Barring an unexpected offseason setback, Notre Dame will enter the 2015 season with one of the better cornerback duos in the country. But the Irish are confident they have at least one pretty solid backup behind Cole Luke and KeiVarae Russell.

Rising sophomore Nick Watkins, a former four-star recruit, took the kind of steps coach Brian Kelly & Co. wanted to see from him during spring practice. And while he won’t be beating down the door to take away a starting spot from those two experienced, strong starters, he did appear to gain the inside track to be the first cornerback off the bench this fall.

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“He’s been doing a good job,” Luke said. “He’s come a long way as far as understanding the game, understanding the playbook. He’s developed a lot and it’s good to see.”

While Watkins was burned on a 68-yard touchdown by Will Fuller in the Blue-Gold Game, he made steady strides over the 15 practices allotted to Notre Dame during March and April.

“(He’s) had a good spring, I think he's developed,” Kelly said. “He needs to continue to grow there. But I would leave here saying it was a really good spring for Nick. He's got a ways to go, but it was a good spring for him."

Watkins, who roomed with Russell during fall camp last year, said he gained plenty of belief in his abilities this spring. With Russell not back on campus until the summer and Cody Riggs’ eligibility expired, Watkins and junior-to-be Devin Butler split the first-team cornerback reps opposite Luke.

 

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“I feel way more confident out on the field,” Watkins said. “I feel that I can cover every one of our guys.”

The Dallas native also switched his number to 21 this spring. He initially said there wasn’t a reason behind it, but has since found one in a former Notre Dame and NFL standout and fellow Texas native.

“Bobby Taylor wore No. 21,” Watkins smiled.