SOUTH BEND — Turnover at the wide receiver position is common in college football. Notre Dame is experiencing similar losses this spring, as the top two receivers for the Fighting Irish last year — Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek — are currently preparing for the NFL Draft.
Fortunately for the Irish, a leader from the wide receiver room has emerged in Avery Davis. The graduate senior had 322 yards receiving and two touchdowns during the 2020 season, including a season-high 78 yards and a score in the victory over then-No. 1 Clemson on Nov. 7.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Davis has been the catalyst of the relatively inexperienced group this spring.
“I think what we’ve been looking for is consistency in performance, and you know you’re going to get that from Avery Davis,” Kelly said. “He’s been a leader of the group.”
Redshirt freshman quarterback Drew Pyne, who’s competing for the starting job against graduate senior Jack Coan, noticed similar leadership skills from Davis.
“Avery leads really well … the receivers look awesome, and it’s led by (Davis),” Pyne said. “They’re more locked-in than I’ve ever seen. They know that we lost a few guys last year; some older guys. They’re locked in and they’re getting better. Coach (Del) Alexander is doing a great job with them.”
Coan, who arrived in South Bend in January, is still getting to learn his new teammates. He’s noticed good work from both the wide receivers and tight ends so far through a week of practices.
“They’re amazing,” Coan said. “There are some great players, and I think there’s so much depth, too. I think there’s a bunch of guys that can play and contribute, so it’s been really fun throwing to them.”
Kelly also noted the work of wideouts Braden Lenzy and Lawrence Keys so far this offseason — but made sure to note an asterisk next to it.
“Lenzy and Keys have been really good. Now, they have to be consistent because that has been the area that they haven’t been for us; they haven’t been consistent,” Kelly said. “But, they’ve made a commitment in the weight room that is different from what we’ve seen in the past. These guys have been outstanding in the weight room, and you can see it in the way they are translating that onto the field.”
After three practices of minimal contact, Kelly said they held about 30 minutes of 11-on-11 work during Saturday’s practice. Of those 30 minutes, 20 were spent going full-contact. The coach said this work is valuable given the loss of traditional spring and fall practice routines last season due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We had one spring practice (last season), and then it became really about getting our guys ready for the season, and, tactically and technically, ready for Duke,” Kelly said. “We really didn’t have a chance to develop guys in different positions, position flexibility, situational work. As a coach, (Saturday) was a good day because we got to work on players in different positions. … We’re really trying to build position flexibility right now.”
This past week, Indiana residents 16 years and older became eligible to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. This would make everyone on the Notre Dame football roster available to get vaccinated in the state.
Kelly said he’s fully vaccinated and that the team is setting up dates for the players to receive their shots as well. While getting the vaccine is not required, Kelly said he and his staff laid out the benefits of receiving the shot to the players in a meeting on Friday.
“We outlined some of the obvious advantages of having it,” Kelly said. “One of the big ones, obviously, would be that they could go home and not have to quarantine coming back. Others that are certainly on the horizon that have not been fully established yet would be smaller groups [with] no masks, the chance we could potentially eat together in a sit-down meal — which they haven’t done since December 2019.
“So, again, we didn’t mandate it, but we talked about the vaccine itself, in terms of what it is, how it operates. Went through that in pretty good detail on Friday.”