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Notre Dame Football

Book's steady hand key as Notre Dame retools WR group

September 1, 2020

The ‘Key Three’ are gone.

Ian Book is back.

Unless offensive coordinator Tommy Rees unleashes a throw-back pass to the quarterback, Book isn’t likely to be on the receiving end of any passes in the Notre Dame offense.

Book, the Fighting Irish’s senior signal-caller, nonetheless stands as the key catalyst as Notre Dame retools a passing offense that lost a combined 150 receptions, 2,013 yards and 23 touchdowns from the 2019 trio of Chase Claypool, Chris Finke and Cole Kmet.

Those bawdy numbers reflect 62.5% of all the completions in Book’s record-setting tour de force last season, as well as 67.6% of his touchdown passes and 66.2% of his 3,400 passing yards.

Now two weeks into camp and 11 days from the season-opening tilt against Duke inside Notre Dame Stadium, Brian Kelly is on the verge of identifying Book’s opening group of targets.

“I think we’ve settled into Avery (Davis) and Lawrence (Keys III) in the slot, the ‘F’ receiver for us,” said Kelly Tuesday during a video call with reporters. “So I think that’s a pretty consistent look for us.

“Braden (Lenzy) out on the perimeter. And I think we’ve got some flexibility with Javon McKinley were he can play out at the ‘X’ or he can go into boundary; we’ve moved Ben (Skowronek, Northwestern graduate-transfer) into the boundary at the ‘W’ receiver position. I think that’s a pretty fluid situation, not fluid, but that’s a pretty set situation and fluid when it comes to moving some other guys around into positions where we think that they can help us and add to the depth of our football team.

“I think those guys have done a really nice job of kind of solidifying their positions; Joe Wilkins is starting to emerge and show some more consistency as well. I think Joe will be a guy also who can maybe go play to the field, maybe play a little bit into the boundary as well.

“That would probably the first group.”

The quartet of Davis, Keys, Lenzy and Wilkins own 50 career receptions for the Fighting Irish, with 45 of those coming last season. Skowronek amassed 110 catches in his Northwestern career, cut short last fall by a season-ending knee injury.

Kelly also singled out some of Notre Dame’s freshman receivers.

“Some of those young guys, Jordan Johnson’s doing a nice job, Xavier (Watts) and Jay Brunelle, those guys have done a really nice job for us as well,” Kelly said. “Those guys are young, and so it’s just a matter of them continuing to get reps.

“I think the first group of guys I laid out for you, most of our time has been spent just solidifying that group and where they are.”

Meshing all of those components together is the steadying guidance of Book.

“I don’t know how much it helps from a wide receiver perspective as much as you know there’s a guy there who’s not going to get rattled, he’s a veteran, he’s going to talk to those guys and tell them what he expects,” said Kelly, entering his 11th season atop the ND program. “I think if you had a younger guy there (at QB), there might be some frustrations as you’re going through trying to get the combinations.

“But with McKinley, Brunelle, Avery Davis, Lenzy, Wilkins, those guys have played football and they know the offense and they know the offense pretty good. This is just a matter of building relationships and a little bit of continuity. So to answer the question, specifically, I think just having a veteran there that doesn’t get frustrated as you go through the learning curve with younger players would probably be the biggest benefit.”

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