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Notre Dame rides athletic and inexperienced secondary into National Championship game

Injuries to two starting defensive backs forced Notre Dame to evaluate the talent level of its secondary. They chose inexperienced but athletic replacement players, and the results have been outstanding.

Kirby Lee-US PRESSWIRE

Sometimes athleticism trumps experience.

Scouting jargon like "smooth hips" and "closing speed" are brought up far more often when evaluating the skill of a cornerback than the amount of starts that player made.

For evidence, one could point to Notre Dame's secondary. Boasting the nation's 21st pass defense (194.4 yards allowed per game), they were forced to start a true freshman, KeiVarae Russell, at the start of the season. He had never played cornerback until August, but a ruptured Achilles tendon ended the season of Lo Wood in fall practice.

Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks told CSN Chicago it was Russell's athletic ability that made him an intriguing option.

"He was one of those guys that I identified from day one, just having the ability to play corner and be able to do the jobs, to move lateral, to cover one-on-ones. You knew that once you saw him running around, that if he was willing to, he could be special."

Safety Jamoris Slaughter also ruptured his Achilles tendon, thrusting former wide receiver Matthias Farley into the starting lineup. The Irish rode their inexperienced but athletic secondary to an undefeated season, and a spot in the BCS National Championship game Jan. 7 against Alabama.

Working raw ability into talented contributing players takes outstanding coaching, and that's what Notre Dame has at its core. Sometimes it just takes the recognition of athletic ability and the knowledge of how and where to place that talent on the field.