FORT WAYNE – Starting quarterback Tommy Rees’ sprained neck turned out to be the least of Notre Dame’s injury concerns this week.
Coach Brian Kelly told reporters Thursday that right guard Christian Lombard will miss the rest of the season after undergoing back surgery, and nose guard Louis Nix III will not travel with the Irish (5-2) to play Air Force (1-6) on Saturday after missing practice this week because of knee tendinitis.
Lombard, a 6-foot-5, 315-pound senior, shifted to guard after starting at right tackle last season. Kelly said Steve Elmer, a 6-5, 317-pound freshman, will start at right guard.
Lombard did not play as a freshman and has played in 33 games, making 20 starts. The Irish will now have two first-year starters on the right side of the line as Elmer joins sophomore right tackle Ronnie Stanley.
Elmer has played in five games this season.
(Lombard has) had a back issue, a disc, and that disc herniated in conditioning, and we had to go in (Wednesday) immediately and he had a discectomy, Kelly said. They took out about a 4-centimeter herniation of his disc, so he’ll be lost for the season.
Nix injured his shoulder in Saturday’s 14-10 victory over USC, but it is his knee that will keep the 6-2, 357-pound senior on the sideline this weekend.
Kelly said Tuesday the team would be careful with Nix during practice this week as the Irish prepare to face Air Force’s option-heavy offense, which relies on cut blocks.
He just wasn’t able to take any reps, and we’re running against an option team to throw him in there without really being able to engage in the way you need those guys to be engaged, said Kelly, who hopes to have Nix back when the Irish play host to Navy on Nov. 2. It doesn’t make any sense to play him.
Nix has 22 tackles with two tackles for loss and two pass breakups this season.
Kona Schwenke will replace Nix in the starting lineup. Schwenke, a 6-3, 303-pound senior, started three games at defensive end as Sheldon Day tried to return from a sprained ankle and has seven tackles this year.
On the positive side, Rees was able to practice all week after missing most of the second half against USC because of his neck injury.
Tommy Rees had a great week, Kelly said. He took all the first-team reps (Thursday) and looked really good.
Kelly also said backup defensive end Jarron Jones was in Rochester, N.Y., on Thursday because of a death in the family. Jones is expected to join the team in Colorado Springs, Colo., and will be available Saturday.
Safety Elijah Shumate, who didn’t play against USC because of a hamstring injury, will travel with the team to Air Force but will only play in an emergency, Kelly said.