Striking Back

Our No. 8 ranked position unit heading into August – the defensive backs.

Note: Each position is ranked according to my view of the groups entering the 2010 season. I've accounted for 2009 performance, apparent spring improvement, 2010 developed depth, and my own projection for 2010 (with an emphasis on the starters) as the determining factors.

For our No. 1 rated position unit and an explanation of the rankings, click here.

No. 2 Wide Receivers

No. 3 Outside Linebackers

No. 4 Running Backs

No. 5 Field Goal Unit

No. 6 Defensive Line

No. 7 Return Teams

Defensive Backs

  • IrishEyes' 2010 Pre-Camp Rank: No. 8
  • 2009 Pre-Season Ranking: No. 2 (whoops). Notre Dame ranked 82nd in pass efficiency defense last season.
  • 2009 Post-Season Ranking: No. 10 (of 11)
  • Highest ranking I can envision at season's end: With better communication, less pre-snap confusion, more aggression combined with technique, requisite luck, and the emergence of free safety Jamoris Slaughter, there's no reason the Irish secondary can't rank as the defense's top unit.
  • Lowest ranking I can envision at season's end: If the top five defensive backs match their level of collective performance last season, they'll rank last on the squad for 2010.

Pre-season National Acclaim: Robert Blanton ranks as Phil Steele's No. 35 rated cornerback while Darrin Walls ranks No. 72 on the same list. Gary Gray was not on Steele's list of top cornerbacks, though he did appear as Steele's first-team All Independent cornerback selection (ahead of Blanton and alongside Walls).

Harrison Smith is Steele's No. 11 rated strong safety while the defensive backfield as a unit ranks No. 21 overall in Steele's publication.

Position Coach: Chuck Martin – A collegiate coach since beginning as a Graduate Assistant at Mankato State in 1992, Martin has spent his entire coaching career on the defensive side of scrimmage. He worked as Brian Kelly's defensive backs coach from 2000 through 2003 at Grand Valley State (and added the role of defensive coordinator in '03). Martin spent the last six seasons as the Laker's head coach where his winning percentage of .914 ranked second among active college football coaches.

Quote to Note: "All four safeties; they've all shown signs of being able to help us win football games. So I think those four kids back there will have a great battle all the way up to the Purdue game – hopefully beyond – hopefully we're saying about all four during the year that we can play these kids and all of them will be productive." – Chuck Martin regarding Harrison Smith, Jamoris Slaughter, Zeke Motta, and Dan McCarthy.


  • Field Cornerback: 6'0" 185-pound senior Darrin Walls (32 games/21 starts; 99 tackles including 3.5 for loss, 16 pass breakups, 2 interceptions including a 73-yard touchdown, 2 forced fumbles).
  • Boundary Cornerback: 5'11" 190-pound senior Gary Gray (20 games/7 starts; 43 tackles, 2 pass breakups, 3 interceptions, 20 yards on a fumble recovery lateral).
  • Free Safety: 6'0" 195-pound junior Jamoris Slaughter (12 games/1 start; 14 tackles last season after being withheld from game action in 2008).
  • Strong Safety: 6'2" 212-pound senior Harrison Smith (25 games/21 starts; 126 tackles including 15 for loss, 3.5 sacks, 11 pass breakups, 1 forced fumble).


  • Third Cornerback: 6'1" 190-pound junior Robert Blanton (24 games/12 stars; 71 tackles including 4 for loss, 5 pass breakups, 4 interceptions, including a 47-yard touchdown). Blanton is slated as the third cornerback, backing up both Walls and Gray, though his true designation is boundary cornerback.
  • Fourth Cornerback: 5'11" 180-pound sophomore E.J. Banks (Banks was withheld from action as a true freshman last season). Banks appeared to line up primarily at field cornerback in the Blue Gold Game.
  • Free Safety: 6'2" 205-pound junior Dan McCarthy (5 games/0 starts, 1 career tackle and was withheld from action in 2008)
  • Strong Safety: 6'2" 210-pound sophomore Zeke Motta (12 games/0 starts, 12 tackles including a half-tackle for loss). Motta ranked fifth on the team with 166 special teams appearances last season.

Spring Head Starts: Freshman early enrollee Lo Wood (5'10" 175 pounds,'s No. 47 rated CB prospect) was the team's No. 5 cornerback at the conclusion of the spring. Wood's classmate Spencer Boyd ( No. 60) appeared to be sixth in the pecking order but will transfer to South Florida for fall 2010.

6'1" 195-pound safety Chris Badger ( No. 28) also enrolled for the 2010 spring semester. Badger will reportedly take two years away for a Mormon mission beginning in the fall. He'll return to Notre Dame in 2012 with four seasons of eligibility remaining.

Incoming Depth: Technically none. Boyd and Wood were the team's two cornerback recruits in the 2010 class and Badger the lone true safety prospect. Wide Receiver Austin Collinsworth played extensively at Safety at Highlands High School (Fort Thomas, KY) and was's No. 99 rated safety prospect. Also earning time in his high school defensive backfield was wide receiver Bennett Jackson (6'0" 170 pounds from Hazlet, NJ); athlete Derek Roback (6'3" 225 pounds from Waverly, OH); wide receiver Daniel Smith (6'4" 215 pounds from South Bend, IN); and athlete Danny Spond (6'3" 232 pounds from Littleton, CO).

Five cornerbacks (including Lo Wood) should be plenty, but look for at least one freshman to move to safety to add position depth for what would likely be a redshirt-season in 2010.

Of interest: "Field" cornerback is the cornerback who lines up to the wide side of the offense (picture more ground to defend) while the "boundary" cornerback lines up facing the wide receiver to the near sideline.

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