Notebook: Notre Dame S Devin Studstill continues emergence

Eric Hansen
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — On a day when the Notre Dame roster was shaken by a transfer and a long-term injury, freshman Devin Studstill still managed on Wednesday to create the boldest depth-chart reverberations.

It was Irish head coach Brian Kelly’s hope that Studstill would provide depth, perhaps even a little push, this spring for two-year starter at free safety, Max Redfield. Instead, the early enrollee and three-star recruit (per Rivals) has overtaken the former five-star prospect and senior-to-be.

Redfield, admittedly, hasn’t been 100 percent through the first five practices of spring. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound Mission Viejo, Calif., product has been working through a minor ankle injury. But Studstill, one of five early-enrolled freshmen on the spring roster, didn’t get to the top of the depth chart by default.

His ability to not only metabolize coordinator Brian VanGorder’s NFL-style defense but to teach it, to communicate it to teammates at a high level, is what makes 6-0, 190-pound Studstill’s rise all the more sustainable in Kelly’s mind.

“It just flows easily to him,” Kelly said Wednesday after a morning practice outside at the LaBar Practice Complex. “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.”

Meanwhile, the player sitting at the bottom of the free safety depth chart, sophomore-to-be Mykelti Williams has left the team per Kelly, who said he couldn’t get into specifics.

The 5-11, 200-pounder from Indianapolis Warren Central High School is no longer enrolled at Notre Dame, per a Notre Dame spokesperson, and is expected to transfer. He redshirted as a freshman in 2015.

The Irish do get a reinforcement at free safety in June, when freshman Jalen Elliott arrives. The 6-1, 177-pounder from Chesterfield, Va., is also expected to make a splash when he arrives.

Despite his modest recruiting buildup, Studstill isn’t a surprise at all to the Irish coaching staff. He was a priority at safety on their recruiting board over many who had more stars affixed to their recruiting résumés and more elite colleges chasing them. The same is true of Elliott.

Studstill’s Power Five offers came from Illinois, Kentucky, Louisville, Miami, Michigan State, Pitt, Rutgers, Texas, West Virginia and Wisconsin. The Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., product hails from the same high school that produced sophomore linebacker Te’von Coney.

The key evaluative tool for the ND coaching staff was their invitation-only Irish Invasion camp last June, in which both players flourished.

“Excellent ball skills. Excellent retention,” Kelly said of Studstill. “He wouldn’t be out there working with the (first) group unless he has a natural ability to pick up what we’re sending him.”

It’ll be interesting to see how Redfield responds to the challenge. He is ND’s leading returning tackler (64), but missed the Fiesta Bowl, Jan. 1 in Glendale, Ariz., after being suspended and sent home for being late to team meetings.

The talent is there. The consistency has not been. This will certainly test Redfield’s resolve.

Sanders out

The first serious injury of the spring has put sophomore wide receiver/return man C.J. Sanders on the mend until late July, but Kelly said he expects the 5-8, 185-pounder to be at full speed when the Irish open fall camp in early August.

Sanders suffered a hip flexor strain, and is still being evaluated as to whether surgery is the best option. Fellow wide receiver Torii Hunter Jr., suffered a similar injury earlier in his career and did not have surgery.

Taking advantage of Sanders’ absence has been the walk-on already creating the most buzz this spring, sophomore Chris Finke.

He is a former high school teammate at Kettering (Ohio) Archbishop Alter of Irish quarterback Malik Zaire and cornerback Nick Coleman. The 5-10, 175-pounder will be the primary punt return option the rest of spring and got some work with the second unit at slot receiver on Wednesday.

Two other receivers sat out Wednesday’s practice — senior Corey Robinson with a concussion and sophomore Miles Boykin after having surgery on a fractured finger on Tuesday. Kelly said both are expected back next Wednesday, when the Irish resume with practice No. 6 after Easter Break.

Hunter moves outside

Trying to take better advantage of his speed a big-play potential, Hunter is getting a long look as an outside receiver after sharing time in the slot last season with Amir Carlisle.

He’ll play the field receiver position, which is where NFL-bound Will Fuller played the past two seasons.

Junior Corey Holmes now becomes ND’s top option in the slot.

Smiles for Nyles

The eye-opener at linebacker so far per Kelly has been junior middle linebacker Nyles Morgan, who struggled during extensive playing time late in his freshman season in 2014.

“I think Nyles has done a really terrific job of communicating and leading the defense,” Kelly said.

Morgan takes over for two-year starter Joe Schmidt, who exhausted his eligibility and won’t pursue an NFL career.

The position of intrigue is Jaylon Smith’s old weakside linebacker spot, where sophomore Asmar Bilal is getting a spring audition. The 6-2, 230-pound sophomore is a natural at strongside linebacker, a perimeter position in ND’s scheme with an incumbent starter, in James Onwualu.

But with some Smith-like qualities, Bilal is getting a look to see how he adapts to the more physically demanding inside game and seeing the game from a different angle, a move Smith made as a sophomore himself with some initial growing pains.

“We know he can run,” Kelly said of Bilal, ND’s defensive scout team player of the year in 2015. “It’s just sorting out a lot of things that he sees. All this experience is really, really good for him. It’s just work in progress there.

“I think probably the most important thing (among linebacker developments) is the middle linebacker looks really, really solid for us.”

Squibs

• Taking in Wednesday’s practice were 2017 Irish recruiting targets Robert Hainsey, a 6-foot-5, 276-pound offensive lineman from Bradenton, Fla., and Greg Rogers, a 6-4, 304-pound, defensive tackle from Las Vegas (Arbor View), as well as 2018 defensive back prospect Houston Griffith.

Griffith is a 6-0, 185-pounder from Mt. Carmel High School in Chicago and is the son of former Illinois standout running back Howard Griffith, who won a couple of Super Bowl rings with the Denver Broncos. He received a scholarship offer from the Irish on Wednesday.

• Kelly said the three QBs competing for the starting spot will likely take on contact sometime this spring, perhaps even in the Blue-Gold Game, April 16 in Notre Dame Stadium.

• Separating the No. 2s from the rest of the depth chart on the defensive line, is a high priority this spring, especially given how much Kelly wants to use a deeper rotation at that position than last season and how unknown and inexperienced so many of the candidates are.

Freshman end Daelin Hayes is a tough evaluation, Kelly admitted, because of how good he looks in non-contact drills, but that recent shoulder surgery keeps him out of the full-contact stuff.

“I think it’s what we hope that he can give us,” Kelly said of his view of Hayes. “All of his measurables, in terms of the individual work that we do with him without contact has been really good. How he bends, how he retains information, how he competes. It’s hard to say we know that that’s going to translate.

“We feel really confident, but we’re still in that hoping stage that it’s going to come out the way we think it is.”

• Offensive guard Colin McGovern was held out of practice Wednesday because of a concussion, giving sophomore Tristen Hoge a chance to work with the first-team offense. McGovern is expected back next week.

Kelly said center (junior Sam Mustipher) and the left side of the line (senior tackle Mike McGlinchey and junior guard Quenton Nelson) is set. There are four players vying for two spots on the right side — Hoge, senior McGovern, senior Hunter Bivin and junior Alex Bars.

• Former Notre Dame safety John Turner announced on Instagram this week that he hopes to continue his career as a grad transfer next season.

He also took time to thank Notre Dame for the opportunities at the school, and especially the support he received when his mother passed away during the 2015 season.

“I will always love this university, my teammates, fellow students, administration, coaches, staff, our fans, and all four of my years in South Bend will always be treasured and never forgotten!” he wrote.

ehansen@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @EHansenNDI

Notre Dame’s Devin Studstill during Notre Dame spring football practice on Wednesday, March 16, 2016, inside the Guglielmino Athletics Complex at Notre Dame in South Bend. Tribune Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN