Notre Dame needs its offense to play at a higher level in 2020 than it has throughout head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure, at least that is what needs to happen if the Irish actually want to compete for a championship.
That means not only replacing the lost production of players like wide receiver Chase Claypool, but also each unit out-performing its 2019 production and level fo play.
For that to happen at wide receiver a number of players must step up and emerge, and arguably no player at wide receiver could have a bigger impact on the position group than rising junior Kevin Austin.
From a talent standpoint, Austin is arguably the best Notre Dame has to offer. But just how much production can Austin provide in 2020 after missing the 2019 season and hauling in only five throws in 2018?
The answer to that question could be the difference between Notre Dame being really good on offense in 2020, and Notre Dame having an elite pass attack.
THE TOOLS ARE THERE
From the moment he committed to Notre Dame there have been high expectations and excitement about what Austin could bring to the offense. His all-around skillset is truly outstanding, with the Florida native possessing the combination of size, strength, ball skills and athleticism you want in a go-to receiver.
Austin isn’t a burner, but he runs well enough to be a big play threat. He’s a long strider in space, and although he takes a bit longer to get to full speed than other receivers on the roster, once he gets to full speed he’s hard to catch.
At 6-2 and 210 pounds, Austin is a strong and powerful receiver. His length and catch radius are outstanding and his body control is excellent. Austin has sticky hands and focus in space. Austin gets off the ground quickly and can glide in the air. All of these traits combine to make him a potentially impactful one-on-one player down the field and on back shoulder throws, something we’ve seen in practice time and time again.
Austin has the traits to do damage down the field, on the sidelines and over the middle of the field. He can do damage after the catch and has the strength to be an effective blocker. From a pure skillset standpoint there isn’t much Austin can’t do, and he projects to thrive at either outside receiver position.
WHERE IS AUSTIN FROM A DEVELOPMENT STANDPOINT?
Talent doesn’t always equal success or production, and as of right now Austin is still a third-year player that has just five career catches. What we don’t know is will he be locked in and be able to stay on the field.
We also don’t really know where Austin is from a development standpoint. The last time we saw him extensively Austin flashed big-time talent, but his game still needed work. Austin is able to get off the line relatively effectively because of his strength, but improving his ability to use his hands and feet to get cleaner releases is something I hope he’s been working on during the offseason.
Austin has the physical tools to be a strong route runner, but he certainly needed a great deal of refinement based on the last time we saw him. At times Austin’s release can allow him to get pushed outside too far, and he didn’t do a good enough job working back inside. Cleaner releases will help, but learning to more effectively close off corners on vertical routes would also assist him at gaining better separation.
Being more effective at attacking leverage and being shaper at the top of his routes would also assist him with gaining more separation out of his cuts. If Austin can combine refinement with his God-given tools he’ll have a chance to become a top performer for the Irish offense.
WHAT ARE REASONABLE EXPECTATIONS FOR AUSTIN IN 2020?
Austin caught five passes as a freshman and didn’t play a snap in 2019, but the expectation is that he comes out in 2020 and plays at a high level. I’m not sure how realistic that is, and my concern is that Austin puts too much pressure on himself to come out and dominate.
Hopefully the Irish staff is preaching patience with him, and working with the junior wideout on taking it one day at a time. Austin needs to get back up to speed, develop a connection with quarterback Ian Book and show steady growth with his assignments and playing with some nuance at the position.
Perhaps Austin can come out and start dominating right away, but the more likely scenario - and perhaps the more reasonable and fair expectation - is that he’s part of the rotation right away and then starts playing more and more, and gets more and more targets once he proves himself to be the impact player on Saturdays that we know he can be based on his natural talent and potential.
The good news for Austin and Notre Dame is that they don’t “need” him to be Claypool or Will Fuller or Michael Floyd in 2020. With players like Braden Lenzy, Javon McKinley and other wideouts, plus a talented group of tight ends, Notre Dame needs Austin to be a key cog in the pass game, not the driving force.
Of course, if Austin does reach his full potential no one within the Irish program will complain about that, and Book will benefit greatly from it.
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Notre Dame needs its offense to play at a higher level in 2020 than it has throughout head coach Brian Kelly’s tenure, at least that is what needs to happen if the Irish actually want to compete for a championship. Subscribe for full article
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