Confident RB Chris Tyree working for larger role Notre Dame's offense

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Chris Tyree said the sentence so matter-of-factly, the boldness didn’t resonate at first.

“I think we all understand that good things happen when the ball is in my hands,” he said.

The Notre Dame running back didn’t deliver the line with a smile or grin from the other end of a Zoom press conference with reporters following Saturday’s first spring football practice. A little less than three months removed from his freshman season, Tyree flatly expressed his expectations for making a bigger impact in 2021.

“Being able to expand that and getting me opportunities to give me the ball is the goal for right now,” Tyree said.

The 5-foot-10, 188-pound Tyree established himself as the No. 2 running back in his freshman campaign with the Irish. He showed flashes of his potential while totaling 73 carries for 496 yards and four touchdowns as the backup to ACC Rookie of the Year Kyren Williams.

“Coming into the season, I really had no idea what to expect,” Tyree said. “I knew that whatever my role was I was going to play that and do it to the best of my ability. When it comes to my expectations, I’m pretty happy with what I did.”

But Wiliams played so well — 1,125 rushing yards, 313 receiving yards and 14 total touchdowns — that Tyree’s role in the offense was fairly limited. Tyree logged more than eight carries in only two games: 11 against Florida State and 17 against Boston College.

And in the biggest games of the season, Tyree’s carries were negligible. He accounted for 49 rushing yards and one touchdown on 10 carries in four games against Clemson (twice), North Carolina and Alabama. Almost half of that production came on a 21-yard touchdown run late in the lopsided ACC Championship loss to Clemson.

That was Tyree’s only carry of the game in the rematch with Clemson, which led to head coach Brian Kelly being asked why Tyree didn’t get involved earlier in the game.

“Chris Tyree is our back we bring in when we feel Kyren needs a breather,” Kelly said following the 34-10 loss. “He got in there and bounced a play out there, but he’s in the rotation. Just like he did the last game we played (against Syracuse), he broke off a 94-yard run.

“He’s not the complete back that Kyren is yet, but he will be. He’s a good back.”

That was the biggest question about Tyree coming out of Chester (Va.) Thomas Dale. Could he be a well-rounded back? His speed was unquestioned. A 4.37-second 40-yard dash at The Opening Finals in 2019 helped him flirt with five-star status. But durability concerns kept him in the four-star range.

Rivals ranked Tyree as the No. 4 all-purpose back and No. 78 overall in the 2020 class. 247Sports slated him as the No. 2 all-purpose back and No. 138 overall.

Kelly admitted in September that Tyree provided a bit of a surprise during preseason camp.

“Chris Tyree has been electric,” Kelly said. “Has been tougher than advertised. He’s run physical for us as well.”

That’s always been the objective for Tyree.

“Even growing up back at home, I really made an emphasis to make sure I wasn’t just some fast guy who carried the ball,” Tyree said. “I wanted to make sure that people knew that I could run between the tackles also in addition to the tosses and screens and swings and stuff like that.

“I know how to use my speed to my advantage. I’ve shown that I have pretty good vision. I’m building on becoming a complete back.”

If Tyree, who could also increase his impact as a returner on kickoffs and punts, develops into a complete back, the onus will fall on Notre Dame’s coaching staff to find touches for both Williams and Tyree. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees showed a willingness to play both running backs at the same time last year if only sparingly. Tyree isn’t afraid to advocate for that whether they’re both lined up in the backfield or one is lined up in the slot.

“We both make plays,” Tyree said. “It’s really important that we build off of each other. We’re both really versatile when it comes to playing in the backfield and playing at receiver also. We both in high school played receiver, so it makes a lot of sense for us to be very versatile.”

Both Tyree (four catches for 37 yards) and Williams (eight catches for 31 yards) were utilized in the passing game in the 31-14 loss to Alabama in the College Football Playoff semifinal. It could be a glimpse of what’s to come for the Irish next season.

Kelly said Saturday that he’s not yet certain what Notre Dame’s offensive identity will be this fall. But if a revamped offensive line replacing four starters can find consistency and Williams and Tyree continue their ascent, it will be hard for Rees to stray too far away from his playmakers at running back.

“I’m really confident in what I can do on the field,” Tyree said. “It’s just up to me to be able to show that to more people.”

Notre Dame running back Chris Tyree wants to find a larger role in the Irish offense in his sophomore season this fall.