Position Analysis: Cornerback

The ultimate success or failure of this year's defense could be decided by the cornerback position. After an unflattering finish to the 2004 campaign Notre Dame will look to rebound. From a recruiting perspective Notre Dame needs to take three cornerbacks, two of which that can play immediately.

Never look back, always move forward. That old saying certainly holds true for the Irish cornerbacks. After being scorched late last season moving forward is about all that can be done. Then again, the only returning cornerback from the 2004 team that actually played significant minutes is redshirt junior Mike Richardson. It will be a new look in 2005.

Even though Richardson has struggled mightily at times he is considered to be a good bet to start at one of the two cornerback positions. The other starting cornerback will be…?

And the candidates are led by three redshirt freshmen, Leo Ferrine, Junior Jabbie and Terrail Lambert, with redshirt sophomore Ambrose Wooden also in the mix, but he has been plagued by injuries his first two years on campus as well as during this past spring practice. Many think Wooden will end up at wide receiver when all is said and done. Junior Freddie Parish could also play cornerback, but he will most likely end up at one of the two safety positions.

So what positives can Notre Dame fans look forward to? First off, Richardson has been through the fires. If that does not motivate him to improve his overall game, perhaps knowing that Tyler Palko, Chad Henne, Matt Leinhart and Derek Ainge are all going to be playing against the Irish this year will. It will not be an easy schedule in terms of opposing quarterbacks. Quite the contrary, it could be the most difficult in the country.

Leo Ferrine could also end up playing free safety, whether it is part time or full time nobody knows just yet. He saw action at both free safety and cornerback this spring and the experimentation may not be over during fall camp. Time will tell.

Most of the hope rides with the young redshirt freshmen. If at least one of the three can step up and make an impact this year perhaps Notre Dame's pass defense will be solid. Asking for more than that is probably not realistic considering Notre Dame finished 116th out of 117 Division I teams last year in passing yards allowed per game. Only Texas Christian finished lower than Notre Dame. And remember, Notre Dame played Navy, a team that did not even throw for 100 yards against the Irish last season. If you took at out the Navy game last year Notre Dame gave up over 300 yards per game through the air.

Obviously the entire defense is responsible for passing yardage, but it starts with the cornerbacks. Last season was an abysmal performance and it simply must improve. With newly hired defensive backs coach Bill Lewis joining Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis in South Bend there is a lot of optimism for the future. His resume is sterling; but how quickly will he be able to help resurrect the Notre Dame cornerback position with such little experience available? Coach Lewis has his work cut out for him this year.

Coach Weis not only hired coach Lewis, but he also hired Brian Polian as the assistant defensive backs coach in addition to being the head special teams coach. While Polian's experience has not seen him coach defensive backs before, his family name alone should lend credence to his potential.

Recruiting - For those of you who follow the Notre Dame message boards, this is a subject that has been discussed ad nauseam. Cornerback recruiting has been an adventure over the course of the past several years. Notre Dame needs to land the creme de la creme of cornerback recruits so that at least two of the three that are brought in can come in and compete for immediate playing time in the fall of 2006. It would not be at all surprising if a top-notch cornerback recruit competed for a starting position from day one.

When discussions of which cornerback recruits could start immediately the attention has mainly centered around two recruits, Raeshon McNeil, CB, 6-0, 175-pounds, Mocksville, N.C., (Davie County) and Darrin Walls, CB, 6-1, 180-pounds, Pittsburgh, Pa., (Woodland Hills). There are other recruits who could do the same, but both McNeil and Walls have their academics in order and list the Irish high on their lists.

McNeil is close to a decision and Notre Dame is ahead of the pack, but no deadline has been set for his announcement. Walls is likely going to decide between Notre Dame and Michigan, but he does plan to take official visits first. His decision could drag out into December or possibly even January. It is hard to say.

Notre Dame is out of the race for both Byron Maxwell and Asher Allen, but Robert Williams, CB, 5-11, 170-pounds, Cincinnati, Ohio, (Withrow), Devin Ross, CB, 5-11, 180-pounds, Rancho Cucamonga, Calif. and Dominique Franks, CB, 6-0, 180-pounds, Tulsa, Okla., (Union) are all in the mix with Notre Dame. Each one of the three needs to improve his academic standing to receive an official offer from coach Weis however. All three cornerbacks are very talented and could also compete for immediate playing time.

One other name to remember is Phillip Strozier, CB, 6-0, 175-pounds, Kansas City, Mo., (Rockhurst). He is high on Notre Dame and would be a good bet to commit if offered. The question is whether or not he is best suited to play safety or cornerback in college.

Look for a few new names to emerge early this fall at cornerback.

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