Notre Dame’s wide receiver unit is expected to number a full nine scholarship competitors when the team takes the field in August camp, a stark contrast to the quartet of healthy bodies that took the field today for head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish.
Foremost among the missing was sophomore slot receiver C.J. Sanders.
“The only one that’s going to be out for a prolonged period of time is going to be C.J. with the hip flexor strain,” said Kelly while also offering clarity on Corey Robinson (concussion) and Miles Boykin (broken finger).
“They’re still consulting whether it’s a surgical procedure to reattach (Sanders’ hip), similar to Torii Hunter (a August 2014 groin tear) if you guys remember that. We PRP’d (Platelet-Rich Plasma injection) we did not surgically repair in Hunter’s (case).
“It’s one of those (tears) if it’s three, four, five centimeters, as I’m told, that they’re trying to decide whether to surgically repair. We should get him back running full go in late July and should be able to get him rounded into shape in camp for August.”
Boykin had surgery to repair a spiral fracture of what appeared to be his right middle or index finger, both of which were braced. “He had surgery yesterday,” Kelly offered. “We should get him back when we get back for break. He actually practiced with the spiral fracture (post injury) and was fine but we wanted to get that fixed and stable.
“Corey Robinson, was having a good spring, came down awkwardly on a ball the other day, just want to be cautious with him,” said Kelly of Robinson’s concussion, the receivers’ second in less than four months and third in the last calendar year. “Should be fine. Should be able to get him back after the break.”
Asked if there was concern for Robinson’s football future in the wake of multiple concussions, Kelly offered, “We’ll be very careful with Corey. We don’t get to the point where we overreact or underreact. When it comes to any kind of head injury we want to be on top of it. I don’t know that there’s ever a feeling that somebody is going to be disqualified because they’ve had a second head injury.
“We’ll go through the protocol. I don’t think we’re overly concerned other than we’ll make sure we do all the little things the right way.”
Senior offensive guard Colin McGovern was likewise sidelined with a concussion while sophomore tight end Aliz’e Jones suffered an undisclosed (apparently minor) injury Wednesday morning.
SANDERS INJURY A THREE-WAY BLOW
Kelly offered today that the working plan this spring for Irish pass-catchers was to move senior Torii Hunter from full-time slot receiver to the perimeter. That’s yet to change in the wake of Sanders’ injury but new blood is nonetheless needed in the “Z” role.
Enter Notre Dame’s fastest football player.
“(Chris) Finke is in there and we moved Corey Holmes in there,” offered Kelly of the squad’s oft-referenced walk-on plus Holmes, the latter of which recently clocked at 4.39 in the 40-yard dash. “We wanted to see Corey Holmes get some more work so we moved him in there and he was exclusively in there today. We got him a lot of work.
“We want to keep (Kevin) Stepherson on the outside. It’s easier to manage the outside positions than the inside,” said Kelly in reference to the early enrollee who’s shown well this spring. “The inside has so much more read-routes, you have to work in and over coverage, and sit down. It requires a lot more savvy if you will.
“We want to utilize Hunter’s speed and his matchup ability on the perimeter so we’d like to keep him outside if we could. We’d like to keep EQ (Equanimeous St. Brown) and Hunter, and Stepherson as much as we can on the outside, if possible.”
Finke will also field punts in Sanders’ stead. After multiple 2015 training camp viewings open to the media, it appeared the then-freshman Finke was Notre Dame’s second choice behind Sanders for the role.
“Really pleased with his (spring) and what he’s doing. He’s got really good speed and certainly he would be the one that would get an opportunity to be there,” said Kelly of the walk-on from Archbishop Alter, High School (Kettering, Ohio). “We’re planning on getting C.J. back. He (Finke) was really good last camp, even as a true freshman in fielding punts in particular for us.
“The kickoff return game would be something where would look at Josh (Adams); we would probably look at a little bit of everybody.”
WHAT PECKING ORDER?
Absent from Wednesday’s practice was redshirt-freshman safety Mykelti Williams, and though it’s unclear why, Kelly offered the Warren Central High School (Indianapolis) product will not return.
“Mykelti is no longer with the football program. I can’t get into any more specifics other than that,” Kelly said.
The loss of Williams means Notre Dame has six scholarship safeties for the spring, two of which enrolled at the University in January.
One of them appears light years ahead of the curve.
“Devin Studstill is running with our first group right now,” said Kelly of the Palm Beach Gardens High School (Palm Beach, Fla.) product. “He’s been really good. We’ve been very pleased with what he’s been doing. Very happy with the way he’s picked up our defense. Excellent ball skills. Excellent retention. He’s been probably been the guy that’s done the most back there.”
Studstill’s slotting with the first unit is at free safety, the position formerly manned by Max Redfield, a 21-game starter over the last two seasons. Redfield was suspended for the Fiesta Bowl loss to Ohio State for a violation of team rules. The senior is reportedly battling an ankle injury at present.
“He’s just a natural player,” Kelly continued of Studstill. “It comes easy to him. Just flows easily to him. It’s not hard to him. He’s had no setbacks in terms of the learning curve. He had one mistake today, but it really comes easy to him.”
Kelly added that redshirt-freshman cornerback Shaun Crawford has been “outstanding” in a nickel role, noting the cornerback position as a whole remains an ongoing battle.