Notre Dame running backs coach Lance Taylor giving 'calm' first impression to recruits

Carter Karels
South Bend Tribune

One word has often been used to describe Lance Taylor: calm.

Recruits that met Taylor for the first time last weekend echoed similar sentiments. His demeanor allowed for a seamless icebreaker, they said.

In his first two weeks as the Notre Dame football running backs coach, Taylor got his feet wet through workouts and contacting recruits and coaches nationwide. Perhaps his biggest taste of Irish football came during last weekend’s junior day recruiting event.

The Irish hosted 19 players — four of which were running backs — out of the 2020 and 2021 classes. JuTahn McClain, a Fairfield (Ohio) product, entered the weekend as the only running back visitor with an Irish offer.

“He was really laid back, down to earth and a really cool dude,” McClain said. “Our conversations, it was like we already knew each other before the conversation. That’s how comfortable I was with him.”

Shortly after accepting the job, Taylor followed McClain on Instagram and reached out. The Irish staff has helped pass the torch from previous coach Autry Denson to Taylor, providing him contact information and prospects to analyze.

Saturday provided Taylor an opportunity to offer his first in-person pitch. He broke down ND film before each visiting running back in his office. Taylor also dissected clips from his two-year stint as the Carolina Panthers’ wide receivers coach.

Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey was one of Taylor’s main focuses. He emphasized McCaffrey’s all-purpose style, downhill ability and knack for finishing plays. Taylor divulged into how the Irish would mimic Carolina’s backfield scheme and detailed how both team’s concepts already compared.

“He said he really liked Notre Dame, because the offensive coordinator (Chip Long) loves running the football,” said Kyle Edwards, one of the running back visitors. “Running the ball is important to him. That’s one of the big reasons why he came to Notre Dame. He said they play with the same type of style, so he’s going to interpret the same stuff he did with the Panthers at Notre Dame.”

Edwards, another all-purpose back, has been on ND’s radar for almost a year, he said. It took until Tuesday, though, for the Irish to extend an offer to the Destrehan (La.) High product. He’s the first running back offered since Taylor took over.

“Him introducing himself, he has a calm attitude when he meets you,” Edwards said. “He’s chill and doesn’t want to come off too strong. Whenever we talked about film, he would get more serious, but still in a way where it’s chill.”

With Taylor, the Irish will approach running backs like usual. Taylor will recruit McClain and Edwards with the help of ND’s geographical recruiters. McClain rates as a four-star and three-star recruit on 247Sports and Rivals, respectively. Both sites consider Edwards as a three-star recruit. ND will recruit higher profile running backs — like all blue chip targets — through more of a group effort.

Five-star running back (Rivals) Chris Tyree will continue to be mainly recruited by offensive coordinator Chip Long. Head coach Brian Kelly and Taylor will also assist with Tyree, ND’s most coveted running back recruit for 2020.

The Irish offered Tyree on May 2, 2018 but began heavily recruiting him last fall. The Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale product included ND in his top 10 list a couple months ago. Ten days later, he took an unofficial visit to South Bend for ND’s Dec. 15 junior day.

Tyree intends to take a June 21-23 Notre Dame official visit, he told the Tribune. That’s Tyree’s only reported official visit to date.

“Knowing that he’s coached some really good guys, I’m not sure why anyone would not want to be coached by him,” Tyree said of Taylor.

Among ND’s biggest needs are speed and athleticism at the skill positions. That need became more urgent when Dexter Williams’ eligibility expired following 2018. The Irish missed on a few running backs over the last few years, forcing them to move Jafar Armstrong and Avery Davis to the position last season. Underclassmen Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister and early enrolled Kyren Williams are unproven.

Tyree ranks as the nation’s No. 1 all-purpose back. The 5-foot-9, 171-pounder recorded a 6.30 55-meter dash last weekend and once clocked a 4.38 40-yard dash. Those times would likely be faster than any running back on ND’s roster.

“It’s pretty much that I’m that 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. That’s pretty much their pitch for me.”

Taylor will sift through options beyond Tyree. St. Louis (Mo.) Trinity Catholic’s Reggie Love included the Irish in his Jan. 14 top seven list. The mutual interest between the Irish and Frankfort (Ill.) Lincoln-Way East’s A.J. Henning remains high. ND is expected to circle back with Hyattsville (Md.) DeMatha’s MarShawn Lloyd, a five-star running back (Rivals).

Many of ND’s running back options are far from a decision. Tyree won’t announce a commitment until sometime between his official visit and the end of the 2019 season, he said.

Who the Irish will land at the position seems like a guessing game. One thing might be certain, though: how Taylor will approach one of ND’s most pressing needs.

“He was very chill to talk to,” Edwards said. “I was comfortable talking with him. It wasn’t like an awkward first meeting with a coach. It was calm and we were getting to know each other. We were comfortable with each other straight off the bat.”

Fairfield (Ohio) High's JuTahn McClain, a 2020 all-purpose running back, reported a Notre Dame offer on Dec. 26, 2018.
New Notre Dame running backs coach is described as ‘’laid back, down to earth and a really cool dude.”