On paper, the Notre Dame wide receiving corps in 2020 could be very good (assuming there is a season) despite a lack of experience. On Wednesday, however, the Irish suffered a tough break with news of Kevin Austin undergoing foot surgery this week for a broken foot.
Notre Dame announced the injury over Twitter yesterday.
The good news here is that the released bolded the part of Austin being expected to return to action this fall. The bad news, however, is that there is no timeframe listed for his return, so it’s unclear whether or not he’ll miss some time. How much time he does miss will also be determined by when the first official game of the year is. Based on the ACC’s release last week, we know that the earliest that will be is September 12.
A typical timeframe for coming back from a fractured foot is at least six weeks. That would make September 14th the earliest we might expect Austin back, meaning he’ll miss at least one game of action. It’s likely, though, that it’ll be a bit more since six weeks is an optimistic time frame.
We’ll know shortly which games Austin could potentially miss. The ACC is to announce every team’s conference schedule at 9:00 AM ET on Thursday. That includes Notre Dame, who is a full-time member of the ACC for the 2020 season. Hopefully, the ACC keeps the Clemson matchup for later in the year. If they moved it to earlier in the year to ensure the game gets played and Austin ends up missing that contest, Notre Dame’s chances for an upset will take a big hit.
Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa broke his foot against Michigan in the 2018 season opener and missed the rest of the regular season. Right now, we don’t know the severity of Austin’s injury, though, and recovery for a 300+ lbs defensive tackle and a 210 lbs wide receiver will also be much different. Bigger players tend to take longer to recover from foot injuries.
Missing any time for Austin is a big blow for Notre Dame. Austin missed all of 2019 with a suspension that was never confirmed or denied by Brian Kelly and the University. Projected as Notre Dame’s WR1 this fall, Austin then got just one practice in spring ball before everything shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic. That means he’s had very few reps practicing with Ian Book outside of any unofficial workouts/throwing sessions they might have had.
That’s not good for the Notre Dame offense.
The Irish lost Chase Claypool and Chris Finke to graduation with Claypool currently in training camp with the Pittsburgh Steelers after being selected a second-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft in April. Austin was widely projected to fill the role of Claypool in the Irish offense in 2020. Doing so will have to wait a bit longer now.
With Austin injured, look for Notre Dame to turn to Northwestern graduate-transfer Bennett Skowronek or fifth-year senior Javon McKinley. Given where both were on the projected depth chart in the spring, though, Skowronek is more likely to play the role of Claypool even with less time in the offense. Skowronek had 106 career receptions for 1,386 yards and eight touchdowns during his time at Northwestern.
Braden Lenzy’s speed will now be even more important for the Irish offense, at least in the initial stages of the season. As will the development of Lawrence Keys out of the slot. Notre Dame needs both junior receivers to take big leaps forward this in fall camp to compensate for the loss of Austin.