris) Slaughter could do that and I would think probably Harrison (Smith) could do that. (Collinsworth's) a smart and great effort player and he can compete athletically and he does. He's a great competitor."
Nearly 21 months removed from his last game of record, Collinsworth is ready to compete again, this time in a starting role.