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Notre Dame’s Russell buttresses athleticism with knowledge at CB

Updated: October 30, 2013 10:07PM



SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Co-defensive coordinator/cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks pulled KeiVarae Russell aside a day after Notre Dame’s 41-30 loss at Michigan.

The sophomore cornerback had a rough day, as did the rest of the defense that allowed 294 passing yards against the Wolverines.

‘‘He said, ‘You’ve got all the talent, all the athleticism, but that’s not going to get you anywhere,’ ’’ Russell said Wednesday. ‘‘Once he told me that, I said, ‘I believe I can be one of the best.’ And I really do believe that. I just have to put in the work.”

Russell said the conversation was harsh but necessary. His play has steadily improved.

He had six tackles and recovered a fumble against Air Force.

“The things that I would point out for KeiVarae is that he’s become much more of a student of the game, not just an athlete playing the cornerback position,” coach Brian Kelly said. “He came into Year 2 as an athlete playing corner. By midseason, he became somebody that has now developed himself into a cornerback.

“He understands the position. He understands the split of the receiver and how it might affect the route. He understands his sequencing within coverages. What you’ve seen is somebody growing into playing corner.”

Russell has made 32 tackles (15 in the last three games) and has broken up five passes.

He was a running back in high school before playing defense for the Irish and had 58 tackles and two interceptions last year.

Russell said the early-season struggles actually helped.

“I want to be judged as a player by, ‘What did he do after a struggle hit him?’ As you can see, my play has elevated as far as playing man coverage, tackling, playing the ball that’s in the air,” he said. “I’ve been playing a lot better just because I don’t want to be known as a player that once he goes down, he [stays] down. I want people to see me as, ‘Once he goes down, watch this next play. He’s going to battle back.’ ”

Email: lpope@post-trib.com

Twitter: @lamondpope



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