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Notre Dame Football

Notre Dame Using Big Slot Receivers to Create Mismatches

April 19, 2023
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Slot receiver. 

It’s a position where most people think of a smaller shifty player like Wes Welker or even Tyreek Hill who isn’t the biggest in stature but has the speed to cause matchup issues.

Football evolves.

Notre Dame receivers coach Chansi Stuckey has opted for a bigger body as Jayden Thomas played 73 percent of his snaps last fall in the slot. Early enrollee Jaden Greathouse, who checks in at 6-foot-1, 213 pounds, has also started his Irish career as a slot receiver.  

“Those two guys are unique in the fact they’re both bigger bodies. JT has some savviness and quickness to him for a bigger body and so does JG. You look at him, but he can move. He’s very slippery. Those guys are able to body out guys in the slot and run the downfield stuff that sometimes you use for a tight end. 

“They have the quickness of a smaller, faster receiver, but the body of a tight end with great ball skills. that’s the best of both worlds and then you have a change-up with Chris Tyree. It gives us and Coach (Gerad) Parker so many options to move guys around to get mismatches.” 

Why has Thomas embraced working in the slot after spending his high school career on the outside? 

It’s simple. 

Thomas doesn’t believe any defender can cover him in the slot as his skill set and athletic traits create advantages for him in a variety of situations. 

“In the slot, I definitely feel I can get mismatches whether it’s a nickel, small nickel, safety or even a backer,” Thomas explained. “I feel like none of those people can guard me at all. I played outside in high school, so going against small defenders and maybe slow defenders, I feel I should be able to win every time in one-on-one situations.” 

Notre Dame will use Thomas in several spots this season, so while he’ll be considered a slot receiver, the Georgia native will likely see his percentage of snaps lined up inside go down. 

It’s an NFL approach by Stuckey as he wants Thomas and his other receivers to learn, know and be able to execute all three spots to put more pressure on the defense. It also prevents defenses from locking in on plays or schemes based on the Irish personnel on the field. 

“You have to be able to play all over the field and our offense allows us to do that,” explained Stuckey. “In our last couple of practices, JT has been at X—he’s been into the boundary. So understanding and teaching ‘what is the mindset in the slot versus what is the mindset in the boundary?’ And understanding who I’m playing against and how much room I have.

“I’m trying to grow him in what he needs to do because if he is playing X, we can manipulate it so he’s in the slot. You have to understand it all. I think for him to grow as a player, being in the boundary—or to the field, but not just in the slot period—is going to excel his game and give us more of an opportunity as an offense.” 

Stuckey expecting his receivers to know more than one position also opens the door to getting the best players on the field. 

Notre Dame moved Chris Tyree from running back to the slot this spring as he’s the opposite of Thomas and Greathouse. Tyree is the smaller speedster, who can take it to the house if he can get in the open field, which is something Notre Dame failed to do a year ago. 

It’s also worth noting the Virginia native has been productive in the pass game as he brings 56 catches for 461 yards and four touchdowns to the room. 

And by bumping Tyree into the slot, Thomas to the outside and keeping Tobias Merriweather on the field, Notre Dame can dictate matchups and get even more creative. 

“It’s been great,” stated Stuckey. “He’s such a veteran presence. He’s not like anyone we’ve had in our room. He has great acceleration. He’s shown great hands and he’s picked it up so fast because of the knowledge that he has. 

“I was expecting a bigger curve, but by practice two or three, you could see, ‘Hey this dude could really help us.’ He’s really bought into learning and he takes coaching. He’s very cerebral and he’s brought an element of speed and short area of quickness we didn't have in the room. He’s been a great asset.” 

When it comes to Greathouse, Stuckey and Notre Dame can be patient with his development, but the Texas native has left a positive impression in his first spring. 

“JG is just physically ready to play,” said Stuckey. “Has great ball skills - has niftiness in and around, through zones, where he can be slippery and get around guys but has enough power and quickness at the line of scrimmage to beat guys. His ball skills are out of control just from his basketball background and what they did at Westlake.

“You put him into the boundary, getting inside the 10-yard-line, he’s probably any ball, anywhere, he’s going to make a play.” 

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