Notre Dame football: Jackson is ready to respond
It doesn't take an in-depth probe of the 2012 Irish to come up with the areas of imperative concern: 1. Quarterback; 2. Cornerback; 3. Wide receiver.
Probably in that order.
Junior corner Bennett Jackson doesn't live his life with headphones on. He's heard the talk. In fact, the 6-foot, 185-pound Jersey guy doesn't blame those who aren't convinced.
Why should he? He's the veteran of the group with a grand total of 65 snaps on defense last season ("I haven't adjusted to the idea of being the old guy yet," he said). He has 28 career tackles, most of which came in his role as a kickoff coverage kamikaze extraordinaire.
"Everybody's so concerned about the inexperience of the cornerbacks," Jackson said after Monday's practice. "I see it and I hear it all the time. It's all around. You try not to pay attention, but if everything's all around, you're going to catch notice of some. I can understand, exactly.
"I like it. People on the outside don't know what we do every day. I know what I'm capable of. I know what our defense is capable of. I'm just excited to show it off."
Last year's starters, Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, are gone. Jackson appears to be the closest thing to a lock at one corner. On the other side, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson and Cam McDaniel seem to be the best bets to find their way into a rotation.
Not a lot of minutes under the bright lights between those guys.
"They haven't played a ton, but that's what college football is about," said Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly. "People graduate, and it's the next guy's chance."
The next guy, whoever it is, will be a poster child for the premise on which Kelly's program is built: Player development.
If there were ever a bunch of guys who were in desperate need of development, it's the four fellows vying for two cornerback spots.
Even with two veterans at corner in 2011, Notre Dame still yielded 206 passing yards a game. Blanton and Gray had two interceptions each. The only other cornerback pick was one returned 57 yards for a TD by Wood against Maryland.
Heck, not only is Jackson waiting to get his first interception, his next broken-up pass will be his first.
A rarely-used receiver and special teams impact player as a freshman, Jackson is just now getting the hang of what it takes to visit that "island" on which corners must play -- and live to tell about it.
"You know all the pressure's on you at first," Jackson said of that one-on-one mentality. "I like having the pressure on me, knowing that one guy is me."
It starts with technique. Know the assignment. Execute it properly. Don't flinch. Don't back down.
And, whatever happens, don't go "fishing."
What was the toughest part of the position to learn, when he made the move from receiver?
"Being 'fished,'" Jackson said. "High-lows, receivers tricking you around. The reason why that was hard was because it came through repetitions. Not having too many reps under my belt at first, it took a little while to get onto that."
Melting the football-ese from the explanation, the best way to describe being "fished" is being faked by the quarterback.
"The quarterback will try to pump-fake you (during a play)," Jackson said.
Bite on the fake and the receiver flies past on a deep route.
"If you jump the (pump-fake), they'll throw it to the high route," he explained. "You don't want to play 'low.' You want to play the top down."
Odds are it's going to happen. Maybe not against Navy, and the Midshipmen's option. But with Purdue, Michigan State and Michigan to follow, the heat's going to be on the Irish corners.
"You have to have a short-term memory," Jackson said. "Figure out what you did wrong and make sure it doesn't happen again."
And keep the headphones on the rest of the week.