InsideNDSports - Notebook: Notre Dame's wide receivers have plenty to prove
{{ timeAgo('2022-08-06 06:00:00 -0500') }} football Edit

Notebook: Notre Dame's wide receivers have plenty to prove

Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis wasn't very limited from last year's ACL injury during Friday's practice.
Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis wasn't very limited from last year's ACL injury during Friday's practice. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame’s wide receiver depth concerns won’t be fading away anytime soon. But the depth chart looks a whole lot more manageable with a healthy Avery Davis on it.

In Notre Dame’s first preseason camp practice Friday, the sixth-year senior looked well on his way to being available for the season opener at Ohio State on Sept. 3. Davis was sidelined with a torn ACL in his left knee on Nov. 6 in Notre Dame’s 34-6 victory over Navy. He sported a padded sleeve over the knee at Friday’s practice but didn’t show signs of being limited.

Davis, who caught 51 passes for 708 yards and six touchdowns the last two seasons for the Irish, brings much needed experience and production to a thin wide receivers corp. On Friday, Davis was most frequently flanked by sophomore receivers Lorenzo Styles and Jayden Thomas on the first-team offense.

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Styles recorded 22 of his 24 catches in the last seven games of his freshman season. He ended the season with a dynamic eight-catch, 136-yard, one-touchdown performance in a Fiesta Bowl loss that hinted at a breakout sophomore season ahead. Thomas played in only three games and never caught a pass.

Playing alongside Davis should help both sophomores evolve into new roles for offensive coordinator Tommy Rees.

“I was in the offensive unit meeting (Thursday), and coach Rees was talking about dependable players,” said head coach Marcus Freeman. “And Avery Davis was the first person he brought up. A guy that has played five positions since he's been here, but a guy that the offense can always depend on being in the right spot.

“Yeah, he's a returning captain, but he's going on to his sixth season. And a guy that has been through so many ups and downs, he's going to be a great resource for the young people, but he's going to be a dependable playmaker for offense. And so, he's been a great, great leader, a great senior. Really good for our offense.”

Sophomore wide receivers Deion Colzie (16), Lorenzo Styles (4) and Jayden Thomas (83) all have opportunities at expanded roles in 2022.
Sophomore wide receivers Deion Colzie (16), Lorenzo Styles (4) and Jayden Thomas (83) all have opportunities at expanded roles in 2022. (Jeff Douglas, Inside ND Sports)

The 6-foot-2, 215-pound Thomas has plenty left to prove to earn a starting spot against Ohio State. He put a good foot forward Friday with a pair of touchdown catches from quarterback Drew Pyne. Thomas started to make a case for himself with a strong spring.

“We're going to need him to have a huge role for this offense this year,” Freeman said. “We've challenged him. I challenge him all the time. We're going to need you. We need you to step up. And he's a confident kid.

“He's getting better and better and better. And that's all we ask. But he's going to have to get better fast because we're going to need a lot out of him. He has to be a guy that if the defense is playing man coverage against us, we feel like we can go to him and win. That has to be who he is.”

Thomas worked ahead of fellow sophomore Deion Colzie, a 6-4, 211-pound target who’s yet to tap into his potential. Graduate senior Braden Lenzy saw plenty of work as the first receiver off the sideline.

The more reliable Notre Dame’s receivers become, the easier it will be for Freeman and Rees to make a decision on a starting quarterback between sophomore Tyler Buchner and junior Pyne. Buchner took the vast majority of snaps with the No. 1 offense Friday.

“I love the competition aspect of it,” Freeman said. “Competition really helps people grow. But as soon as we're ready to name a starting quarterback, we're going to do it. We're not waiting for a certain time or certain day, but we just need to make sure we're ready to name is starting quarterback and we will.”

Can’t take the heat  

Freeman didn’t hide his displeasure at the end of practice that some of Notre Dame’s players didn’t make it to the end of practice in good shape. Freeman wasn’t frustrated by players sidelined or limited by injuries. But at least a couple of players were pulled early from practice due to overheating.

It was a humid, overcast day in South Bend that didn’t hit surpass 80 degrees during the practice window, yet some of the Irish players couldn’t handle the heat. Most notably, No. 1 right tackle Blake Fisher and No. 1 center Zeke Correll were sidelined due to their bodies' responses to the conditions.

Freeman wanted to push his team on the first day of practice, which officially lasted two hours but started a bit earlier than the scheduled 9:30 a.m.

“It has to be hard. It's not changing,” Freeman said. “We're not changing what we're doing, and it's going to be hard. We had a couple guys that couldn't finish practice (Friday). And it's their job to make sure they're available for practice.

“It's the trainer's job to make sure they protect the player. And so I was trying to send a message to those players that, 'Hey, whatever you have to do to make sure you're available for practice.'

“We had a couple guys go out because heat. ‘Whatever you have to do to make sure you're available, we have to do it because we're not changing,' because I believe in what we've kind of scheduled out through this fall camp. I believe this is what we need to be prepared to go. And we're not going to change. We'll always look at and review and debrief and say, 'Is there anything we can do to enhance?'

“But the length of practice, the effort, the way we're going to challenge our players, that's not going to change. And so, if they're looking for us to pull back, it's not going to happen. They have to continue to do whatever it takes to make sure they're ready to go.”

That should motivate players to be well-rested and well-hydrated by the time Saturday morning’s practice starts.

MORE INSIDE ND SPORTS COVERAGE

Hansen: Freeman's evolution is loud and clear as ND opens training camp

How QB Tyler Buchner's twisted journey is now powering his ascent

A better version of TE Michael Mayer should frighten opponents

Depth chart: Preseason camp projection

Observations from Friday's practice

Video: Highlights from Marcus Freeman's press conference

Video: Highlights from Friday's practice

On the mend  

A handful of Notre Dame players returning from injuries were somewhat limited in Friday’s practice: Davis, running back Logan Diggs (shoulder), linebacker Marist Liufau (leg), cornerback Cam Hart (shoulder), tight end Cane Berrong (knee) and tight end Eli Raridon (knee).

Freeman indicated that all of those players are on track to be available for the season opener at Ohio State. That’s particularly promising news for Diggs, who tore his labrum in the Blue-Gold Game on April 23.

Four players can be ruled out for the Ohio State game: wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. (foot), running back Jadarian Price (Achilles), tight end Mitchell Evans (foot) and nose guard Aidan Keanaaina (knee). Wilkins and Evans should be available at some point this season.

Freshman offensive lineman Joey Tanona has medically retired from football, Freeman shared Friday. Tanona suffered a head injury in a car accident earlier this year.

Extra points   

• Notre Dame only had three fully healthy, scholarship running backs for Friday’s practice. That will be the case until Diggs is fully cleared for contact. Running backs coach Deland McCullough has to find the right balance to not overwork the backs at his disposal.

“You have to be smart and rotate them,” Freeman said. “It's a challenge. Coach McCullough has a huge challenge, because he's competitor just like the rest of us. And he wants to put the best guys in there. He wants to put the guys in that are going to make sure that we have success.”

Rees can help by utilizing personnel groupings that don’t rely heavily on running backs.

“But you have to get the work done,” Freeman said. “We can't have all of our running backs in red and think we're going to be prepared for the season.”

• Freeman said he doesn’t like pointing players out, but when asked for pleasant surprises going into preseason camp, he came up with some answers.

“(Cornerback) Jaden Mickey was a freshman and did a really good job in the spring,” Freeman said. “He's an energy provider. Those confident guys provide energy. (Safety) Brandon Joseph, same thing. Offensive line, I'll continue to fall back to those guys, man.

“Zeke Correll, because of the spring he had and what he showed, we felt to get the five best offensive linemen on the field would be to move (Jarrett Patterson) to guard. And so, obviously, he showed us a lot of value in the spring.”

• Linebacker Prince Kollie switched his jersey number from 32 to 10. Safety Xavier Watts flipped from No. 26 to No. 4. As previously shared, Styles (No. 4) and running back Audric Estime (7) will also be wearing new numbers this season.

• Notre Dame’s official roster isn’t always the most accurate when it comes to weight. For instance, tight end Michael Mayer told Inside ND Sports that he weighed as much as 268 pounds during last season despite being listed at 251 pounds. He’s since been updated to 265 pounds on the latest roster for preseason camp.

But here are some of the most notable weight changes reflected on the new roster:

Defensive end Aiden Gobaira +21 to 241.

Defensive end Joshua Burnham +17 to 233.

Linebacker Jaylen Sneed +17 to 215.

Offensive tackle Blake Fisher -8 to 327.

Cornerback Philip Riley -7 to 195.

Cornerback Cam Hart -7 to 198.

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