When Notre Dame takes the field on Monday night in the House that Papa John Built, there’ll be a lot of familiar faces on offense for the Irish. Ian Book is back at quarterback, Chase Claypool looks primed to become a star finally, and most of the offensive line returns from the 2018 unit. One unfamiliar face in the lineup for most Notre Dame fans though is sophomore wide receiver Lawrence Keys. He won’t be unfamiliar for long.
Keys was not expected to be a huge part of the Notre Dame offense in 2019. He was seen as more of a complementary player for this season. Then Michael Young broke his collarbone and Keys stepped into the starting lineup.
Notre Dame needed someone to step up, and they turned to Keys. “Well, I think it’s been a body of work. He started to come on in the spring, showed some consistency in performance.” Brian Kelly told the media on Tuesday when asked what it was that Keys did to assume a starting role in Young’s absence.
That wasn’t the only reason Keys got the nod over his classmates at receiver. “I think assignment correct has been another thing that he’s really worked on,” Kelly added. “We need to rely on players that we know they’re going to be there and line up the right way, be relied on that they’re going to be accountable. He’s been really accountable in all those areas.”
Heading into camp this summer Keys was one of four sophomore wide receivers looking to crack the two-deep. All things being equal, most thought the sophomore receiver who would see the field in 2019 was Kevin Austin, but he appears to be suspended for some still unknown length of time. With Austin unavailable, Keys is the sophomore receiver who has seized the opportunity.
In order to get to where Keys is at right now – the starting lineup – he needed to be more than just assignment correct though. He also needed to bulk up. That’s been a little challenging for Keys who had a listed weight of 170 lbs on Signing Day 2018 and is still listed at just 173 pounds on the 2019 roster.
“We were able to add some sandbags to his pockets, put on a little weight,” Kelly said earlier this week. “We felt like he needed to be sturdier physically. He did a great job in the off-season of really attending to that. He’s kept his weight on.”
What has never been an issue for Keys, though is his speed and athleticism. Keys brings a little something to the receiving corps that no one else in the group possesses.
“Everybody can see that when he touches the ball, he’s got great speed. One of the things that he does that’s a little bit different than all of our guys is that he catches the ball at full speed,” said Kelly. “Some guys have to throttle down a little bit. He can catch it at full speed. That’s a great trait to have.”
Last year Keys impressed in camp last year and throughout the spring earlier this year but didn’t see the field as a freshman. There was some thought that Keys or classmate Braden Lenzy would see the field in the Cotton Bowl as Notre Dame looked to get more speed on the field. That didn’t happen, but it will happen in a few days.
The first pass Keys catches this season will be the first of his career. It shouldn’t surprise anyone at this point if that comes before half-time against Louisville. Chris Finke and Chase Claypool are still Notre Dame’s top two threats at receiver, but Keys has a chance to make his mark in Young’s absence.