After a summer of speculation he would miss up to a month of action, Irish sophomore receiver Kevin Austin will actually miss the entire season, per reports. Notre Dame has not commented on the presumed initial suspension and will likely remain vague about a longer one, due to student-athlete privacy concerns.
Irish Illustrated first reported the University-imposed suspension sidelining Austin for 2019.
After making five catches for 90 yards in last year’s first nine games, showing a near-ideal combination of size and speed, Austin’s trendline took an adverse turn in the final two games of the regular season, failing to make the trip to either Yankee Stadium to face Syracuse or USC. For a contributing freshman who had made four travel rosters to that point, his absence was a notable shift.
Notre Dame’s coaching staff began dropping hints of a larger issue in the spring.
“Kevin has done a good job this semester so far,” Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long said in April. “It is still daily. The consistency I want out of Kevin is daily and he knows that. Can’t be great one day and then lousy the next. I think he’s done a solid job of that. He still has a long ways to go.
“There’s no denying his talent, but talent will get you beat. Potential will get you beat. We want consistent guys who are going to play a level every day.”
At the beginning of preseason practices, all head coach Brian Kelly would offer was that Austin was “still on the team.”
Austin has three years of eligibility remaining, it just seems the clock on them will be delayed by 12 months.
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Without him, Notre Dame has to reach further into a receiving corps already depleted by injury, although that was anticipated to be the case for at least September, anyway. Irish junior receiver Michael Young will be sidelined by a broken collarbone until at least early October, and junior tight end Cole Kmet is working his way back from the same injury, theoretically a couple weeks ahead of Young.
Notre Dame has 10 healthy and eligible receivers, including two freshmen. Assuming neither of them is on the verge of production, the depth chart breaks down as follows:
Boundary: Senior Chase Claypool, senior Javon McKinley, junior Isaiah Robertson.
Slot: Fifth-year Chris Finke, sophomore Lawrence Keys, sophomore Micah Jones.
Field: Finke (with Keys likely starting at slot), sophomore Joe Wilkins, sophomore Braden Lenzy.
Claypool and Finke are established play-makers, but the Irish ran their top three receivers ragged in 2018, and the hope had been to avoid that fate this fall. In order for that to become a reality, a quartet of players without a career catch will need to surpass all reasonable expectations.