- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Austin Collinsworth was careful not to say that he was completely, fully healed from shoulder and back surgeries in the past year, but returning to the field this spring has served as a final hurdle to cross after missing last season.
"I would say probably 98 percent, something like that," the rising fourth-year junior said. "But I'll be 100 percent by the end of the spring."
The safety underwent surgery following last year's spring season to repair a torn labrum in his left shoulder, an injury that figured to sideline him for the 2012 campaign. That year-long wait became official when back pain that flared up in October eventually resulted in another operation, leaving him to watch the entirety of Notre Dame's run to the Discover BCS National Championship from the sideline.
"It's hard," said Collinsworth, the son of former NFL player and current analyst Cris Collinsworth. "It was a really exciting season. It was pretty terrible not being a part of it, but I liked watching my friends do well out on the field and it was a really fun season just to be a part of."
Collinsworth said that he began feeling great physically three weeks ago, and he impressed the staff in the weeks leading up to the start of spring practices.
"We had seven workouts where the coaches were involved in the conditioning elements," coach Brian Kelly said at the start of spring. "Our defensive staff feels really good. I had a chance to observe him because I wanted to see the guys that are coming back. I was really pleased with what I saw."
Collinsworth has been seen working with the second-team defense this spring upon his return, alongside Eilar Hardy. (Rising sophomore Nick Baratti has been sidelined following his own shoulder surgery.) After recording 25 tackles and forcing one fumble while playing in all 26 games throughout his first two seasons with the Irish, Collinsworth is hoping to crack the rotation of a secondary that finally finds itself with a good numbers problem, this after the unit suffered three season-ending injuries by Week 3 of last season.
The departure of Davonte' Neal has led to more opportunities for Collinsworth to field punts, too, something the Fort Thomas, Ky., native did for three years in high school.
"We lost some really good guys," Collinsworth said of the secondary. "Jamoris [Slaughter] last year only got to play a couple games when he was back at safety. And Zeke [Motta] -- that kid's an animal back there. But we've got a lot of good players that are returning, and I don't think our defensive backfield is going to take a step back at all."