Self-Assured Running Back Chris Tyree Aiming For More Involvement In Notre Dame Fighting Irish Football Offense In 2021
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Self-Assured RB Chris Tyree Aiming For More Involvement In 2021

Chris Tyree spent much of his nine-minute Zoom media session Saturday afternoon discussing his confidence, although his very first answer sufficed on its own as a display of it.

Asked how he sees his role evolving in Notre Dame’s offense, the rising sophomore running back casually dropped an undeniably veritable but still attention-grabbing statement. No change in tone, no pause afterward for emphasis.

“We understand good things happen when the ball is in my hands,” Tyree said in his first press conference since arriving on campus last June. “So just being able to expand that and getting more opportunities to get me the ball is the goal now.”

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Notre Dame Fighting Irish football sophomore running back Chris Tyree
Tyree averaged 6.8 yards on his 73 carries in 2020. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

In a 15-practice spring period that head coach Brian Kelly said will help form an offensive identity, finding more work for Tyree figures to be on the list of objectives. The 5-10, 188-pound Tyree was Notre Dame’s No. 2 running back last year as a freshman behind 1,125-yard rusher Kyren Williams, averaging 16 snaps per game. He tallied 496 yards on 73 carries (6.8 yards per rush) and four touchdowns.

All told, the home-run ability and speed that made him a top-100 recruit were as advertised in a complementary role. The Irish didn’t need him to be an every-down back thanks to Williams’ emergence, but he made himself the clear second option in fall camp at a position that began camp with no bankable assets.

“Coming into the season, I had no idea what to expect,” Tyree said. “I know whatever my role was, I was going to play that and do it to the best of my ability. When it comes to my expectations, I was really happy with what I did in that I had no idea what I was going to be doing.”

And as his presence on offense and on kick returns became a given, the now-evident self-assurance heightened.

“The biggest lesson I got was just being confident in myself,” Tyree said. “As you watched the film, I think you can tell the more games I played, the more snaps I played, the more confident I was.”

Now with a full offseason, Kelly and offensive coordinator Tommy Rees can go about devising ways to involve Tyree more without cutting too much into Williams’ work. It’s a good problem to need to solve.

Tyree’s touches were, though, largely sporadic in 2020. Only twice did he exceed 10 carries — 11 against Florida State and 16 against Boston College. Most of those 16 against the Eagles came in the second half when Williams didn’t play.

Elsewhere, Tyree had only two carries in the first meeting with Clemson and against North Carolina. His lone carry in the ACC Championship loss to Clemson was a 21-yard touchdown late in the game. He had five rushes for 16 yards in the College Football Playoff and a 27-yard reception, which was one of four passes he caught that day. He had four receptions in the other 11 games combined.

“Tyree is our back we bring in when we feel Kyren needs a breather,” Kelly said after the ACC Championship.

In the quest to make his usage something more, one option could be playing he and Williams together more often — a tactic rarely used in 2020. Notre Dame played just 27 snaps in two-back sets last season, excluding kneel-downs. None were particularly memorable. The multi-back looks and plays had an experimental feel to them. The highlight was four snaps in 21 and 22 personnel against Georgia Tech that produced four carries for 47 yards.

“At the end of the day, we both make plays,” Tyree said. “That’s how we can build off each other.

“There is a way [to play us together], just being that we’re versatile and can play in the slot and in the backfield. There are a lot of opportunities to be on the field at the same time.”

One constant appears to be his special teams presence. He was Notre Dame’s primary kick returning last year, and he has indicated he will have that role in 2020. He also hinted at the possibility of adding punt returns to his plate.

He’d welcome it and anything else.

“I’m really confident in what I can do on the field,” Tyree said. “It’s up to me to be able to show that. So just being more confident in my role and that I show the playmaking ability I’m capable of.”

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