SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame is looking for a lot more this season from receivers who haven’t yet made a lot of big catches.
The Fighting Irish head into the season looking for a go-to receiver to replace TJ Jones, who led the Irish last season with 70 catches for 1,108 yards before graduating. The only returning receiver with more than 15 catches is DaVaris Daniels, who had 49 catches for 745 yards. But he was suspended for the spring semester for an academic violation and has been limited the first week in preseason camp with a groin injury.
Coach Brian Kelly is hoping speedy Chris Brown and sure-handed Corey Robinson can step up and help fill the void. Kelly said Brown has gotten off to a strong start.
“He still has to be more consistent in catching the football. But clearly he was our best guy this week,” Kelly told the media Saturday.
The knock against Brown has been inconsistent play. He’d follow a good play with a dropped pass. Brown, who had 12 catches in the regular season last year, had the best game of his career in the Pinstripe Bowl, catching five passes for 54 yards against Rutgers.
The 6-foot-1, 195-pound junior attributes his growth to being a better-rounded receiver after spending much of his freshman season running go routes to stretch defenses and seeing his skill grow as a sophomore, saying he’s learned a lot from Jones.
“TJ showed me how to be a savvy, old receiver,” Brown said. “I’m not going to say I was nervous, but I would think too much. He told me to slow the game down and really work on my crafts as far as ins and outs. He really just showed me the way.”
Irish coaches also are hoping Robinson, son of NBA Hall of Fame center David Robinson, can take a bigger role in the offense. Robinson had nine catches for 157 yards as a freshman and has a reputation as being a receiver who will catch anything near him, but the knock against him was that he lacked strength and could be pushed around. But he’s added 25 pounds to his 6-5 frame.
“I’m not the strongest. I need to keep getting stronger,” he said.
Robinson said he understands the offense much better is focusing on playing consistently better.
“I need to be able to make the big play every time,” he said. “I need to be consistent in my route-running, consistent in my releases, consistent in my catching so everybody can count on me.”
Kelly said this spring what he likes about Robinson is that he does exactly what the coaches ask.
“Now he may screw it up the first time. But you coach him and he does it right the second time. I love that kid,” Kelly said.
Other Irish players expected to contribute include C.J. Prosise, Amir Carlisle, William Fuller and Torii Hunter Jr., although Kelly announced Saturday that Hunter, whose father plays for the Detroit Tigers, is expected to be out four to six weeks with a torn left groin.
Kelly also said Saturday he’s been impressed by a freshmen Justin Brent and Corey Holmes and could contribute this season.
Offensive lineman Matt Hegarty and linebacker Ben Councell sat out practice Saturday with concussions, while offensive lineman Sam Mustipher sat out with a sprained left foot. ... Offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock was at the final hour of practice Saturday. Kelly had previously announced Denbrock would miss the first few weeks of preseason camp after having an undisclosed surgery. Kelly said Denbrock is hoping to spend an hour a day at practice in the next week and gradually increase his workload. “He was yelling at the officials, so I knew he was starting to feel a little bit better,” Kelly said.