Where's Darrin Walls? That was the question in 2006 when he disappeared from the lineup after logging considerable time early in the season.
Look for him in the starting lineup Saturday when the Irish open the 2007 season against Georgia Tech.
After participating in the season-opener against Georgia Tech game last year—helping limit All-America wideout Calvin Johnson to just two receptions for 16 yards in the second half—Walls' playing time diminished, and eventually disappeared altogether.
The reason was his thin frame and inability to stay up with the physicality of the game. Walls had just four tackles in 61:16 playing time.
"That's where he has really stepped up, the fact that he has become much more physical than we ever saw him play last year," said Irish head coach Charlie Weis.
"To be honest with you, it kind of surprised me a bit to see him come back and play with such a physical nature at the line of scrimmage. That's one of the things last year, like a lot of freshman DBs, where he was a little behind. But he's certainly not that way right now."
Walls will replace fifth-year senior Ambrose Wooden in the starting lineup. Wooden was a 12-game starter as a junior in '05 and the starting cornerback when the '06 season began. A knee injury sidelined him for three games early in '06, and Terrail Lambert's emergence eventually prevented Wooden from returning to the starting lineup the balance of the season.
Wooden returned to his No. 1 spot in the spring and remained there when fall camp opened. But Walls' strong pre-season camp placed him atop the depth chart for Georgia Tech.
"It really isn't Ambrose playing poorly; it's Darrin playing so well," Weis said. "Sometimes there's a change in the depth chart because the guy who is there is playing poorly, but that wasn't the case.
"Darrin has played so well that we thought that starting the game and having him on the bench was not the way we wanted to go. He's just been excellent the whole training camp."
Wooden figures to be the leading candidate to play Notre Dame's nickel back. When the Irish use more than four defensive backs, other candidates to fill those roles include juniors Ray Herring and Kyle McCarthy, and sophomores Raeshon McNeil and Munir Prince.