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Football: Secondary concerns

Andrew Owens | Tuesday, August 21, 2012

In just one play, Notre Dame’s dire cornerback situation went from bad to worse, as junior cornerback Lo Wood – the only returning player with even minimal experience at the position – will miss the entire 2012 season after suffering a ruptured Achilles tendon at practice Monday.

“I feel terrible for him,” Irish coach Brian Kelly said at Tuesday’s press conference. “He’s a young man that we all wanted to see get this opportunity that he has worked so hard for.

“I feel really good about the other five corners that we have as well. We have five scholarship corners that we believe can play the kind of football necessary for us to be successful. We’ll move forward at that position. I think we have enough depth there to play very good football.”

Kelly said he does not expect to move any players from another position – including graduate student safety Jamoris Slaughter – to cornerback despite the loss of Wood, who recorded 10 tackles and a 57-yard interception return for a touchdown in 21 games of play.

The stable of remaining cornerbacks includes junior Bennett Jackson, sophomores Josh Atkinson and Jalen Brown and freshmen KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate, an athletic but untested group that will go up against Heisman Trophy-candidate quarterbacks Landry Jones (Oklahoma) and Matt Barkley (USC) this fall.

Kelly said Wood experienced the injury while backpedaling at practice. He felt a “pop” in the non-contact drill and will undergo surgery Wednesday, Kelly said.

Even with the lack of experience at the position, Kelly said he does not expect opponents to alter their gameplan against the Irish to take advantage of Notre Dame’s depth issues.

“From the very beginning of camp, we installed our nickel package,” he said. “We feel very comfortable with who that is and who is going to be playing that position. This has been about developing not just corners but safeties as well. I think we have a comfort level with the package that we know is going to be on third down and this doesn’t affect that third down package.”

Kelly said athleticism is not an issue for the group, but getting them game experience and developing their skills is his focus now.

“Josh and Jalen have improved dramatically, and they have taken to [being coached] very well,” he said. “[The] technique is much better. There is one thing that scares me the most and that’s when you have slow corners. We don’t have any slow corners. All those kids can run.

“Now, it’s a matter of how quickly they can pick up the technique and discipline which is so important in playing that position.”

No quarterback decision yet

Kelly also said junior Andrew Hendrix and sophomore Everett Golson continue to receive roughly the same amount of practice reps at quarterback, with less than two weeks remaining before the Irish open the season against Navy in Dublin.

“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 not there but we’re moving in the right direction.”

Junior quarterback Tommy Rees was suspended for the season opener, and freshman Gunner Kiel was ruled out of receiving the starting nod, leaving Golson and Hendrix as the options for the starting duties.

Kelly hesitant to travel

With an estimated 35,000 Americans headed to Dublin for the Sept. 1 game, many people are excited about the opportunity to see Notre Dame and Navy play abroad, though Kelly said he does not fall into that faction.

“I love everything about Ireland,” he said. “I’m not a big fan about playing football games in Ireland. I’d rather play them [at Notre Dame]. It’s going to be a great trip for our alums and all of those that follow us. It’s going to be great for Ireland and I’m pleased about that.

“As it relates to football, I would rather not travel six hours to go play. Having said that, Navy is going to have to do the same thing and we have to prepare the best we can for that situation.”