NOTRE DAME — It’s been a rough year for the Notre Dame secondary, and the season hasn’t even started yet.
First, cornerback Ronald Darby backed out of a verbal commitment with the Irish and signed with Florida State.
Then four-star cornerback signee Tee Shepard left the university in March.
Then safety Austin Collinsworth injured his shoulder in the off-season, keeping him sidelined until late October.
Now cornerback Lo Wood is out for the season with an Achilles injury.
According to head coach Brian Kelly, Wood was backpedaling at practice on Monday when he turned, ran and “felt a pop.” He will undergo surgery today.
After spending the 2011 season behind Gary Gray and Robert Blanton, Wood was poised for a break-out year as a starter.
Now he’s out for four to six months but is expected to return in time for spring ball.
“I feel terrible for him,” Kelly said of Wood at a Tuesday press conference. “He is 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 corners that we have as well.”
One of those corners is Bennett Jackson, who was set to start alongside Wood. Kelly said Jackson is flipping from boundary corner to field corner, at least until the new starter gets comfortable in his role.
The others — sophomores Josh Atkinson, Jalen Brown and freshman KeiVarae Russell — will compete for Wood’s vacated spot.
Freshman Elijah Shumate, listed on the roster as a safety, and sophomore Cam McDaniel, who switched from running back to cornerback in the off-season but has since been working with both the offense and defense, are also expected to be thrown into the mix.
“Josh and Jalen have improved dramatically through just having the ability to be coached and have taken to it very well,” Kelly said. “Their technique is much better.”
One thing Kelly isn’t worried about is the athleticism of his corners. Atkinson, for example, clocks a 4.47-second 40 and qualified for the Big East 200-meter finals in track.
“One thing that scares me the most is when you have slow corners. We don’t have any slow corners,” Kelly said. “All those kids can run. Jalen can run. Josh can run. Elijah — all these guys have athletic ability to play the position. Now it’s about honing their skills.
“Now it’s a matter of how quickly they can pick up the technique and discipline, which is so important in playing that position,” he continued. “At the end of the day, what we’re talking about is very talented players at that position that just need the experience and just need an opportunity,”
Kelly said he has an idea of who will fill in for Wood, but he remained mum when pressed to announce a name.
“We know we’ve got four corners outside of Bennett that are going to 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.
“KeiVarae has been getting a lot of the two reps, as has Jalen and Josh, who have split the reps,” Kelly said. “All of them know that they’re right there so I don’t think it will be a surprise one way or another.”