Notre Dame football: Kelly puts more moves on hold
Moving Slaughter to corner Tuesday in the wake of projected starting corner Lo Wood's season-ending injury a day earlier, would have been the path of least resistance.
Instead Kelly will keep his most-versatile defender in a spot where he can be a strength instead of using the fifth-year senior as a tourniquet at what was already the team's most suspect position group.
"That's really off the table right now," Kelly, ND's third-year head football coach, vowed Tuesday, "unless we are devastated with some more injuries. I don't expect that to occur."
He certainly didn't see Wood's coming.
The 5-foot-10, 192-pound junior suffered a ruptured Achilles tendon in Monday's practice in a non-contact situation. Recovery time is expected to be four to six months.
"He's backpedaling, and he turns and runs, and feels a pop," Kelly said.
The Apopka, Fla., product will undergo surgery Wednesday. Kelly will have to wait a bit longer than that to identify who will rise to the top of the depth chart at the vacated field cornerback spot.
First-year starter Bennett Jackson distinguished himself as ND's best cornerback option in the spring. Wood reinforced himself as a question mark, but surged in the summer and first two weeks of training camp to separate himself.
His loss, thus, becomes a hit to the quality at that position as well as the quantity. Four and a half scholarship cornerbacks remain -- sophomores Jalen Brown (6-1, 199) and Josh Atkinson (5-11, 185), freshmen Elijah Shumate (6-0, 198) and KeiVarae Russell (5-11, 182), and Cam McDaniel (5-10, 195), a sophomore running back-turned corner who now trains at both positions and is not a candidate to start.
Of those, only Atkinson has played cornerback in a college game and never in a meaningful situation. Up until two weeks ago, Russell was a running back and Shumate a safety.
"There's one thing that scares me the most, and that's when you have slow corners," Kelly said. "We don't have any slow corners. All those kids can run. Now it's about honing their skills."
Especially their mental skills, says former Irish cornerback R.J. Blanton, now a rookie safety with the Minnesota Vikings.
"It's definitely more mental than physical for a freshman cornerback," said Blanton, who played in 12 games for the Irish as a true freshman in 2008, started the last four games of that season and made 33 tackles with two interceptions as a college neophyte.
"So from that standpoint, it's as difficult as you make it. Being a defensive back, you definitely have to have a lot of self-confidence and just understanding that in life and in the game of football people are going to make some plays.
"But you can't beat yourself up about it. And that comes with experience and confidence that when a bad play happens, you can brush it off and make more good plays than bad plays."
Blanton said the ND coaches can protect the young corners, while they're incubating, with scheme.
"They've got a great defensive staff," he said. "I'm sure they're going to put some great defenses in to make sure those guys aren't exposed out on an island."
Navy's triple-option offense presents a different set of challenges for Wood's eventual replacement, and it's possible the best answer for the Sept. 1 season opener against the Mids is not the long-term solution against more conventional offenses.