Notre Dame CB Kinlaw dismissed; Schmidt impresses
The most immediate and impactful byproduct of cornerback Rashad Kinlaw’s sudden exit from the Notre Dame football roster Friday may not be his prowess at the position, but rather at quarterback.
While redshirting during the 2013 season, the former two-way player at Absegami High School in Galloway, N.J., was often Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s choice to play scout-team quarterback in practice to help prep ND’s No. 1 defense for its upcoming opponents.
The second-semester freshman will do neither moving forward, though, after Kelly dismissed the 5-foot-11, 191-pounder from the football team. Kelly made the announcement Friday morning after practice, ND’s 11th of 15 this spring.
“From my perspective, from a football standpoint, he didn’t live up to the rules within our football program,” Kelly said.
Notre Dame assistant vice president and university spokesman Dennis Brown indicated that Kinlaw is still enrolled at ND. The presumption is that he’ll eventually transfer.
After going through its run to the national title game in 2012 with a severe shortage of experience and sheer numbers at the cornerback position, Kelly finds himself with a wealth of talent and depth there this spring.
Junior-to-be KeiVarae Russell, in line to start for a third straight season, has had one of the most impressive springs of any Irish player at any position. There’s a strong chance impending Florida transfer Cody Riggs will win the other cornerback starting job in August. He arrives in June.
Sophomores-to-be Cole Luke and Devin Butler, the latter held out of contact this spring because of shoulder surgery, figure to be heavy into the mix for playing time, especially with ND’s plans to play more corners in its sub packages.
Former starting safety Matthias Farley was moved to cornerback this spring and has been filling a niche role as a nickelback. Incoming freshman Nick Watkins is a player whom Kelly views as college-ready at the position. Seniors-to-be Jalen Brown and Josh Atkinson fill out the remaining cornerback contingent.
Kinlaw’s learning curve was steepened by missing significant time in high school with injuries. Half of his junior season in 2011 at Absegami was wiped out by a broken leg. He rebroke the leg in the summer of 2012 and did not play until October of that year.
His departure from Irish squad, the first from a 24-man recruiting class ranked third nationally in 2013, leaves ND at 83 scholarship players, two short of the NCAA limit.
Precisely one week after undergoing a second surgery to facilitate healing for his broken right leg, Jarrett Grace strode onto the practice field Friday morning with not much more of a limp than pre-surgery, and carrying — more than leaning on — the single crutch under his left arm.
He’s still five weeks away from an official re-examination and prognosis that will let the senior-to-be know whether he’ll be medically cleared to re-enter the pool of candidates battling to be the starting middle linebacker when ND opens the season Aug. 30 against Rice. But Grace’s mobility this close to the date of surgery buoyed Kelly’s hopes that will be the case.
“Really, really pleased. Early indications are very positive,” Kelly said. “We’re cautiously optimistic where he is. He feels great. He’s in a good frame of mind.”
Grace’s 2013 season was truncated Oct. 5 against Arizona State, his sixth game of the season and third consecutive start at middle linebacker. The 6-3, 253-pounder broke his leg in four places in that 37-34 victory in Arlington, Texas, and underwent surgery shortly thereafter.
During the second surgery, on March 28, a rod was inserted to provide stability.
“He was kidding. He said it was (a) rusty bar that they put in there and, ‘I’m going to be the toughest middle linebacker in America,’ ” Kelly related. “So he’s just got a good, positive attitude about it, and there’s not a better kid that you would want to root for in terms of coming back from the kind of injury that he had than Jarrett Grace.”
In the interim, former walk-on Joe Schmidt has put some separation between himself and the rest of the pack, though the pack gets bigger and more challenging in June, when incoming freshmen Nyles Morgan, Nile Sykes and Greer Martini arrive.
“I think he’s earned the right to be on the field right now, because of his football IQ,” Kelly said of Schmidt, a 6-0, 230-pound senior-to-be from national prep power Santa Ana (Calif.) Mater Dei. “Defensively, you have to see things and then react to them, and Joe can see it and react.
“Some guys can’t see it, and then it makes it hard for them to react. So if you’re a guy that can’t see what’s happening, you can’t use your athletic ability effectively. Joe makes up for that in that he can see it and react. All of a sudden, he takes a 4.8 (40-yard dash) and turns it into a 4.6. His ability to see things and react changes what some would perceive as physical limitations and turns them into pluses.”
Turning over a new leaf?
Notre Dame’s standing as the FBS team least likely to lose a fumble — a distinction it shared with five other schools — was offset by the anemic number of turnovers the Irish defense created.
The Irish ranked 118th out of 123 nationally in fumbles recovered (6) and 103rd in turnovers gained (17). New defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder’s scheme is built to address that deficiency with a more attacking philosophy.
“I think that’s too simple of a term - — creating turnovers,” Kelly said. “I think what coach VanGorder and I want to kind of create there is we want to create more pressure for the quarterback. We went them under more duress.
“And so from that standpoint, maybe the net gain there is turnovers. But I think if they’re making bad decisions and throwing the ball away, we’re gaining downs in that respect, too. I think that’s been a process for us. We’re moving in a new direction for our defensive personnel. And they’re making progress in that regard, but it will take us some more time.”
Part of the more-aggressive strategy involves cross-training some defensive players at multiple positions, in part to give the Irish defense the luxury of disguising its fronts and pressures. For example, on Friday strong safeties Austin Collinsworth, James Onwualu and Elijah Shumate all spent some time working with the linebackers.
“You would like to be able to have your personnel do multiple jobs,” Kelly said. “If you can do that, you’ve put yourself in a very good position. Now you’ve got the pen (last word) last on defense.”
Notre Dame will likely get an early look at Florida State starting quarterback and reigning Heisman Trophy winner Jameis Winston this weekend. …
But in a baseball uniform.
The Irish baseball team (10-17 overall, 1-11 ACC) traveled to Tallahassee, Fla., and began a three-game series with top-ranked Florida State (23-5, 9-2) on Friday. Winston is the team’s closer and sports a 0.64 ERA with four saves covering 14 innings.
He also plays in the outfield occasionally, but has struggled at the plate with a .182 average with no home runs and three RBIs in 22 at-bats. That’s still better than what opposing hitters collectively hit against him as a pitcher (.140).
The 6-foot-3, 230-pound Winston is also participating in Florida State’s ongoing spring football practices and was expected to miss only one of the 15 sessions due to his baseball commitment.
“He hasn’t played up to his capability. He’s missed some throws,” Florida State head football coach Jimbo Fisher told ESPN.com. “That’s part of it — you have to grind through it. Not everything is a utopia.”
ND’s own two sport star — basketball forward/right-handed pitcher Pat Connaughton (0-1) — is scheduled to start the series finale on Sunday.
The Irish football team visits Tallahassee Oct. 18 for a game against the defending national champs. If FSU happens to be No. 1 that week, Notre Dame will have a shot at notching its ninth win all-time against an AP top-ranked team. Its current total of eight leads all of college football.
•Berrien Springs High senior Johnny Williams, who joins the Irish roster in June as a defensive end, took in Friday’s practice.
•Kelly said he is increasing the drills that key recovering players — nose guard Tony Springmann, cornerback Devin Butler and center Nick Martin can do — though none of them have been cleared yet for full contact.
•The Irish spent a good portion of both Wednesday’s and Friday’s practices working on red-zone offense. ND ranked 77th nationally in that statistical category in 2013.