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Football: Safety first

Laura Myers | Thursday, September 23, 2010

Members of the Irish secondary will get a much-needed reprieve this week as junior safeties Jamoris Slaughter and Dan McCarthy are expected to play Saturday against Stanford, Irish coach Brian Kelly confirmed after practice Wednesday.

Slaughter, who sprained his ankle in the Sept. 4 win over Purdue, missed all of Notre Dame’s game against Michigan and played in just one series Saturday against Michigan State. He is expected to start Saturday.

“The last couple weeks it’s just been a spot in my ankle that was just a lingering injury that just wouldn’t heal up as fast as I thought it would,” Slaughter said. “But it’s been doing pretty good, so I should be able to play.”

McCarthy also missed the Michigan State game with a hamstring injury, forcing senior Harrison Smith and sophomore Zeke Motta to play the entire game. Junior cornerback Robert Blanton also had to play safety in some packages.

“The thing with McCarthy last week is we couldn’t practice him until Thursday,” Kelly said. “And he’s really been working at Harrison’s position more, so it’s been hard for us to cross-train him and get him at both of those positions because he’s been out so much. … That’s kind of how we got into a bind with all those guys having to play so much and not getting into a good rotation.”

The added depth at the safety position will give the defense more options, Kelly said. Smith said it could also help all four players to focus.

“Getting that depth back is something that’s really helpful throughout the course of the game,” Smith said. “You get a little ding here or there and you can’t come off the field. So that’s something where if you have some depth back there you can rotate guys and you can be playing guys with fresh legs the whole game. It really helps to stay locked in.”

Slaughter, who was never removed from the top of the depth-chart, went in for a series against Michigan State when Motta’s helmet was broken, but he otherwise did not see action in the loss.

“It’s rough watching a loss like that and not being able to contribute,” he said. “Just thinking of plays you could have made. It hurts.”

Smith said the defense as a whole is working to be more effective.

“We’ve gotten better overall, with the fundamentals and tackling and things like that,” he said. “But we’re definitely still not there. We want to disrupt the ball more, we want to take the ball away more. We’re still giving up explosive plays. We’ll stop them, stop them, stop them, and then we’ll give one up. And that’s not what great defenses do.”

To get there, he said, is more of a mental challenge than a physical one.

“I wouldn’t say it’s playing hard on every play. It’s not like we’re giving up on plays,” Smith said. “But it’s having that extra mental edge, that you have to lock in and know, ‘this could be the play that changes the game.’ “