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Notre Dame Must Find Answers At Wide Receiver

The loss of Avery Davis means the Notre Dame offense must find some answers for a now depleted wide receiver corps

Notre Dame suffered a devastating injury yesterday when sixth-year senior wide receiver Avery Davis went down with a knee injury that turned out to be a season-ending ACL tear.

Notre Dame is now down to six scholarship wide receivers, including former walk-on Matt Salerno. Another veteran - Joe Wilkins Jr. - is already out with a foot injury he sustained in the spring. Although the hope is he returns at some point, it's unknown if Wilkins will be back to full speed at any point in time this season.

Notre Dame must find answers to their wide receiver depth problem. Below I'll discuss the options and also go over how the Irish will adjust the current offensive rotation to handle the loss of the most experienced and proven player at the position.

TIME TO MAKE A MOVE

Notre Dame cannot afford to stand pat at wide receiver, especially with other players at the position having battled injuries in the past (Braden Lenzy, Jayden Thomas). The Irish staff cannot afford to wait for another injury to make a move because at that point, it will likely be too late for that player to get caught up in the offense.

The most logical move is junior safety Xavier Watts, who began his career at wide receiver. Of course, this could be my personal bias because I've always felt Watts could be a very effective wideout. He also projects as both a slot or a field receiver, which is where Notre Dame needs help now that Davis is out.

Notre Dame could easily play sophomore Jayden Thomas more to the field, but with Deion Colzie yet to emerge as a boundary option he will be needed in the boundary as well. Watts is one of the few players that could make a smooth transition to receiver due to his previous knowledge of the offense.

LORENZO STYLES TO THE SLOT

Notre Dame entered the season with three players slotted for two positions, as Davis would be a slot, Lenzy would play outside at X and sophomore Lorenzo Styles would play both positions. Notre Dame can still move Styles around, but he'll likely spend even more time in the slot with Davis out.

Styles stepped into the starting lineup in the slot last October when Davis went down with his other knee injury. He finished the 2021 season with an 8-catch, 136-yard performance against an Oklahoma State defense that was one of the best pass defenses in the country.

Just a sophomore, Styles is being tasked with stepping into a very important role for the Irish. Whether he's ready or not, Styles needs to step up and grow up in a hurry if the Irish offense is going to reach its full potential. He'll work a lot from the slot now, which should help him be even more impactful in the RPO game, but he'll need to also prove to be a vertical threat for the Irish.

Davis was a money third-down player when healthy, and that is another role that Styles will need to step into and perform well in. Fifth-year senior walk-on Matt Salerno will likely now get a chance to push for snaps in the slot.

DOOR OPENS FOR MERRIWEATHER AND COLZIE

Notre Dame was likely going to play freshman Tobias Merriweather this season, mainly because he has shown himself to be too good not to play. Merriweather now has to play for the Irish, and he has to be a legitimate weapon in the Irish offense. The same is true for sophomore Deion Colzie, who no longer gets time to develop, he must step up now.

Merriweather and Colzie emerging as legitimate players for Notre Dame is now a must. One must emerge as the starter at W and the other must at least prove to be a capable rotation player. Merriweather seems to be in best position to take over the boundary spot.

If Merriweather can become "the man" in the boundary, and Colzie can give quality reps in the rotation, it does more than just solidify the boundary position. Their emergence as a tandem also allows Notre Dame to use sophomore Jayden Thomas as a jack of all trades player. Arguably no wideout on the roster has more versatility than Thomas, who can play boundary, slot or to the field. If he's thrust into a prominent boundary role it takes away a player that can give impactful snaps all over the field.

If just Merriweather or Colzie steps up Thomas can still move around a bit, but it requires both to emerge to truly allow Thomas to be free to play all over. This is the key to Notre Dame solidifying its wide receiver depth chart, but the problem is obvious. There are a lot of ifs at receiver at this point, and the margin for error is very, very thin. Notre Dame cannot afford to have another injury, and it can't afford for the currently healthy receivers to not step up and provide quality play.

TIGHT ENDS MUST STEP UP

Of course, wide receivers stepping up isn't the only solution for the Notre Dame offense. Notre Dame has a deep and talented tight end depth chart that will now be counted on even more.

Obviously junior Michael Mayer is the team's best offensive weapon, but he cannot be the only tight end to step into a key role. Behind him there will likely be different players filling different roles.

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Notre Dame needs at least two tight ends to thrust themselves into key roles, especially in the pass game.

That will allow offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to use more and more 12 personnel (1 back, 2 tight ends, 2 receivers). This takes the snaps burden off the receivers, potentially gives Notre Dame even more pass game weapons and also keeps the pass game explosive.

NEED A HEALTHY BACKFIELD

The same story is true at running back, where Notre Dame needs sophomore Logan Diggs to get ready quickly, and for the unit to stay healthy. If the unit stays healthy Notre Dame has a chance to have a very, very good backfield in 2022.

With the different skillsets Notre Dame has the Irish can build around that group in many ways. Not only in the run game, but the unit can provide a lot of production in the pass game as well, which matters very much now that Davis is out for the season.

Using more 21 personnel (2 running backs, 1 tight end, 2 receivers) also takes the snaps burden off the wide receivers. The running backs, like the tight ends, can take some of the playmaking burden off the receivers. 

Good health moving forward is a must, young players stepping up is a must. The Irish offense has the ability to sustain this injury and still be very, very good, but this injury absolutely makes that more challenging. 

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