Next Freshmen In?

Wood had surged with a strong August camp

News of junior cornerback Lo Wood's season-ending injury puts Notre Dame's secondary in a state of flux.

Notre Dame's football season starts in 11 days and, at present, the following mix is available at cornerback for defensive coordinator Bob Diaco:

Boundary Cornerback: Junior Bennett Jackson (0 starts), Redshirt-freshmen Jalen Brown (0 games played), sophomore Josh Atkinson (7 games played, less than 10 snaps as a cornerback), sophomore Cam McDaniel (0 snaps at cornerback, converted from RB in the off-season). McDaniel was back working with running backs last week.

Field Cornerback: True freshman Keivarae Russell (predominately a running back in high school, along with some safety experience), true freshman Elijah Shumate (a safety/linebacker in high school).

And that's it.

Junior Lo Wood suffered a torn Achilles tendon yesterday in practice. Though Wood had yet to start a college game, he had reportedly made great strides during August camp, receiving the following plaudits from his head coach, coordinator, and position coach:

Brian Kelly on Wood: "If you ask me after the first five days, the guy that's really impressed the staff the most it's been Lo Wood. He's 192 pounds up from 178 (as a freshman). Breaking on the ball, tackling, communicating…"

Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco on Wood: "He just never really had his dauber down. He just continues to work. You know how some people have a blind spot, and you say to yourself, 'How come he doesn't get how far off he is?' Maybe even in your own work. 'How does this person not know that what they're doing is (off)?' Where (Wood) has such a clear picture of his liabilities and his assets, and there's no big gap there, its just really helped him become a better player every day.

"Its been a great asset to him, his ability to be honest to himself and be dedicated to the truth and not lie to himself. It's a hard thing to do."

Cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks on Wood: "Its unbelievable, and I don't want to jinx him. Whatever he did this summer, besides getting bigger, stronger, faster from that standpoint, he's playing with that edge. And you really can't coach it. He's coming with an edge, playing with confidence, you can't tell him he's not as good as whoever steps on the field. As long as he keeps that up, he's being very competitive but also showing the young guys what it takes to be a really, really good solid corner."

Wood noted less than 10 days ago that improving on his admitted weakness (playing the ball), while accentuating his strength (Cover 2 technique) was part of his off-season focus, and that remaining at field cornerback throughout the spring was a huge advantage in terms of understanding the defense and his personal improvement.

Said Diaco last spring of the noting of flip-flopping cornerbacks in his defense: "We don't really like to do that. If we can avoid that, we will. If we can avoid flopping them back and forth we'd rather not. Especially with young players."

Now it can't be avoided.

Who's Next?

Wood's field backups are both true freshmen: one a running back in high school last year, the other a safety. The former running back Russell impressed his coaches early, enough that two corners in the program since last August were put on alert by their position coach.

"Keivarae Russell does not look out of place. He does not look like a freshmen there," said Cooks last week. "He's going to be a guy that's going to contribute, I don't know how much or where, but if he doesn't contribute somewhere this season on the back end, it would be (unfortunate). I'm not going to let that happen.

"He's playing so well as a freshman, I told Josh (Atkinson) and Jalen (Brown), 'You've been here two years, Keivarae has been here two months. His knowledge and understanding for the game, he's one of those guys that's really savvy, really smart, and he's got really good athletic ability to go along with that. He's going to be a special player as long as he continues to develop."

Of Brown and Atkinson, Cooks added, "These guys aren't young anymore, Jalen and Josh, we don't consider them young. They've been in our system long enough to be able what we're asking them to get done. Now we need to see it on the field."

Cooks noted that reliability is more important than flashes of brilliance in his backup options.

"The biggest trust factor for us is consistency. We put someone on the field and we know he's not going to give up that big play. Because anywhere you play on that back end, if you don't get the call or line up the long way or your one step off or you're late opening up your hips, then you're giving up a big play," he offered. "We want to see a guy that has some consistency, that will play with some confidence, and a guy that will be a playmaker back there for us."

A conversation with Diaco last spring offered a portent as the Irish prepare for the bullets to go live on September 1.

"At the end of the day we're not going to know what they're going to do until they get in the game and do it. We can try really hard to simulate live action, but until (it's live) its not the same. The swirl of the game day at Notre Dame and what that all means. People coming, people going, distractions, a different opponent and what kind of threat that poses. Then actually getting to the Stadium and pre-game in the Stadium and how that impacts different players. Weather elements.

"Until we see action in all those different elements with all those different variables, to say that a player is accountable and we have accountability to set the depth chart despite all the different variables, its just not going to happen at corner."

Unless 5th-year senior safety Jamoris Slaughter moves to field cornerback, Notre Dame will start a true freshmen, redshirt-freshmen, or sophomore with less than 10 scrimmage snaps at field cornerback this fall. If Slaughter moves, a similar fate awaits his vacated safety spot.

Regardless, Brian Kelly's "Next Man In" motto will receive an early, stern test in 2012.

Irish Defensive Backfield Breakdown

The following is a list of all Irish cornerbacks and safeties during August camp as well as a potential position switch to augment the cornerback spot:

5th-year safety Jamoris Slaughter: A main candidate to move to the field corner spot

Senior safety Zeke Motta: 38 games played/16 starts, not a candidate to move to corner

Junior cornerback Bennett Jackson: Set as the boundary starter

Sophomore Josh Atkinson: Played seven games last season, primarily on special teams. Appeared from scrimmage at CB vs. Navy. Worked at field cornerback early in the spring but was moved to the boundary for the off-season and August camp.

5th-year senior safety Dan McCarthy: No career starts and limited scrimmage action since 2009 but ample special teams experience

Senior safety Chris Salvi: Former walk-on is a key member of the Irish special teams. Salvi has been in the program for the duration of the Kelly era.

Redshirt-freshman Jalen Brown: Moved to the boundary during spring ball and has remained since.

Sophomore Cam McDaniel: Worked at running back last year and was converted to cornerback in the off-season. Kelly noted he was cross-training at both RB and CB midway through August camp.

Redshirt-freshman safety Matthias Farley: A candidate to start at safety if Slaughter moves to corner

True freshman Keivarae Russell: Converted from running back in the days prior to camp

Freshman cornerback Elijah Shumate: Safety recruit moved to cornerback during camp.

Freshman safety Nick Baratti: Appeared to move into a No. 2 role midway through August camp.

Freshman safety John Turner: Impressed early in camp, is likely a No. 3 safety at present.

Redshirt-freshman safety Eilar Hardy: Missed last season after tearing his ACL in August. Appeared slated for special teams duty as of our last practice viewing.

Freshman outside linebacker C.J. Prosise: Moved from safety to Dog linebacker in August.

Freshman safety Chris Badger: Returned to the program after a two-year religious mission to Ecuador. Badger appeared in Kelly's 2010 spring session before his departure.

Freshman wide receiver Davonte' Neal: Set to contribute as a slot receiver but Neal was Scout.com's No. 5 ranked cornerback in the 2012 class. His size (5'9" 171 pounds) belies his reputation as an aggressive tackler/hitter on the corner.

IrishEyes.com Recommended Stories


Up Next


Tweets