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In his words: Notre Dame coach Kerry Cooks analyzes Irish players

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Defensive coordinator likes growth of Irish defenders

Tuesday, August 27, 2013 - 12:43 am

SOUTH BEND - Notre Dame co-defensive coordinator Kerry Cooks recently spoke with the media regarding the Fighting Irish talent on the defensive side of the ball.

On cornerback Bennett Jackson being named captain:

"I think Bennett is everything that we ask our players to be. For one, he leads by example the right way off the field and on the field. He's been a great example for what it takes to start off as a young guy and continue to develop and continue to strive. He's put himself in a position now to lead this team and lead this group and he's very deserving of that captainship."

On the confidence level in the cornerback group:

"I'd say it's a lot more comforting for me knowing that I got some guys that have experience.

"Last year it was kind of unknown. I had two guys starting for the first time, one was a true freshman, and you just never know how they're going to react once they hit that field for the first time. So now they have 13 games under their belt, quality games, and now we got Lo (Wood) back who also has some experience and adds to that position, so it should be very exciting for that position group this year."

On the growth of sophomore cornerback KeiVarae Russell:

"When we had KeiVarae last year he really didn't know much about defense. He'd been an offensive player for most of his career. We did a lot of stuff as a staff to take some pressure off of him with some of our coverages and things like that early on in the season. The more that we felt he was confident and understood our packages a little bit better towards the back half of the season, we started giving him more and he showed that he could handle it.

"Now, watching him come into this camp it looks like he's been playing for three or four years. His understanding of our packages is better but then just his confidence in his ability is better. I think when he first came over here he wasn't sure if he could be a top level corner and I just kept telling him, `Listen you got all the tools, I've seen it before,' and I just kept saying that to him and he kept believing it. Now, he's taken it to heart and you can't tell him he's not the best one in America.

"It's that fine line between you want him to think that way but you don't want him to be overconfident. You want him to think that when he walks out onto that field, he's going to be tough to handle. He's improved night to day in every aspect of his game and it's only going to get better. He's not near the level of what he is going to be."

On the maturity of freshman Cole Luke:

"From a mindset and an understanding and just being a savvy football player, I don't know if I've had a player like Cole. That's something that's very uncommon for a freshman to come in and be able to grasp concepts and adjust so quickly to what defenses are doing, especially in our system.

"He came in, he's got a great understanding and obviously his fundamentals aren't where they will be, but his knowledge of the game is. Maybe that's in part to having an uncle who played a long time in the NFL in Darren Woodson. He's always been around the game so he has some knowledge that a lot of kids that come in as 18 year-olds don't have.

"He's put himself in position by understanding the game and being savvy, those things that you can't teach. He's got a great feel for the game and all the other stuff will come."

On the comparison between the 2012 defense and this year's group:

"From my perspective when you lose guys like Manti (Te'o) and Kapron (Lewis-Moore), guys that were so dominant and vocal, you have no other choice but to improve. We don't have that guy right now, that superstar so to speak, or that vocal leader.

"We've got a lot of guys that have been around us as coaches. We've got guys that have been in our system, a lot of guys that have played great football for us and guys that have played a lot of football. We have very experienced guys and from what we're seeing right now they're a tight knit group and the expectation is for everybody to be on the same page and play as one. If you do that, you have a great chance to play very good defense."