Notre Dame suffered heavy personnel losses from its 2020 offense, and it will have to find a way to reload if the Irish are going to keep their winning ways going next season. The good news is there are a number of talented proven players returning, and a number of veterans that are prepared to step into the spotlight.
There are four returners that we've seen play that will have a chance to become breakout players for the Notre Dame offense next season.
CHRIS TYREE, RUNNING BACK
2020 Stats: 496 rush yards, 6.8 YPC, 4 TD / 8 catches, 65 yards
Tyree had one of the best freshman running back seasons in Notre Dame history. Since 1985, only four other running backs (Randy Kinder, Autry Denson, Darius Walker, Josh Adams) rushed for more yards as rookie’s than Tyree posted last season, and of that group only Adams gained more yards per carry.
The speedster will now have a full season in the weight room under his belt and a year in the offensive system, which puts him in position to become an even more dynamic weapon in 2021. He must stay healthy, but if he does the only thing that can keep him from being a game-changer next fall is the Notre Dame coaching staff.
Tyree has home run speed, his vision and decision making is impressive, and his ability to run through arm tackles makes him even more dangerous. The Virginia native was under-utilized in the pass game in 2020, an issue I hope to see corrected next fall.
Another season of improvement from Tyree and Kyren Williams could give Notre Dame on the premier running back tandems in the country next season. While I expect Williams to still be the top ball carrier, Tyree will be the home run hitter and the guy teams have to keep from taking the game over.
AVERY DAVIS, WIDE RECEIVER
2020 Stats: 24 catches, 322 yards, 13.4 YPC, 2 TD / 3 carries, 57 rush yards
Davis had a quality senior season, and his numbers would have been even better if he had been targeted as much as he was open. There is still growth left in his game, and there are nuances he is still improving upon after making the shift from quarterback to cornerback to running back and finally to receiver.
Now that he’s the veteran at the position, I expect the staff to spend time finding more ways to make him a focal point in the offense. Davis has the speed to stretch the defense, and his after-the-catch skills need to be utilized more frequently. If Notre Dame’s staff makes the schematic and philosophical changes it should, Davis is one player that could benefit the most.
Even if the offense stays the same, Davis should get plenty of opportunities to emerge as a leader on offense, and as a more consistent playmaker as both a pass catcher and runner.
ZEKE CORRELL, CENTER
Correll played well in his two starts this past season when you consider his lack of experience, the quality of the competition and the fact he was battling back from an injury prior to his second start.
The Cincinnati native is a bit undersized, but he’s athletic, tough and smart. He has all the tools to become the next standout center for the Irish.
Of course, this is entirely dependent on the Notre Dame staff deciding to move center Jarrett Patterson to tackle or guard when he gets healthy, which would allow Correll to slide into the starting lineup at center.
GEORGE TAKACS, TIGHT END
2020 Stats: 3 catches, 30 yards, 10.0 YPC, 0 TD
Takacs has just five career catches for 42 yards and a score, but his lack of playing time has been more about being buried behind three high-level talents (Cole Kmet, Tommy Tremble, Michael Mayer) than it is about Takacs lacking the skill to be a difference maker. Tremble’s decision to go pro a year early opened up an opportunity for Takacs to slide into the rotation.
Takacs has traditional tight end size, and he’s been an effective blocker when used in that role the last two seasons. Athletically he’s better than you’d expect from a player with his size (6-6, 245), showing excellent body control, strong agility and enough speed to stretch the seam and to outrun defenders across the field on horizontal routes. His size and body control alone make him a matchup nightmare in the red zone and on third-down, two areas where a smart staff would start working concepts for him this offseason.
Even if Notre Dame makes the changes I am calling for the two tight end sets can and should still be a big part of the offense. Takacs has a lot of Kmet in his game, possessing an impressive size/athleticism combination. What he lacks is Kmet’s confidence, and if Takacs can start to believe in his talent he could become a major contributor next season.
I could have gone with wideouts Kevin Austin or Braden Lenzy, but the reality is neither of those two players has proven the ability to stay healthy enough to become a difference maker. Both have game-changing talent, and Austin has the tools to be a the next great Notre Dame receiver, but they have to first prove they can stay on the field for an extended period of time.
It would also be easy to talented freshmen receivers Jordan Johnson and Xavier Watts, or tight end Kevin Bauman to the list, but we don’t yet know if they will be given the opportunity to earn playing time their talent warrants.
If we are heading into the summer with me talking about Austin, Lenzy, Watts and Johnson as breakout players, and we’re talking about how much Tyree is going to be used, the Notre Dame offense will head into the 2021 season with a chance to be truly dynamic.
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