Notre Dame received a major blow on Monday when junior cornerback Lo Wood suffered an Achilles injury during practice, as reported by IrishIllustrated.com. He is expected to miss the 2012 season.
Wood was the presumptive starter at one of the cornerback positions opposite classmate Bennett Jackson.
Wood struggled at times in 2011 in a reserve role, most notably in the loss to University of Southern California. The highlight of his season came against the University of Maryland when he returned an interception for a touchdown. Wood also was a contributor on special teams.
The Apopka, Florida native was specifically named by head coach Brian Kelly as one of the more pleasant surprises during fall camp after an inconsistent spring. Jackson is considered the team's top cornerback, but Wood had fully established himself as a starter prior to Monday's injury.
The Irish will now likely have to turn to either sophomores Jalen Brown or Josh Atkinson, or freshman KeiVarae Russell to fill the void left by Wood. Only Atkinson has seen the field, registering a pair of tackles last season.
Brown was a member of the scout team last year, usually working with departed first-round NFL draft pick Michael Floyd. Russell was recruited as a running back but was moved to cornerback this summer because of the need and sufficient depth in the backfield. In hindsight, the decision by the Irish coaching staff to make the move with Russell appears well-calculated.
True freshman Elijah Shumate has seen some practice time at cornerback this fall, although he's a natural safety and is a near certainty to start at the position in 2013 with Jamoris Slaughter and Zeke Motta in their final year of eligibility. The Irish experimented with Slaughter at cornerback during spring practice, but ultimately deemed him to be too valuable of a strong safety and run defender.
Notre Dame signed four-star cornerback Tee Shepard in its 2012 class, but Shepard left school in March. Fellow four-star recruit Ronald Darby was committed to the Irish for almost a year before ultimately signing with Florida State University. Those recruiting misses are now even more magnified.
One positive for the Irish is that their season-opening opponent, the Navy Academy, rarely throws the ball, attempting just 135 passes in 12 games in 2011. This gives the coaching staff an additional week to find Wood's replacement before hosting Purdue University on Sept. 8.
Injuries happen at every level of football, but their impact can never be projected until they actually occur. To say Notre Dame is in dire straits at the cornerback position would not be overstating the situation.
While Wood was no certainty to blossom into a star, he was a third-year player who had been knocked down and shown he could get back up. Now, the Irish are left with a group of unknown commodities and facing a gauntlet of a schedule that is about to commence in less than two weeks.
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