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CJ Sanders ahead of schedule after hip surgery

C.J. Sanders CJ Sanders

CLEMSON, SC - OCTOBER 3: C.J. Sanders #9 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish carries the ball during the game against the Clemson Tigers at Clemson Memorial Stadium on October 3, 2015 in Clemson, South Carolina. (Photo by Tyler Smith/Getty Images)

Tyler Smith

Notre Dame’s slot receiver position hinges on the health of rising sophomore CJ Sanders. And according to a few updates from head coach Brian Kelly, Sanders is ahead of schedule as he recovers from surgery that repaired his hip flexor.

“CJ is ahead of schedule by almost three weeks, which is really good news,” Kelly told Blue & Gold’s Lou Somogyi.

Sanders, who returned both a punt and a kick for a touchdown during his freshman season, will spend more time at receiver—assuming he’s healthy. Six weeks ago, Sanders showed some of the progress he was making, running on an anti-gravity treadmill for the first time since surgery. That trajectory seems to have held, with Kelly hopeful that Sanders can train with his teammates this summer.

As the Irish restock a depth chart that needs to replace starters Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle, having Sanders as an option in the slot is key to opening up a depth chart that needs Torii Hunter Jr. on the outside.

Notre Dame’s receiving corps will be coming into focus over the next few weeks. Senior Corey Robinson will announce on Wednesday his intentions for next season, deciding whether to continue to play football or end his career after multiple concussions. Even Robinson’s decision to return might not change the decision to keep Alizé Jones on the outside, with the tight end spending time this spring at the boundary receiver spot.

From there, the Irish receiving corps is high on potential but low on experience. Assuming he stays healthy, Hunter will fill one starting spot. From there, intriguing talents like Equanimous St. Brown and freshman Kevin Stepherson look like players capable of contributing, but they’ll be learning on the fly. Neither project to be slot receivers.

Freshmen Chase Claypool and Javon McKinley both arrived on campus over the weekend, though neither is a traditional slot receiver. Corey Holmes spent some time working in the slot this spring, though his deep speed might be better used on the wide side, replacing Fuller at the field receiver position.

With Sanders out this spring, walk-on receiver Chris Finke earned plenty of reps. Finke is also in the mix to replace Sanders as the team’s punt returner.