How Chris Tyree, a 2020 running back recruit, would fit into Notre Dame’s offense in year one depends on a myriad of factors.
In line for more featured roles, running backs Jafar Armstrong and Tony Jones Jr. will be under the microscope in 2019. Underclassmen Jahmir Smith, C’Bo Flemister and Kyren Williams could each find time as well. All five are eligible to return in 2020.
The Irish lack proven speedsters at running back and other skill positions. Looking to fill that void, inexperienced receivers Braden Lenzy, Michael Young, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr. could see meaningful action this season.
Meanwhile, the Irish are looking at several options in the 2020 class and beyond to fill the need. Like in Tyree, a product of Thomas Dale in Chester, Va. He’s clocked a blazing 4.38 40-yard dash that could help him earn a five-star rating.
The 5-foot-9, 171-pound Tyree projects to see the field early for whichever team he joins. Tom Lemming, a recruiting analyst for CBS Sports Network, said Tyree could start as a true freshman for the Irish.
“Yeah, why not? Why not? He’s talented enough,” said Lemming, who considers Tyree a five-star recruit. “It just depends on if there’s anybody that surprises them as a great player. But he would play a lot anyways if they get him.”
Starting as a true freshman does not happen often at Notre Dame. Under head coach Brian Kelly, ND’s only true freshman running backs to start a game are Tarean Folston (two in 2013) and Josh Adams (three in 2015). Adams played in all 13 games and broke ND’s freshman single season rushing record with 835 yards.
Armando Allen Jr. marks the only Irish true freshman to start at running back for more than one game under Charlie Weis (four in 2007).
A running back with Tyree’s pedigree, however, does not sign with the Irish often either. He’s the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back, ranking as 247Sports’ and Rivals’ No. 59 and No. 60 overall player, respectively.
Fourteen players listed as running backs have signed under Kelly. None of them ranked higher than Tyree on 247Sports. Only Greg Bryant in 2013 ranked higher than Tyree on Rivals (No. 19 overall). None of them ranked higher than No. 115 overall on both recruiting sites.
And not many would have bested the 6.30 55-meter dash Tyree recorded this spring.
“It’s pretty much that I’m the missing piece in their offense,” said Tyree on ND’s pitch to him. “We talked about how they needed that home run hitter and a guy with a lot of speed in that backfield.”
Lemming compared Tyree’s build to that of Allen Pinkett, a two-time All-American for Notre Dame. Playing from 1982-85 for the Irish, Pinkett stands as ND’s all-time leader in rushing touchdowns (49) and second all-time leading rusher (4,131 career yards).
Pinkett started a handful of games in his true freshman season.
“Not as strong as Allen was in high school,” Lemming said of Tyree. “Kind of a smallish, quick, cutting type back who has really good speed and vision. I don’t want to compare him to a Barry Sanders, although size-wise, he’s a little bigger. No one is as good as Sanders.
“But he’s got that type of ability where he can create in the open field.”
Where he stands
Should the Irish land Tyree, offensive coordinator Chip Long deserves most of the credit. He’s been Tyree’s main recruiter since offering him last May.
Kevin Tucker, Thomas Dale’s head coach, joined Tyree for his March 23 trip to Notre Dame. Tyree’s other visit to South Bend came via ND’s Dec. 15 junior day. Tucker spent time with Long, who assured him Tyree’s their No. 1 running back target.
“He’s definitely been one of the more genuine recruiters that I’ve come across in my 10 years as a head coach,” Tucker said. “That’s probably the thing I appreciate the most — when you have a guy that comes in and he’s genuine, down to earth and not trying to be a used car salesman.
“He’s one of the top three or four guys I’ve ever had come to this school in terms of recruiting ability and how he’s just so upfront and honest with the kids and how he treats them.”
Tyree’s top three schools are Oklahoma, Alabama and Notre Dame, Tucker said. He plans to take an official visit for Oklahoma’s spring game on April 13. Tyree eyes a return to South Bend for a June 21-23 official visit.
The difference between last year’s 12-1 season and a national championship could start with Tyree. That’s been ND’s message to him. The Irish have also been up front with him about recruiting two running backs in their 2020 class.
They seek a speed back, like Tyree, and a bigger power back. One fitting the latter mold, the 6-0, 220 Tirek Murphy, visited on March 23 as well. After spending time with Tyree, Murphy hopes to take an ND official visit during the season.
“If they bring in both of those guys, then the running backs coach (Lance Taylor) has already done his work,” Lemming said.
Tucker compares Tyree to running back Christian McCaffrey. Taylor coached McCaffrey at Stanford and the Carolina Panthers. Though much smaller than McCaffrey, Tyree should enter college at 200 pounds, Tucker said. That would put him near the size of early enrolled freshman Kyren Williams.
Tyree’s not expected to publicly announce a decision until later this summer.
“He’s the most humble kid I’ve ever met,” Tucker said. “You would not know that he’s a five-star recruit with 30-something offers. You would just think that he’s a regular high school kid that might be in the band.”