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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree “is Going to be a Dog” at Wide Receiver

April 19, 2023
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Quarterback Sam Hartman launched a pass down the right sideline to Chris Tyree late in the team’s scrimmage inside Notre Dame Stadium last Saturday. The ball suspended in the air momentarily as a streaking Tyree looked over his left shoulder and adjusted to the underthrown pass. 

His slowed pace allowed linebacker Jack Kiser to make up ground, get a hand in Tyree’s face and push him out of bounds.

The last-second hit failed to rattle Tyree’s focus. He pulled in the contested catch, which helped solidify the offense’s win over the defense. 

“The offense hit probably a 20-yard gain to Tyree to really seal the deal,” coach Marcus Freeman said in a press conference following the scrimmage.

In a few months, the Notre Dame coaching staff may look back at this catch as the moment Tyree arrived as a dynamic receiver. 

“The development of Chris Tyree is certainly something that's going to be a factor for us as he learns how to play that position,” Irish offensive coordinator Gerad Parker said.

The rising senior switched to wide receiver this spring after spending the prior three seasons at running back. 

Tyree is actually the highest-rated running back prospect to sign with Notre Dame in the last decade. He ran a verified 4.38-second 40-yard dash in high school at 5-9 and 180 pounds and contributed to the Fighting Irish as soon as he stepped on campus.

In 2020, he rushed for 496 yards and four touchdowns on 6.8 yards per carry behind an offensive line that finished among the top three for the Joe Moore Award.

His production out of the backfield dipped over the following two seasons. Tyree averaged 4.27 yards per carry and never eclipsed 500 rush yards in a season. His efficiency fell while running behind an inexperienced offensive line and as bigger running backs like Logan Diggs and Audric Estimé proved better equipped to run between the tackles consistently. 

                                      Chris Tyree’s Offensive Production at Notre Dame
Year Carries Yards YPC Receptions Yards Total TDs
2022 100 444 4.4 24 138 5
2021 56 222 4.0 24 258 3
2020 73 496 6.8 8 65 4

Yet, Tyree showed value as a pass-catcher. He snagged 24 receptions in each of the last two seasons for a total of 396 yards and four scores and occasionally lined up in the slot.

That’s enough production for him to be the offense’s leader in career receiving yards if Lorenzo Styles, Jr. makes a permanent switch to cornerback

Even with his experience, the Tyree receiver experience could’ve failed early on. Clearly, Tyree has grown substantially since switching positions at the start of spring ball. 

The media viewed the entirety of Notre Dame’s sixth spring practice a few weeks ago. That morning, Tyree dropped multiple passes and caught two of his seven defended targets based on ISD’s observations from the day. His first catch came in one-on-one reps against walk-on safety Marty Auer. Freshman quarterback Steven Angeli later hit Tyree on a check down in 7-on-7.

Even against air, Tyree struggled to track and adjust to the ball over his shoulder.

On the bright side, the coaching staff saw Tyree repeatedly get open against Notre Dame’s first-team defense. Defensive backs struggled to keep up with the speedster on crossing routes.

On an 11-on-11 rep, he accurately read zone coverage from the defense and found a soft opening over the middle of the field. He dropped the pass, but his recognition showed an advanced feel for the position.

“I've had my ups and downs, for sure, but I've loved every moment of it,” Tyree said. “I've had a lot of fun since the transition, so I've enjoyed every part of it so far.”

His most significant adjustment was spacial awareness and running complex downfield routes out of the slot.

According to Pro Football Focus, he caught 35 of his 56 career receptions (62.5%) behind the line of scrimmage. He only hauled in two receptions when more than 10 yards downfield.

“I gave him examples of when I was at Clemson as a quarterback moving to receiver, so I know the things he’s going through,” Irish wide receiver coach Chansi Stuckey said. “I was used to seeing everything in front of me, but now everything is behind me as I turn my back to the defense. What do I do and how do I catch it to knife forward? 

“After we had that talk, he has adjusted so well, and he’s embraced it, and he loves it.”

Over 14 spring practices, he’s run crisper routes, become a more reliable pass-catcher and his teammates said his speed makes him a deadly deep threat.

Tyree has also lost some weight at receiver, dropping from 197 to 190 pounds.

“[It’s] similar to a track practice,” Tyree said. “There's so much running, so much volume, so you have no choice but to work that technique and get back into that speed training.”

The result? Tyree feels faster than ever and now gets the added benefit of exploiting safeties and linebackers in space.

“You can play with the defenders a little bit because you have so much room to work,” Tyree said. “I'm starting to learn to have a plan in terms of my route running, depending on the coverage.”

Fighting Irish defenders are convinced Tyree is ready for a dynamic role this fall, especially out wide.

“Chris Tyree is going to have a huge role in this offense,” Irish cornerback Cam Hart said. “I can see it. You can still see the running back in him. He still is thinking like running back, but once he fully flips over to the receiver, he's going to be a dog.”

Tyree says the mindset adjustment will come as he continues to develop his pre-snap recognition, and he’s committed to mastering his new craft with the help of Stuckey and Parker. 

Of course, he could still line up at running back this fall, but with so much depth at the position, it seems he can best serve the team as a primary wide receiver. 

“He knows how to play running back,” Stuckey said, “but we wanted to see this spring, ‘Could he play in the slot? Could he do the things we were asking him to do? Could he play off press? Could he understand coverage?’ 

“He is miles ahead of what any of us thought. He’s actually pretty natural playing the wide receiver position and learning how to catch the ball differently now.”

His speed and receiving skills should aid his professional football aspirations, especially with NFL stars like Deebo Samuel and Austin Ekeler showing how valuable offensive skill players are who can line up anywhere.

Over the years, Tyree has reached out to former Notre Dame players who switched from running back to wide receiver and vice versa. That includes CJ Prosise, a third-round NFL draft pick by the Seattle Seahawks in 2016, and Amir Carlisle, who Notre Dame recently hired as its director of player development.

“He was basically in the same position that I'm in right now,” Tyree said of Carlisle. “He came in as a running back and got switched to receiver. Having him in my corner, having him on staff has been really helpful for me.”

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