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Jackson thrives as starting corner

Andrew Owens | Thursday, November 8, 2012

Bennett Jackson adapts. He adapts to new positions. He adapts until he gets content, which is when it’s time to adapt all over again.

A year ago, he was an afterthought on the defensive depth chart after moving from receiver to cornerback. This year, he’s the top cornerback on a 9-0 squad anchored by one of the nation’s best defenses.

“I’m a lot more comfortable. After the first two games … you get a grip for everything. Everything starts moving more fluidly,” Jackson said of the learning curve. “When you’re more confident, you’re more comfortable.”

So far, the results have been striking. Jackson has solidified what was expected to be a suspect secondary into the 22nd-ranked pass defense. Jackson has led the charge with four interceptions and has tallied 31 solo tackles, the second-most on the team.

“We’ve done a good job of not giving up blown coverages and letting guys loose,” he said. “There’s going to be holes in the defense at times in certain spots. You try and hide those spots.

“We all have a good relationship and communicate back and forth.”

After the graduation of 2011 starting cornerbacks Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, Jackson was slated to start alongside Lo Wood, the most experienced returning cornerback. Wood, however, ruptured his Achilles tendon during fall practice and was shelved for the season, making Jackson the position’s senior member.

Jackson, however, has maintained the swagger he exuded as Notre Dame’s Special Teams Player of the Year in 2010 and a valuable member on kickoff coverage in 2011.

“He’s definitely one who plays with a lot of emotion and he’s not afraid to display that emotion,” senior linebacker Manti Te’o said. “I think Bennett’s strength is that Bennett hates to lose. He hates to lose, and he especially hates to be the reason why we lost. Now he’s never been the reason why we’ve lost, and he has always tried to work his hardest to make sure that he’s not a liability out there.”

Te’o said he thinks Jackson’s playing style is well suited for the Irish defense.

“Every player plays a different way. Every player has his own style of playing,” Te’o said. “I think on the defensive side, it’s just a different mentality. Football is a very physical game, and you just have got to approach this game from a different set of eyes and you have to do a lot of hitting. So I think when you play with emotion, it helps to get yourself in that mindset.”

Irish coach Brian Kelly said he issued a challenge to Jackson prior to the Stanford game after Jackson was losing ground to fellow starter KeiVarae Russell, a true freshman.

Jackson intercepted a pass in the end zone to keep the Cardinal from scoring. In the 20-13 overtime victory, Notre Dame’s defense denied its opponent a touchdown for the fourth consecutive game.

“We thought this was a step up for him,” Kelly said after the win. “We asked him to step his play up. … Bennett did a great job of stepping up his play and putting himself in a very, very good position to help us.

“So we are really pleased with [the secondary] and the progress they are making each and every week.”

And it starts with the receiver-turned-cornerback, who is at the top of his game when he’s adapting.

Contact Andrew Owens at aowens2@nd.edu