SOUTH BEND – Just five days into fall practice, Notre Dame is losing cornerbacks.
A position that was already thinned by freshman Chris Badger deciding to take his Mormon mission trip after participating in spring drills and freshman Spencer Boyd transferring to South Florida in July, lost another player at the start of the week.
E.J. Banks is no longer working with the team but is still enrolled at the university.
While Banks could return, his absence leaves Notre Dame with four scholarship cornerbacks – seniors Darrin Walls and Gary Gray, junior Robert Blanton and freshman Lo Wood.
We are a little lean, but sometimes thats a good thing, defensive backs coach Chuck Martin said. Kids know what they got to do to take care of their bodies, stay healthy and get ready to play.
Walls, Gray and Blanton are also helping the less experienced players get ready for the season.
We are pushing guys every day, Walls said. We know we are short at the position, and every day we just try to come out here and try to get each other better. We know we can only play with the guys here, and thats what we got. We cant do nothing about it but keep pushing each other.
Wood had been pushing his way up the depth chart before Banks left the team. The 5-foot-10 freshman had already gained time with the second team in front of Banks and has impressed Martin.
We are getting unbelievable consistent effort out of him, Martin said of Wood. His approach to the game is absolutely what a coach is looking for.
Notre Dame has started looking for cornerback help from its receiving core with 5-foot-11 senior Barry Gallup Jr. moving to defense.
While Gallup has a lot to catch up on, Martin said the move should be good for the team.
Obviously, hes drinking through a fire hose right now, but hes an older kid with some experience so hes not all frazzled, Martin said. Hes like, Hey, Im going to go over there and start battling and take every rep I can get and keep competing and see how I can help this football team.
The biggest help for the Irish will be Walls, Blanton and Gray playing at a high level.
When we get out there and have our chance to shine and make plays, thats what we got to do, Walls said. We are just going out there and trying to get better.
Irish coach Brian Kelly said the best way the cornerbacks, who were part of a defense that gave up 227.5 passing yards and 17 passing touchdowns, can get better is by becoming more consistent.
Consistency for me is not so much about making plays as much as it is a consistency in the way they come to work every day, focused, locked in, giving great effort, Kelly said.
Weve got good coaching. We are going to put them in a position to succeed, that Im not concerned with.