WRs Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III Making Strong Spring Impressions
Despite its low number of proven commodities, the raw talent in Notre Dame’s 2021 wide receiver room seems as plentiful as any other position group.
Fascination with rising senior Kevin Austin Jr. hasn’t slowed despite two foot fractures in 2020 and six career catches. Clamoring for former five-star recruit Jordan Johnson to get involved remains at a sometimes-deafening din. Curiosity around top-50 prospect and early enrollee Lorenzo Styles Jr.’s potential freshman year involvement remains high.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly, though, singled out two other seniors-to-be as early spring standouts. Both are coming off injury-affected, wayward seasons.
Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III combined for just 12 catches, 114 yards and one touchdown in 2020. Recurring hamstring agitations shipwrecked Lenzy’s 2020, while a concussion and fifth-year senior Avery Davis’ emergence in the slot took most of Keys’ chances away. Facing now-or-never offseasons with jobs up for grabs, they have made needed good impressions early on.
“This is only practice four, so I’m putting an asterisk next to it — Lenzy and Keys have been really good. They have to be consistent, because that has been the area they haven’t been for us. They haven’t been consistent.”
Starting in winter workouts, they set out to change that.
“They made a commitment in the weight room that’s different from what we saw in the past,” Kelly said. “These guys have been outstanding in the weight room, and you can see it in the way they’re translating that on the field. They’re explosive, they’re running outs, they’re breaking tackles.”
Each revealed some big-play ability as sophomores in 2019 while occupying reserve roles. On 24 touches that season, Lenzy averaged 18.9 yards and scored four touchdowns. Keys had just 13 catches for 134 yards, but that included a 28-yarder at Georgia and a 27-yard reception against Navy. He also had six rushes for 45 yards.
The 2020, season, though, derailed early for both.
Lenzy aggravated his hamstring in the preseason and missed the season opener. He came back and started the next two games, but he did not play again after a re-injury of it late in an Oct. 24 win at Pitt.
Keys played 20 snaps in the opener against Duke, but a concussion and Davis’ increasing stronghold on the slot receiver kept him off the field until the game against Pitt. He played 16 total snaps in the five following games.
Lenzy worked at the field receiver spot in 2020 and again in 2019. He has taken first-team reps there this spring, but Johnson lurks behind him. The highest-ranked recruit in Notre Dame’s 2020 class, Johnson played 26 invisible snaps over two catch-less games while struggling to pick up other areas of student-athlete life right away. He is handling those now with increasing comfort.
“Jordan Johnson, he’s doing a nice job,” Kelly said. “What I’m most impressed with Jordan is what he’s doing in the classroom right now. He has really turned the corner there. You can see that confidence showing itself on the football field.”
Answers to all the questions at receiver won’t be written in Sharpie until Austin returns from his foot injury later this offseason. His full participation isn’t expected this spring. Right now, all that’s known is Davis’ presence as the starter in the slot. He’s the Irish’s leading returning receiver, with 24 catches for 322 yards and two touchdowns in 2020. He has 39 of the returning receivers’ 88 career catches.
“What we’ve been looking for is consistency, and you know you’re getting that from Avery Davis, “Kelly said. “He has been a leader of the group.”
A group that despite a lack of answers and its importance, Kelly believes will impact the game at the level its collective on-paper talent indicates it should.
“It’ll sort itself out,” Kelly said. “There are some really good players. Some aren’t in the spring, but there are plenty of players in the program who will get to step up and help this football team.”
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