It didn’t take long for Brian Kelly to offer Austin Collinsworth a scholarship. The new Irish head coach had recruited the all-purpose Kentucky athlete while coaching Cincinnati and quickly offered the son of former NFL star Cris Collinsworth when he took the head coaching job at Notre Dame. Not to long after, Collinsworth was all Irish.
From there, Collinsworth has done everything asked of him. A position switch from offense to defense, solid special teams service, even successfully battling back from an injury to work his way into the starting lineup.
As a fifth-year senior and expected starter at safety, Collinsworth is the type of profile athlete and recruitment that helps define a program.
But to some, Collinsworth’s ability to stay in the starting lineup has been less about his success than others failures. And as new blue-chippers arrive on campus, the fact that it’s still Collinsworth patrolling the back end — not Elijah Shumate or other once shiny recruits — gets taken out on the wrong player.
He’ll never be confused for an elite athlete, but Collinsworth closed last season on a high note, making it clear he wasn’t moving from the starting lineup without a fight. Let’s take a closer look at the fifth-year senior.
6’1″, 205 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 28
There’s no mixing up Collinsworth with an elite level receuir, but he did have interest from some intriguing schools. Stanford (under Jim Harbaugh)and Oregon (under Chip Kelly) thought highly enough of him that he had offers from both. In-state powers Louisville and Kentucky also offered.
While Collinsworth didn’t feel like a fit at Cincinnati, he loved Brian Kelly from the beginning of his recruitment. And because of his positional flexibility, Collinsworth was a great fit at multiple positions of need for Notre Dame, both receiver and safety.
“Loves to play the game. Will be a young man that I think physically is going to be able to compete immediately,” Kelly said upon signing Collinsworth. “A young man that we think can help us in a number of different areas. You can see running back, wide receiver, punt return, kick return. Does a little bit of everything.”
Freshman Season (2010): Played in all 13 games for Notre Dame, one of six true freshmen to debut in the season opener. A reserve wide receiver who also returned one kick for the Irish. Made seven tackles on the year and forced one fumble.
Sophomore Season (2011): Made the position switch to safety while still seeing action primarily on special teams and as a backup defender. Was named Notre Dame’s Special Teams Player of the Year after making 16 tackles, including 14 on kickoff coverage. Also returned three kickoffs.
Junior Season (2012): Missed year with a shoulder injury, allowing for a medical redshirt.
Senior Season (2013): Played in all 13 games, making 11 starts. Had a career-high 43 tackles from his safety position. Also had his first three interceptions, doing so in the season’s three final games — the first streak of three games since Kyle McCarthy did so. (McCarthy is now a GA working on the coaching staff.) Made six tackles against USC in the Irish victory over the Trojans.
We aren’t likely to see a huge step forward physically from Collinsworth, but to say he has plateaued is probably a bit too harsh. After working back from a season-ending injury, Collinsworth might have been a little bit slow getting up to speed at safety last season, taking on a huge responsibility in a system that requires quite a bit of thinking.
Is Collinsworth a front-line starter? We haven’t seen that out of him, even his interceptions were more gift-wrapped than the result of doing something excellent. And while we saw C.J. Prosise blow around Collinsworth in the Blue-Gold game, he’s a better-than-average tackler, a smart player, and a veteran presence on a unit that’ll have a lot of youth playing in a new system.
How Notre Dame uses its talented personnel on the back line is anyone’s guess. Personally, I’d be shocked if Max Redfield isn’t out there every snap. But Collinsworth will likely be one of the guys assisting the organization of the unit, and for that reason alone, he’ll likely keep Elijah Shumate in a supporting role for another season.
If we’re to believe in Brian Kelly’s player development process — and at this point we should — Collinsworth will be a productive player this season. Will he be perfect? No. Will he get exploited in space? Probably a few times. But he’s the type of player that can help you win football games, and for that reason alone he’ll be on the field.
What’ll be interesting to watch is the leverage and pressure put on the safeties in Brian VanGorder’s system. If the corners are playing man coverage, there’ll likely be at least one safety playing centerfield. You’d assume that’s a gazelle like Redfield, which would play Collinsworth in more of a traditional strong safety position. That alone could help make him more productive.
For a late-targeted recruit, Collinsworth played early and often for Kelly. That’s a win any way you crack it.
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