The greatest unknown on Notre Dame's defense heading into the 2012 season has always been at cornerback, where the Irish have to replace a pair of experienced starters from their 2011 squad. Lo Wood, who coach Brian Kelly had praised for his performances during pre-season practice, was slated to be one of the guys who would take over for Gary Gray and Robert Blanton.
But Wood suffered a ruptured Achilles' tendon at Monday's practice, and Tuesday, Kelly confirmed the junior cornerback will miss the entire 2012 season. Wood will redshirt this season and is expected back or spring practice next year.
The immediate impact means Josh Atkinson will likely start alongside Bennett Jackson at corner. But the biggest blow comes in terms of cornerback depth, which will consist of four untested players.
Jalen Brown is the only true cornerback of the bunch, but he didn't play last season. True freshman Elijiah Shumate played safety in high school, while fellow first-year player KeiVarae Russell entered Notre Dame with the "athlete" designation, but mainly played running back in high school. The same goes for Cam McDaniel, who was a standout running back at Coppell High School in Texas and was converted to cornerback in the spring.
Kelly chose to look on the bright side during his press conference Tuesday, though, focusing on the athleticism of the bunch.
"We dont have any slow corners," Kelly, who also ruled out shifting safety Jamoris Slaughter to cornerback, said. "Its about honing their skills. You want somebody to rise to the top."
Notre Dame ranked No. 38 among FBS teams last season in passing defense, allowing 205.3 yards through the air per game. Slaughter is the only returning starter from that group.