Notre Dame cornerback Lo Wood will miss the season with an Achilles tendon injury, leaving a secondary already short on experience without one of its starters.
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Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly says Wood ruptured his Achilles while backpedaling and turning to run Monday in practice.
”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. But I feel really good about the other five corners we have as well. We’ve got five scholarship corners that we believe can play the kind of football necessary for us to be successful.”
The junior is scheduled for surgery on Wednesday and isn’t expected back until spring practice.
The Irish expect to be strong up front defensively, led by star linebacker Manti Te’o and defensive ends Kapron Lewis-Moore and Stephon Tuitt.
There was already uncertainty in the secondary, which lost Harrison Smith and Robert Blanton to the NFL.
Freshman KeiVarae Russell, a converted running back, had been practicing behind Wood. Sophomores Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown also split time at corner.
Bennett Jackson is penciled in as the other starting corner. Also vying to replace Wood will be freshman Elijah Shumate, who moved from safety this spring.
”We know that we’ve got four corners, outside of Bennett, that can compete, and we know all of them can play that position,” Kelly said. ”Now they’re on stage. They get an opportunity over the next 10 days to determine who that’s going to be.”
Kelly said Atkinson and Brown, neither of whom saw any playing time on defense last year, ”have improved dramatically.”
”There’s one thing that scares me the most and that’s when you have slow corners,” Kelly said. ”We don’t have any slow corners. All those kids can run. Jalen can run. Josh can run. Now it’s about honing their skills. They can certainly athletically do the job. Now it’s a matter of how quickly they can pick up the technique and discipline, which is so important in playing that position.”
Zeke Motta and Jamoris Slaughter are the projected starting safeties.
Kelly said losing Wood, who had largely played special teams last year as a sophomore, won’t cause any scheme changes in preparation for the Sept. 1 opener against Navy in Dublin, Ireland.
”Lo didn’t have a ton of experience either, where he was playing,” Kelly said. ”I don’t think we feel the learning curve is such that we have to make some changes relative to what they’ve been doing. We want to continue the consistency of teaching that we have established over the last two and a half weeks. We’ll see how this plays out over the next few days.”