Four months ago today, Notre Dame had four scholarship cornerbacks: Bennett Jackson, Lo Wood, Josh Atkinson, and Jalen Brown. Running back Cam McDaniel was filling in as needed, and true freshman running back Keivarae Russell had yet to receive his initial evaluation at the position.
Ten months from now, Brian Kelly's 2012 Irish will have, at minimum, eight competitors at the position, with as many as 10 a realistic possibility.
Thursday's verbal pledge by Cole Luke gives the position a boost as the fluid four-star prospect should be able to contend for a two-deep role by 2014. Luke has the desired height (6'0"), can certainly acquire good weight (he'll need 15 pounds up from his current 170-pound status to compete with Notre Dame's opponents) and most important, a natural feel for the position with good speed to boot.
Luke is unlikely to play anywhere but cornerback in South Bend. That's not the case for fellow incoming corner prospects Devin Butler and Rashad Kinlaw, notably the latter, a high school quarterback that's missed the last year of football with a broken leg (and reoccurrence) and just recently returned to action.
The trio enters a position group with another potential athlete moving from its ranks, current freshman nickel back Elijah Shumate seems destined to grow into a safety role.
Regardless, Luke, Butler, and possibly Kinlaw give defensive coordinator Bob Diaco and his two key assistants, safeties coach Bob Elliott and cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks, reinforcements for the future.
Below is a look at the position entering 2013. The number in parenthesis indicates the eligibility of each player beginning next season.
Of the current group, only Wood, Atkinson, and Brown were primarily high school cornerbacks. Luke and Butler will add to that number.
Bennett Jackson (1): Has one starting spot cemented for 2013. Jackson has played as well as the staff had expected this season, ranking second on the team with four interceptions and x in total tackles () while rarely being beaten for a damaging gain downfield.
Lo Wood (2): Pending a full recovery from a ruptured Achilles tendon in August, Wood should battle KeiVarae Russell in training camp next summer. At worst, the Jackson, Russell, Wood trio gives the Irish a better threesome entering 2013 than they had this fall.
Josh Atkinson (2): Enters a crucial spring session in his efforts to ascend to the two-deep for 2013.
Jalen Brown (3): In a similar situation to Atkinson though his eligibility clock technically offers more time for development.
KeiVarae Russell (3): The former running back's surprising emergence took the position from multi-year question mark to potential strength.
Elijah Shumate (3): Judging from a pre-season conversation with two Notre Dame assistants, there's a good chance Shumate, the team's nickel defender this fall, returns to safety for further evaluation at that position in the spring. Perhaps the most flexible positional athlete in what could be a 17-player secondary next fall.
Rashad Kinlaw (4/5): Technically recruited as a cornerback, Kinlaw has "athlete" written all over him. Its more likely he'll be evaluated at 2-3 positions than solely as a corner during his tenure in South Bend. Kinlaw returned to action last weekend, scoring a 17-yard touchdown. He had missed just over a full calendar year with a broken leg and re-injury. Kinlaw's senior season will likely be spent on the offensive side of scrimmage; the 6'2" 185-pounder will have to earn his keep on special teams to hit the playing field next fall.
Devin Butler (4/5): At 6'1" 180 pounds, Butler has an ideal frame for a cornerback prospect under the Kelly regime. With ample bodies at safety, look for Butler to begin his Irish career competing at cornerback as projected. Both join Irish linebacker pledge Doug Randolph with spots in the the Chesapeake Bowl, scheduled for December 29 in Hyattsville, MD.
Cole Luke (4/5): Scout.com West Coast analyst Brandon Huffman says of Luke: "Has good anticipation and instincts and very good awareness. Does a great job opening his hips and good recovery ability. Is a tough corner with good closing speed and won't hesitate to pop the receiver. A good athlete who just needs to add some more bulk to a frame suited for more weight."
A Look at Luke
In terms of a natural fit for their positions, two perimeter recruits stand out on film among the incoming Irish crop: WR Will Fuller for his ball skills, and CB Cole Luke for his fluidity in coverage.
I'm of the opinion Fuller, a potential cornerback in college, should remain at wide receiver and the addition of Luke greatly aids that end.
Could Luke fill a role for the 2013 Irish similar to Elijah Shumate's in 2012? Shumate is likely the team's fifth "cornerback" but his skill set: quickness, savvy, confidence, aggression in coverage is tailor-made for the challenging nickel role -- a player asked to undercut routes by opposing slot receivers though with the benefit of help over the top from Irish safeties in most instances.
Luke would need significant weight and strength gains to crack the team's two-deep as a true cornerback next fall, but he seems better suited for coverage vs. quality athletes than a host of the roster's current backups.
Are the Irish done at cornerback? It would be illogical for the staff to turn down a pledge from Scout.com four-star Mackensie Alexander should he choose to join the fray. Alexander would be an ideal fit in the team's favored Cover 2 scheme.
Could USC pledge Max Redfield, a potential safety prospect at 6'1" 195 pounds, flip?
Notre Dame has 22 players in its class. Another defensive line pledge is essential as the program has proven this season that it will forever thrive or regress as a result of its play in the trenches.
The final 1-2 spots thereafter will likely include a top-notch defensive back, running back/athlete, or of course, a surprise.
The guess here? A 25-man class with one more cornerback, one defensive lineman, and a running back/athlete.
For our other "Recruit Fit" stories, click the links below:
Will Fuller and Torii Hunter
Offensive Linemen Haul