Brian Kelly confirmed what everyone feared over the weekend after seeing Avery Davis fall onto the turf from a non-contact injury against Navy – the 5th year senior captain is out for the year. With Davis on the shelf, Notre Dame is down to just five scholarship wide receivers, which means Del Alexnader, Tommy Rees, and Kelly are going to have to get creative over the next few weeks. Freshman Lorenzo Styles and sophomore Chris Tyree could be the answer the staff is looking for.
While letting everyone know that Davis was lost for the season, Kelly said that Lorenzo Styles moves into the starting lineup at the slot position. Styles has been impressive in recent weeks though his lack of targets against Navy was a bit puzzling. Still, the speedy freshman is built to be a good slot receiver with his catch and run ability though learning another receiver position as a freshman isn’t ideal.
Kelly also said that true freshman Jayden Thomas would move from the scout team to the “varsity” but wouldn’t be in the gameplan just yet. More interestingly, Kelly said that sophomore running back Chris Tyree could get some looks in the slot. That is a very intriguing possibility for the Irish offense.
Tyree has been slowed this season by a turf toe injury that flared up against Virginia Tech. He missed the USC game entirely. He dressed for North Carolina but didn’t see any reps on offense. Last weekend against Navy, he recorded his first carry since Blacksburg. As a result, he has just over 100 yards on the season and has been held largely in check since he hasn’t been available since the Irish finally figured out the offensive line.
With the emergence of Logan Diggs as the second back behind stud starter Kyren Williams, Notre Dame can afford to give Tyree reps at the slot position where his speed and athleticism could be an asset for the Irish. In addition, reps at receiver result in far less wear and tear for a player coming back from an injury as well.
Tyree has 16 receptions on the season for 132 yards, including a 55-yard touchdown from Tyler Buchner against Toledo. However, he’s not the most natural of a receiver – he caught just 8 passes for 65 yards as a true freshman playing in every game. So, a permanent move to the slot or even a ton of reps there this weekend would make a ton of sense, but some limited reps do. Notre Dame could use all the playmakers it can get right now, and with the reliance on the short passing game, having another receiver capable of taking a quick pass and running after the catch would be an asset.
It’s been a tough year for Tyree after one of the better freshman seasons any Notre Dame running back has ever had. As a speed back, he’s not built to excel behind an offensive line as ineffective as Notre Dame’s was for the first six games. Then, right as the Irish OL started to put it all together, Tyree went down the injury and hasn’t been available much since. Splitting Tyree out should give him a chance to utilize the speed we became accustomed to last year and the same speed we saw him flash against Wisconsin.
As for Styles, it will be a lot of fun to see what he does with the opportunity. He could thrive at the position, given his skillset. The only concern is Styles having to pick up the position on the fly. He played in a very run-heavy offense in high school, so right now, he’s still in the “relying primarily on ridiculous talent” phase of his development. Against some terrible defenses like Virginia, that might not be too tough a task.
Along with a heavy dose of Styles and Tyree, we will probably also see more Kyren Williams split out as a receiver and more Michael Mayer in the slot. Given how well Williams is finally running again behind the reworked offensive line, it might be a better idea to keep him in the backfield in favor of Tyree.
Losing Davis was a significant loss for the Notre Dame offense for more than his production. Davis is a captain for a reason, and hopefully, he returns for a 6th year as Brian Kelly indicated he may on Monday. If Tommy Rees gets creative with the remaining personnel, though, there’s no reason the offense can’t still generate big plays out of the slot position.