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Notre Dame Football

Jayden Thomas Enters Summer Ready for Primary Receiver, Leadership Roles

June 28, 2023
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Jayden Thomas spoke to the media during the spring and answered question after question about his wide receiver teammates.

That’s not a knock on my colleagues. Thomas isn’t a burner like Braden Lenzy, nor does he possess the frame of his 6-foot-5 classmate Deion Colzie. It’s easy to overlook his development as a sophomore in 2022 because he lacks an elite trait, but he’s likely Notre Dame’s most crucial receiver heading into fall camp.

Over the final nine games last season, he snagged 22 receptions for 329 yards and two scores. 

The wide receiver room experienced noticeable turnover over the last nine months. Joe Wilkins entered the transfer portal midseason, Lenzy and sixth-year wide receiver Avery Davis moved onto the next chapters of their careers, Lorenzo Styles switched cornerback before departing for Ohio State and Virginia Tech transfer Kaleb Smith medically retired this spring. 

Suddenly, Thomas is the most experienced wide receiver in the room outside of former walk-on Matt Salerno, who has six career receptions for 58 yards and a touchdown. 

“It definitely changed a lot, I would say,” Thomas said. “For me and Deion, we're kind of like the older guys, the vets who we were just looking up to last year, with AD, Braden and Joe and them. It's kind of crazy. 

“But when you come to a place like this like Coach Freeman always preaches, everybody's a leader, whether it's in your position group, a team or a captain. And everybody has to lead and me and Deion, we've kind of taken that role.”

At 220 pounds, Thomas primarily lined up in the slot last fall. Of his 281 snaps as a pass catcher, 214 (76.2 percent) came from the slot.

It also gives Notre Dame the added advantage of having such an able blocker in the slot, as Thomas has the size to match up with linebackers in this department. 

“In the slot, I definitely feel I can get mismatches whether it’s a nickel, small nickel, safety or even a backer,” Thomas said. “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.” 

Part of Thomas’ evolution this fall will be to line up all over the field, especially with former running back Chris Tyree moving to receiver. 

“JT’s jumped up,” Irish wide receiver coach Chansi Stuckey said. “Chris Tyree coming over helps a bunch. Now we can move guys around so JT’s not locked into the slot. So he can play into the boundary or to the field because JG is there too, who’s doing a great job.”

New Fighting Irish quarterback Sam Hartman targeted Thomas six times in the first half of the Blue-Gold Game. Thomas finished with four receptions for 71 yards and a touchdown and drew an unnecessary roughness penalty on a jet sweep on the game's first play. 

Most of his touches came from the slot, including his first-quarter touchdown. But his 46-yard catch — the game's biggest play, came on a post route where he lined up to the field. 

“The process I approach is the NFL approach,” Stuckey said. “You have to be able to play all over the field, and our offense allows us to do that.”

If he can do that, it should enable Notre Dame to put the pass-catchers on the field, providing the offense with the greatest advantage.

“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,” Stuckey said. “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.”

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