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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame "Heartbroken" Over Avery Davis Injury, Who Will the Receiver Room Turn to Next?

August 13, 2022

Sixth-year Notre Dame wide receiver Avery Davis ran a jet sweep during Friday’s practice. When he planted, he went down to the turf.  He left the early LaBar Practice Complex with a couple of trainers.

Initially, the team felt optimistic, but on Saturday morning, Notre Dame announced that Davis tore the ACL in his right knee and will miss the 2022 season. 

The 2021 team captain had recently returned from a torn ACL in his left knee, which he injured against Navy last November. 

After he learned of the diagnosis on Friday, head coach Marcus Freeman said he visited Davis’ apartment but struggled to find the right words.

“What do you say to a kid at that moment? You're just coming back from an ACL injury and now you tear the other one,” Freeman said. “But I wanted him to know that he's important to this program. Whatever we can do to support him, we will.”

The entire program is struggling with the loss of Davis, who offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said is one of the most respected members of the team.  

They’ve watched him go through multiple position changes before he finally found a role at wide receiver as a junior. He then owned that role, became a captain and appeared to have an NFL future, only to now have it derailed by back-to-back ACL injuries.

“It's a huge blow, not just for not the [wide receiver] room, but the team,” Freeman said. “You're talking about a captain and he’s a great example of what we want our football players to be about. You're heartbroken for the kid.”

Going forward, the program will do its best to rally around Davis.

“All we can do right now is love A.D., give him our support and be there for him through these tough times,” Rees said. “You saw the impact on the group last night. You can feel it.”

Where does the Notre Dame offense go from here?

Davis hauled in 27 catches for 386 yards and four touchdowns in eight games in 2021. His career totals of 66 receptions for 862 yards and eight touchdowns each ranked first among returning Irish wide receivers.

Rees, wide receiver coach Chansi Stuckey and the rest of the offensive staff are now tasked with finding a way to replace Davis’ leaders, experience and projected production. 

“It's my job to put our guys in the right spots,” Rees said. “We have plenty of talent around this program around this team. I'm excited about the challenge and excited for the opportunity to showcase it.”

Sophomore Lorenzo Styles is a leading 2022 breakout candidate with star potential. In 2021, he had 24 catches for 344 yards and a touchdown. He also ended the season on a high note against Oklahoma State in the Fiesta Bowl, where he snagged eight catches for 136 yards and a touchdown.

Braden Lenzy has also looked better than ever this spring, and he’s already proven that he’s an explosive offensive weapon when healthy. Last fall, he snagged 32 passes and carried the ball five times for 419 total yards and three touchdowns.

On a positive injury note, Freeman expects two currently sidelined wide receivers to return to action soon. Sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie has also been injured this spring.  He walked into practice this week wearing street clothes and a knee brace due to a PCL sprain.

Fifth-year wide receiver Joe Wilkins underwent surgery in April to repair a Lisfranc fracture in his right foot. The staff anticipated he’d be out for at least the first few weeks of the season, but that may no longer be the case.

“We expect Joe Wilkins to be back for the Ohio State game, which I don't know if I would've said that last week,” Freeman said. “But he is ahead of schedule. As long as he continues to progress in the direction he's going, we expect him back for Week 1.”

In the practices open to the media, sophomore Jayden Thomas and freshman Tobias Merriweather have flashed and will be called on to make an impact this fall. 

“You're going to have to see Lorenzo Styles, Jayden Thomas, Deion Colzie and Tobias Merriweather,” Freeman said. “You're going to have to see some guys step up. You're going to have to see Matt Salerno step up. I think what it does, it creates more roles in and really a bigger responsibility for those guys in that room.”

Other Options at Receiver

Notre Dame is left with just seven healthy scholarship wide receivers, one of which is a former walk-on. 

In 2021, this group combined for a modest 65 catches, 818 yards and five touchdowns, each of which falls short of tight end Michael Mayer’s sophomore production.

A solution could be to have Mayer line up more often detached from the offensive line. He could even line up in the boundary. 

Other tight ends could also have more of a receiver-like role this fall. Freshmen Eli Raridon and Holden Staes have looked good as pass-catchers this August, even when matched up against veteran Notre Dame defenders

“That could be an option,” Freeman said. “Moving a safety could be an option. We haven't made any decisions. Obviously, we just found out last night, so those will be something me and Coach Rees and Coach [Al] Golden will discuss.”

Among the safeties, junior Xavier Watts and sophomore Ramon Henderson could be intriguing offensive weapons. 

Watts began his Irish career as a wide receiver. Henderson was recruited by several FBS programs as a wide receiver. Plus, he’s 6-foot-1 and certainly has the speed, hands and ball tracking ability to become a productive pass-catcher. 

Yet both flashed throughout the 2021 season when given game opportunities to navigate the backend of the defense. Due to recruiting misses, the safety room is also thin, so moving a young and talented player from this unit would be a tough pill to swallow.

“There's a lot of guys that can help us,” Freeman said. “There's a lot of different things we can do with the people we have on his team. We've got to figure out how we're going to utilize our personnel, the people we have on this roster and put our offense in a position to have success.”

Other Injury Updates

Freshmen Nolan Ziegler and Jayden Bellamy missed practice on Friday due to illnesses. But both were back for Saturday’s practice in Notre Dame Stadium.

Prince Kollie also missed practice time this week and is still working his way through concussion protocol.

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