Last fall Irish safety Jamoris Slaughter shocked fans and opposing ball carriers with the amount of pop stored up in his 6-0, 200-pound frame. He flattened a few running backs while playing as a hybrid outside linebacker and finished the season with a pair of sacks in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Jamoris Slaughter wraps up a Florida State running back while playing outside linebacker in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Four months later, the most versatile player on Notre Dame’s roster is showing off another new facet of his game. Slaughter practiced with the cornerbacks this week to develop a contingency plan in case an injury or unforeseen disaster takes a cut out of the already razor-thin depth chart at that position.
Add that role to his already long list of positions at Notre Dame — both safety spots, nickel back and outside linebacker — and the senior could potentially play any pass coverage position on the field. Slaughter’s combination of cornerback speed and linebacker thumpability (“He can lay the wood,” says heavy hitter Manti Te’o) are important tools, but his understanding of the defense is what allows him to do it all.
“I don’t know if I’ve ever been around a more flexible guy. I don’t mean physical flexibility I mean mental flexibility,” said safeties coach Bob Elliott, who’s been in the business for 33 years. “He has a grasp of the entire defense, which is unusual. Usually players will understand their position or maybe their half of the field and the calls and the defense that happen on their half. Jamoris understands the whole thing.”
Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks had the chance to work closely with Slaughter during Wednesday’s practice and graded him light years ahead of the rest of the inexperienced group. Cooks said Slaughter is too valuable in the middle of the defense to move him to corner at this point, but sliding him around gives other players an opportunity to prove themselves.
“Wherever we put him, he’s going to be great at it. He’s smart, so it’s easy for him to line up at a lot of different positions because he’s used to driving it from the safety position,” Cooks said. “So when he moves out to nickel or moves out to corner, it comes easy for him because he knows exactly what those guys should be doing.”
Slaughter opens enough options to shift personnel that it’s almost like slapping an entire extra layer on the depth chart with one player. He can plug holes at the cornerback position if needed. He can step into the nickel role if that helps get the best five defensive backs on the field. He also knows the safety position well enough that he can work at other places and give some of the younger guys behind him a chance to develop.
Elliott and head coach Brian Kelly both said they would not have even tried Slaughter at corner if not for the promise shown by junior Austin Collinsworth during the first two weeks of spring. The wide receiver convert needed an adjustment period last season before letting his athletic gifts fly. He showed a natural nose for the ball while playing special teams, and is now comfortable enough with the system to show that on defense.
“I think he does [have a defensive mindset]. I don’t know how he used that as an offensive player before but you can’t create that. He’s always had it. He’s just a feisty dude,” Elliott said.
Collinsworth played in Notre Dame’s dime package last season as the sixth defensive back on the field. In 2012, he’s likely to see the field in a much more traditional safety role. Elliott said they haven’t settled on a nickel package yet but sophomores Jalen Brown and Eilar Hardy are currently the two main options. He also mentioned that some of the freshmen coming to campus in June could get on the field in a nickel or dime situation.