Chris Tyree after meeting Dante Moore: 'He has to be a really good player'

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
Notre Dame running backs coach Deland McCullough gives instruction during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

SOUTH BEND – Dante Moore, a five-star quarterback prospect from Detroit’s Martin Luther King High School, made a good impression with at least one current player during his highly anticipated two-day unofficial visit to Notre Dame this week. 

“I talked to him on the field for a little bit,” junior running back Chris Tyree said after Tuesday’s practice. “For him to be able to come here and visit and have so much attention around him, he has to be a really good player.”

Moore, who visited along with his father Otha, drew paparazzi-like media attention as he walked into the Guglielmino Athletics Complex on Monday. One photo showed Otha Moore in conversation with coach Marcus Freeman as Dante Moore walked ahead with offensive coordinator Tommy Rees and recruiting director Chad Bowden led the way. 

“I feel like everyone that we bring in is all like-minded,” said Tyree, a four-star signee in 2020 out of Chester, Va. “That’s the kind of people that we want at Notre Dame, people that have high (character) – really good athletes and really good students. I feel like we all get along well.”

Tyree said he hasn’t sought out YouTube highlights of Moore’s prep exploits, but he was aware of his consensus five-star ranking. 

“I have seen that,” Tyree said with a smile. 

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Equal opportunity 

Now that two-time 1,000-yard rusher Kyren Williams is headed to the NFL, Notre Dame must find his replacement from a talented group of four running backs with varied skill sets. 

“We got a room full of dudes,” Tyree said. 

How deep could that rotation go this fall?

“You can go all four,” said running backs coach Deland McCullough, who played and coached in the NFL. “Everywhere I’ve been my history is pretty strong on playing a lot of guys.”

That should keep the competition burning among Tyree, sophomores Logan Diggs and Audric Estime and early-enrolled freshman Jadarian Price. 

“You’ve got several jobs that come with playing running back,” McCullough said. “You got your starter, you got your immediate backup, so those two guys should play the most. In my world, you’ve got a third-and-3 to (third-and-6) guy, you’ve got a third-and-7 plus guy, you’ve got a two-minute guy, a four-minute guy, a gadget guy and a short-yardage goal line guy.”

Roles aplenty. 

“So you’re talking about 7-8 jobs right there,” he said. “Two people aren’t doing all those jobs. When you see those things up (on the board), that excites guys. They don’t look at it just like, ‘I’m the starter’ or “I’m the backup.’ No, there’s other things you could fall into and still be able to embrace being part of the game plan.”

Painful proposition

Notre Dame’s Chris Tyree (25) runs for a touchdown during the 2022 Playstation Fiesta Bowl Saturday, Jan. 1, 2022 at State Farm Stadium in Glendale, Arizona.

Tyree’s return to his home state last year was spoiled by a turf toe injury that forced him to miss the Virginia Tech game in mid-October. 

The issue didn’t fully resolve until mid-December during Fiesta Bowl preparation. 

“I would say I was fighting it pretty much all season,” Tyree siad. “I didn’t really have a problem with it until around the Virginia Tech game. That’s when it really became an issue. It’s fine now. It’s all good but it’s a long process for sure.”

Tyree, who hopes to return later this week from a minor ankle sprain, said his turf toe involved “damaged ligaments around the small bones” under his big toe. Each turf toe diagnosis can be a bit different, depending on the individual. 

“It could be a combination of multiple things actually,” Tyree said. “It was a long process to get back just with rehab and trying to strengthen the muscles in your feet. Fortunately I’m all healed up now and I’m ready to go.”

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Tipping the scales

Early-enrolled freshman running back Jadarian Price, a four-star signee from Denison, Texas, flashed at several points in Saturday’s open practice.

Price, who has shown early ability in blitz pickup as well, is up to 195 pounds after packing on another 7-8 pounds over spring break, answering McCullough’s challenge. 

“He’s trending up, just like the rest of the guys,” McCullough said. “He’s strong, he’s smart, he’s gaining the weight. I’ve been impressed with him.” 

No weight gain is needed for 228-pound power back Audric Estime. The sophomore from Nyack, N.Y., has cut his body fat since signing as a four-star recruit in the 2021 class. 

Notre Dame running back Audric Estime (24) runs with the ball during Notre Dame Spring Practice on Saturday, March 26, 2022, at Irish Athletics Center in South Bend, Indiana.

Freeman recently called Estime a “big diesel truck” and praised him for his no-frills approach. 

“The dude runs hard and has a low center of gravity,” Freeman said. “He’s one of those guys who, if I play linebacker: OK, you know you’ve got to buckle up really tight. He’s a load.”

Don't run to daylight 

McCullough has encouraged his backs to stick with the play design and let Harry Hiestand’s burly offensive linemen do the dirty work. 

“That’s the challenge I put out to all these guys,” McCullough said. “There’s nothing wrong with putting your head down and barreling up in there and getting 5 yards, understanding you’re setting the defense up for something down the line.”

There is a time for improvisation and a time for staying on script, even as you make your post-snap reads. 

“Just because it looks kind of hazy in there – as long as you’re seeing Notre Dame jerseys, run behind them,” McCullough said. “Don’t just go bouncing outside. If you see Notre Dame jerseys going that way, you go that way. “

Staff writer Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for the South Bend Tribune and NDInsider.com. Email him at mberardino@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.