The majority of what little experience Notre Dame had at the cornerback position this season vanished Monday afternoon when junior Lo Wood ruptured his Achilles tendon, head coach Brian Kelly confirmed Tuesday afternoon.
Junior cornerback Lo Wood will miss the 2012 season with a ruptured Achilles tendon.
Wood, slotted as one of two new starters in the defensive backfield, will miss the entire season as he goes through what is expected to be a 4-6 month rehabilitation. He was breaking out of his backpedal during a non-contact drill Monday when he felt a pop in his heel. The junior played roughly 150 snaps on defense last year, which was at least twice as many as his co-starter Bennett Jackson and the rest of the roster. He is schedule for surgery on Wednesday.
“I feel terrible for him,” Kelly said. “He’s a young man that we all wanted to see get this opportunity that he’s worked so hard for. He’s a great young man, and I just feel terrible for him. But I feel really good about the other five corners that we have.”
The Irish now have to plumb deeper into the depths of inexperience to find a replacement. Sophomore Josh Atkinson is the one healthy candidate with any game experience on defense other than Jackson. He and classmate Jalen Brown were situated behind Wood on the depth chart at the field cornerback spot, and both will get a long look at practice this week.
Kelly said he would also consider moving Jackson from the boundary, or short side, of the defense to the field side if needed. He said moving from boundary to field is a much simpler adjustment than going the other direction. If Jackson does flip sides that means freshman KeiVarae Russell would like take over the boundary position. Russell has impressed the entire coaching staff with his athleticism since converting from running back just days before the beginning of training camp.
“If there is one thing that scares me the most that’s when you have slow corners. We don’t have any slow corners,” Kelly said. "All those kids can run. … All these guys have the athletic ability to play the position. Now it’s about honing their skills.”
The last parachute in Notre Dame’s knapsack is fifth-year senior Jamoris Slaughter. The starting safety cross trained at cornerback this spring and at times during fall camp, but Kelly isn’t ready to break the glass yet on that emergency option.
“That’s really off the table right now unless we are devastated with some more injuries. I don’t expect that to occur. Jamoris is handling the safety position,” he said.
Kelly said he hopes one of his young options rises to the top in the next 10 days and separates from the pack before Notre Dame kicks off against Navy on Sept. 1. However, he said he feels confident that if they have to defend by committee on the back end to start the season they have enough talent to do so.
Starting against the Midshipmen gives Notre Dame the option to exchange the field and boundary positions more freely because of the lack of a poweful passing game in Navy’s triple option attack. Kelly said in the weeks that follow they will start to have a more definitive divide between the two roles.
In Other News
- The quarterback job remains a two-man race after the first couple of days of practice this week. Kelly said sophomore Everett Golson and Andrew Hendrix continued to split reps fairly equally in practice.
“We had some more things that we wanted to see,” Kelly said. “We saw some areas of improvement that we needed. So both of those guys received very similar reps the last couple of days. We’re still no there yet but we’re moving in the right direction.”
- The Irish were originally scheduled to practice early in the morning this week to start preparing for the 9 a.m. start time for their game against Navy in Dublin, but Kelly rearranged the itinerary to make sure his players stayed fresh during the first week of classes. He said the team is still planning to shift their internal clocks to morning football next week leading into the trip to Ireland.
- As fondly as Kelly might think of his ancestral homeland, he said Tuesday that he’d rather be playing football in South Bend than in Ireland if he had the choice.
“I’m not a big fan of playing football games in Ireland. I’d rather play them right here,” he said. “It’s going to be a great trip for our alums and all those that follow us. It’s going to be great for Ireland and we’re pleased about that, but as it relates to the game of football I’d rather not travel six hours to go play.”