SOUTH BEND – The three quarterbacks at Purdue, not to mention Michigan's Denard Robinson, Oklahoma quarterback Landry Jones and USC's Heisman Trophy-favorite Matt Barkley, received an early gift postmarked “South Bend” on Monday. A weak Notre Dame defensive secondary became even more fragile, as multiple media outlets reported that junior cornerback Lo Wood would miss the 2012 season after suffering an Achilles tendon injury in practice.
Notre Dame did not release any information relating to the injury Monday, and Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly is scheduled to meet with the media today.
Wood and classmate Bennett Jackson are the lone holdovers at the two cornerback spots from 2011, and both Kelly and senior safety Zeke Motta recently praised the group overall for their progress through training camp this month.
“There is definitely a high level of competition right now,” Motta said. “We've got some good players out there.”
The group of “good players” without Wood consists of a lot of young players. And the group isn't just young as in having little experience at the college level: When it comes to actual game experience, the group has zero experience.
In the mix to replace Wood will be true freshmen KeiVarae Russell and Elijah Shumate, but probably the odds-on favorite will be sophomore Jalen Brown, who was only on the scout team as a freshman. But despite that lack of time on the field, Kelly likes the potential that both Russell and Brown have shown.
“They are getting better,” Kelly said. “They are playing the ball, they are assignment-correct, they are graded every day after practice and they are grading out higher.”
Brown developed through last season after having to cover All-American wide receiver Michael Floyd each day in practice.
“We're getting Jalen a lot more reps,” Kelly said. “These guys have to mature and develop, and they are getting the opportunity to.”
The 6-foot-1 Brown brings size to the position, while Russell brings athleticism. Kelly called the freshman “extremely gifted” recently.
The Irish secondary won't lack bodies, just experience. Sophomore Josh Atkinson will also get time in practice at the spot, as will sophomore Cam McDaniel, who has been splitting reps between the offense (running back) and defense (cornerback) lately. That could change in light of Wood's injury.
“He's cross-training,” Kelly said of McDaniel. “He's still taking some reps on defense. Cam is kind of our one player that we feel like could fit in on either side of the ball in a pinch.”
Motta said the coaches have been actively working to get the young players adapted to the speed of the game in training camp, so there have been lots of opportunities for teaching moments. But he said the biggest factor in success is just knowing what and how to perform on each play in the proper manner.
“It's just a matter of coming out each day and being consistent,” Motta said. “I think they have approached it with that attitude.”