SOUTH BEND — Assessing whether Notre Dame’s wide receiver corps can make a development leap this offseason commensurate with its perceived wealth of talent will be a bit of a blur.
That is until senior-to-be Kevin Austin Jr. photobombs himself into the picture once his twice surgically repaired left foot is back to 100 percent, sometime after spring football practice ends on May 1 with the Blue-Gold Game.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s progress report Saturday, after spring session No. 4 of 15, included a pre-emptive tidbit on former five-star prospect Jordan Johnson, who is still looking for both his first collegiate catch and significant stretch of playing time heading into his sophomore season.
"I know you guys love Jordan Johnson, and he’s doing a nice job,” Kelly said. “I think what I’m most impressed with Jordan is what he’s doing in the classroom right now. He’s really turned the corner there. And you can start to see that confidence showing itself on the football field, too.”
Grad senior Avery Davis, Notre Dame’s lone returning starter among the three wide receiver spots, continues his ascent that follows a breakthrough season in 2020.
The other two wide receivers who have caught Kelly’s eye are coming off enigmatic showings last season, in part due to injuries — seniors Braden Lenzy (7 catches, 63 yards, 1 TD) and Lawrence Keys III (5 catches, 51 yards).
“I think what we’ve been looking for is consistency in performance,” Kelly said. “Now this is only practice 4, so I’m going to put an asterisk next to them, but Lenzy and Keys have has been really good.
“Now, they have to be consistent, because that has been the area that they haven’t been for us. They haven’t been consistent. But they made a commitment in the weight room that is different from what we’ve seen in the past.
“These guys have been outstanding in the weight room, and you can see it in the way they’re translating that onto the field. They’re explosive. They’re running outs. They’re breaking tackles. You can see in the way they’re practicing and playing.”
Two days after Indiana lowered the eligibility age for a COVID-19 vaccination to 16 years old, Kelly and team physician Dr. Matt Leiszler on Friday met with the Irish players to talk vaccination strategy and answer questions about the process.
“It is not mandatory,” said Kelly, who revealed he’s already had both of his two shots. “But we did outline the advantages.
“One of the big ones, obviously, would be they could go home and not have to quarantine coming back. Others that are certainly on the horizon, that had not been fully established yet, (are) smaller groups, no masks. A chance that we could potentially eat together in a sit-down meal, which they haven’t done since December of '19.”
Players interested in getting vaccinated can do so between April 10-15, and then get their second shot of the Pfizer vaccine three weeks later.
Snippets of experimentation
In the absence of being able to attend practices in person because of COVID-19 protocols, some media have been tempted to draw broad conclusions — or at least construct depth charts — from the 180 seconds of video footage the athletic department makes available after each spring practice session.
The problem, Kelly warned, is that the Irish are working extensively on position flexibility at this point in spring practice, so the positions and order that players show up at during the clips may not have much to do with how they’d line up in an actual game.
The offensive line, safeties and cornerbacks are three position groups that are cross-training extensively, per Kelly.
A Jacksonville, Fla., TV station has obtained the autopsy report following the February death of former Notre Dame standout nose guard Louis Nix III.
The official cause of death, per the station, was listed as accidental drowning for the 29-year-old Jacksonville native. Nix’s body was found February 27 after police pulled his submerged vehicle from a pond near Nix’s apartment.
Action News Jax obtained a toxicology report that revealed Nix’s blood alcohol content was over twice the legal limit, at .192. The medical examiner reportedly also found small amounts of THC in his system.
Nix’s death came a little less than three months after he survived being shot in the chest during a Dec. 8 bungled armed robbery attempt at a Jacksonville gas station. He spent 11 days in the hospital, suffering a fractured sternum with the bullet still lodged in his left lung after doctors deemed it too risky to remove.
Making the cut
Notre Dame’s recruiting momentum continues with the Irish making the cutdown to a final six schools for Lexington, Miss., standout cornerback Khamauri Rogers.
Miami, Texas A&M, Tennessee, Ole Miss and Mississippi State are also still in the running.
The 6-foot-1, 168-pound junior is ranked as the No. 47 prospect nationally regardless of position by Rivals.com and as the No. 6 cornerback. He’s listed as No. 117 overall and the No. 13 corner by 247Sports.