To understand Corey Robinson, consider his St. Patrick’s Day celebration.
The night before Notre Dame’s first spring practice, the program’s ambassador of a receiver broke from homework to research cinema’s top Irish films. He settled on “Once,” a seven-year old Oscar winning musical.
There were no nerves about returning to work under a reshaped coaching staff. No stress about how Notre Dame could balance a quarterback competition and College Football Playoff expectations. Zero anxiety about bouncing back from the least productive game of his season, a shutout by LSU.
Full speed ahead, even in some unconventional directions.
“You can see how energetic everybody is about getting better,” Robinson said. “Everyone is already very comfortable around each other. The communication is very clear.”
The articulated expectations for Robinson are more ambiguous coming off a productive sophomore season of 40 catches for 539 yards and five touchdowns. It was good. It had moments of great for the 6-foot-5, 215-pound athlete.
That game-breaking and almost game-winning performance at Florida State represented a high point but not a sustainable level. After putting up those eight catches for 99 yards and two scores in Tallahassee, Robinson closed with 13 catches and one touchdown in Notre Dame’s final six games combined.
A drop at Arizona State turned into a pick-six. A drop against LSU was fresh enough for head coach Brian Kelly that he referenced it in detailing where Robinson needs to go.
“We were worried about his learning curve early, he’s really picked that up extremely well,” Kelly said. “Now it’s making those non-conforming catches, the ones he’s gotta reach, the ones he’s gotta elevate, twist and turn. Those are the ones that we’re looking for.”
There’s no doubt Robinson has the skills to make those grabs after he’s flashed an acrobatic skill set the past two years. With Will Fuller returning after his 1,000-yard sophomore season, the Irish don’t need Robinson to be a true No. 1. He simply needs to naturally build on his sophomore season.
To do that Robinson will tidy his schedule of student government, academics, advisory councils and ubiquitous campus appearances. Of course there’s football too. Even after the first spring practice, Robinson talked about hitting a softball game and checking out Torii Hunter Jr. playing baseball.
“Definitely for the fall I’ve cut down a lot of extra curricular activities,” Robinson said. “The student athlete advisory council … doing policy with the NCAA, I really want to be involved in that. I can’t give that up.”
While Robinson can intelligently speak on virtually any topic, he didn’t want to touch Everett Golson vs. Malik Zaire or what it will take for Justin Brent to get on Kelly’s good side. As for his own game, the sophomore was philosophical about his growth.
“I think it’s a mental shift from surviving, because when you’re a freshman, all you do is survive,” Robinson said. “Now it’s thriving. Now it’s saying, ‘How can I become the best receiver possible? How can I put myself from 40 catches to 60, 70, 80 catches?’ Even with the 40 catches, how I can I go from 500 yards to 1,000? How I can I make that next step and be more efficient.”
Robinson was an early enrollee two years ago and tackled the W position in Kelly’s offense, which means the outside receiver who often gets one-on-one match-ups. It’s where Michael Floyd starred.
Robinson added the Z (slot) and X (outside) to his game in the past year. Now Robinson believes he understands concepts over routes, grasping game plans instead of just play calls.
“Once you do that, it doesn’t matter if it’s a certain coverage that doesn’t lend itself to that play because then you know how to adjust because I know what the overall scheme of this play is,” Robinson said. “It doesn’t matter what the rankings are or how good the opponent is, I know I can make that play because I already have in the past.
“Once you get that experience down, it makes you a lot more comfortable.”