Every year, players for every team enter a point in their careers where it’s now or never for them. There are fewer of them nowadays because the transfer portal has enabled players to leave earlier than in the past, but there are still players on every roster facing now or never type scenarios. The first such player for the Irish we’ll look at is new wide receiver Chris Tyree.
Freshman Year Explosion
Tyree burst onto the scene in 2020 as the speedback for a run-first and run-second Irish offense that carried Notre Dame to the College Football Playoff. He ran for 496 yards on 73 carries, along with four touchdowns. His 6.8 yards per carry remains a career-high, as does his yards and touchdowns total from his freshman campaign.
He had this 96-yard run against Syracuse.
And this 45-yarder against Florida State.
The future looked very bright for Chris Tyree at that point.
Struggles Since Then
While Chris Tyree has had his moments since 2020, he’s struggled to find the form he had as a freshman when he was ripping off long touchdown runs with somewhat regularity. Since 2020, his longest run is just 33 yards. As a freshman, he had those two touchdown runs of 45 and 96 yards alone.
Injuries have played some role in his struggles over the last two years. A lingering turf toe injury sapped him of some of his burst in 2021, and he averaged just 4.0 yards per carry on the season. Tyree didn’t benefit as much from Notre Dame finding its offensive line mid-way through that season since his injury challenges popped up about the same time the Irish realized their best line included Andrew Kristofic at guard and then true freshman Joe Alt at tackle. After the injury to Avery Davis, Notre Dame could have really used Tyree’s athleticism too.
Tyree’s most notable play since his rookie year came on special teams when he helped turn the tide in the Wisconsin game at Solider Field with an electrifying kick-off return for a touchdown.
It looked like Tyree might be primed for a breakout season in 2022, but over the last two seasons, Tyree has just four rushing touchdowns combined – the same number that he had his freshman season on just 73 carries compared to the 156 he’s had the last two years. He hasn’t gotten within 2.4 yards per carry of his impressive mark from his freshman year, either.
Move to Wide Receiver
The one area that Tyree has improved since his freshman year, at least statistically, is in the receiving department. After catching just 8 passes as a freshman, he’s hauled in 24 in each of the past two seasons. He’s scored a combined four touchdowns through the air the last two years after not notching a receiving touchdown during that impressive freshman campaign.
Tyree made two marquee plays receiving in Notre Dame’s 11-win 2021 season—his 55-yard from Tyler Buchner in Notre Dame’s near miss to Toledo.
And his 53-yard walk-in touchdown from Jack Coan in the Fiesta Bowl.
The emergence of Audric Estime and a stocked running back room – even with the transfer of Logan Diggs – opened a door for Tyree at receiver heading into his senior season. He played almost primarily at receiver in the spring and looks to be the odds-on favorite to start in the slot for Notre Dame when the Irish travel to Dublin for the Navy game.
Moving to receiver from running back isn’t the easiest of transitions since there is an art to route running, and just being fast doesn’t guarantee success. Notre Dame’s had some success converting running backs to receivers, though. In 2010, Theo Riddick moved to receiver after playing running back as a freshman before ultimately returning to running back. Over the course of the 2010 and 2011 seasons, though, Riddck hauled in 78 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns.
If Notre Dame gets a Theo Riddick level of contribution from Tyree, they’d be thrilled. They don’t need him to be a high-volume target but to be impactful and provide some explosives. Freshman Jaden Greathouse and juniors Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie should provide Sam Hartman with volume, while sophomore Tobias Merriweather should be the main downfield target.
Where Tyree can thrive with a quarterback like Hartman is on the short and intermediate routes that get him the ball in space. Not many safeties will be able to keep up with Tyree out of the slot, and if he ever gets matched up with a linebacker, the mismatch will be substantial.
Tyree enters his senior year with a fifth year of eligibility remaining due to the free COVID year everyone got in 2020, so he’s got time left to make his presence felt at receiver, but at the same time, the clock is ticking for him with the success that Chansi Stucky has had recruiting receivers.