We kick off our 83-part series with an alphabetical run through the Notre Dame football roster. It’s a long offseason. Why not learn something interesting about every player on the Irish roster.
Josh Atkinson came to Notre Dame with a secondary that was running out of bodies. With starters Robert Blanton entrenched along side Gary Gray, Atkinson joined a position group that had only Lo Wood as a backup, with both E.J. Banks and Spencer Boyd leaving the program early in the Kelly era. (Wood ended up tearing his achilles tendon in preseason camp, making the situation at cornerback even more dire.)
In Atkinson’s four years in the program, much has changed. After committing on the same day as his twin brother George, Atkinson played more as a freshman than he did as a junior, the product of a rebuilt depth chart and enhanced competition.
Now playing for the first time without his brother along side of him, let’s take a quick look at Josh Atkinson heading into his final season at Notre Dame.
5'11.5", 197 lbs.
While twin brother George was a Top 100 recruit, Josh had a three-star grade along with impressive (but not elite) offers. Atkinson committed to the Irish after watching them lose to Michigan in 2010, choosing Notre Dame over Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon, Washington and Washington State.
Still, Atkinson was far from a slouch as a recruit. He was selected for the USA team, where he played with Stephon Tuitt. His speed and size were givens. His athleticism was a bit of a concern, and the knock on Atkinson was that he was a track athlete still trying to figure out football.
Freshman Season (2011): Atkinson played in eight games as a true freshman, sitting out the season’s first four games and missing the bowl game. He notched a tackle against Navy and Wake Forest on defense. Made two other tackles on special teams.
Sophomore Season (2012): Played in all 13 games, mostly on special teams. The loss of Lo Wood forced Atkinson into a reserve cornerback role, playing behind starters KeiVarae Russell and Bennett Jackson. Atkinson made five tackles on the season, with three of them coming against Boston College. Off the field, he finished fourth at the Big EAST outdoor track meet with a 10.39 time in the 100m dash. He had top ten finishes at the Big East indoor meet in the 60m and the 200m.
Junior Season (2013): Played in five games, appearing against Temple and then not again until the season’s final four games. Spent time cross-training as a reserve wide receiver before making a tackle on special teams in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Both Atkinson and fellow senior cornerback Jalen Brown have been passed on the depth chart by younger cornerbacks. They’ll also have a hard time getting on the field with fifth-year transfer student Cody Riggs walking in and contributing.
There’s no question that Atkinson’s speed is his best asset. His 10.39 100 meter time puts him in elite territory for football players moonlighting on the track, joining Rocket Ismail and his brother in the sub-10.4 crowd. But that speed hasn’t necessarily translated to success on the football field and athletically Atkinson still struggles as a cornerback operating in open space.
It’s interesting to wonder if Atkinson would’ve been a starting caliber player on one of Charlie Weis’ mediocre defenses, or if he’d have played more if the depth chart wasn’t one of the more top-heavy positions on the roster. But quality veteran depth like Atkinson is a sign of program strength, not necessarily a knock on the player.
Atkinson finishes his eligibility this season after playing as a true freshman and will likely only see the field on special teams. With five cornerbacks in front of him even before Nick Watkins hits campus, finding a niche role will be important if Atkinson wants to contribute.
With Scott Booker’s coverage teams needing an infusion of speed, Atkinson could become a regular contributor there, though four seasons in you’d think that he’d have already solidified that coverage job if it was in his DNA.
On pace to graduate after the season, Atkinson will leave Notre Dame with a degree, something incredibly important to him. He hasn’t become the lockdown cornerback with elite speed many hoped, but he became a solid special teams contributor and served as a key backup early in his career when the cornerback depth chart was dangerously thin.