After losing Avery Davis again, who will fill the void for Notre Dame?
SOUTH BEND — Losing slot receiver Avery Davis to his second ACL tear in nine months was a “huge blow” to Notre Dame’s collective team psyche, not just its offense, coach Marcus Freeman said Saturday.
A returning captain, Davis’ 66 career receptions and eight touchdowns rivaled the total combined production from the returning receiver group of Braden Lenzy (50 catches/six touchdowns), Lorenzo Styles (24/1), Joe Wilkins Jr. (11/2), Deion Colzie (4/0) and Matt Salerno (1/0).
Freeman met Friday night with receivers coach Chansi Stuckey to discuss how Davis’ snaps could be redistributed. Further meetings will be held with coordinators Tommy Rees (offense) and Al Golden (defense) as additional options are considered.
One of those, Freeman agreed, would be to move reserve safety Xavier Watts back to offense. Signed as a three-star recruit from Omaha, Neb., where he posted 1,072 receiving yards and 13 touchdowns as a senior, Watts was rated among the top 75 receivers in the 2020 recruiting class.
“Xavier Watts is having a really good camp,” Freeman said, noting the starting safety role opposite Brandon Joseph remains an open competition.
Redshirt freshman Jayden Thomas and June enrollee Tobias Merriweather could get additional opportunities as the ripple effects of Davis’ loss play out. Michael Mayer and his fellow tight ends could see more time in the slot, as could speedster running back Chris Tyree.
Styles, a sophomore from Ohio, stepped in for the most part after Davis went down last November against Navy. Styles took 45 snaps in the slot in the regular-season finale at Stanford, then saw 60 more in the slot in the Fiesta Bowl loss to Oklahoma State.
“We’ve got some young guys that have to step up,” Freeman said. “It creates more roles and really a bigger responsibility for those guys in that room. I don’t lose confidence in that wideouts room. It just means it’s an opportunity for other guys to step up.”
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Under the lights
Tuesday night’s practice at Saint Joe High School went so well, Notre Dame might do it again before August is out.
“We could possibly take another road trip,” Freeman said. “We all know we have some big road games. The other part of that is practicing at night. We’ve got some big night games, home and away.”
Echoing Norman Dale’s cinematic gambit at Butler Field House in the movie “Hoosiers,” Freeman reminded the Irish outside factors shouldn’t get in the way of their on-field performance.
“The philosophy behind that was, I don’t care where we go or where we play,” Freeman said. “It could be at Notre Dame Stadium. It could be at Saint Joe’s High School. The field dimensions are 53 1/3 (yards) by 120 (yards). What we do within those white lines are all that matters.”
In addition to the season opener on Sept. 3 at Ohio State, Notre Dame has prime-time dates scheduled with BYU (Las Vegas) and at home against Stanford and Clemson. Other games could be flexed into night kickoffs, starting with the Sept. 24 trip to North Carolina.
“I don’t care if it’s a high school stadium and there’s nobody there or there’s 110,000 people there,” Freeman said. “That’s the point of (Tuesday’s trip). It wasn’t about Ohio State or Clemson at night or anything other than: No matter where we play, it’s 53 1/3 by 120. Let’s go and execute.”
Concussion sidelines Prince Kollie
Sophomore outside linebacker Prince Kollie suffered a concussion early in training camp, Freeman said, and remains in concussion protocol as he recovers.
Spotted in street clothes as he watched practice on Monday and Thursday, Kollie wasn’t in attendance during the five practice periods that were open to the media on Friday. Kollie, projected as a key backup to Marist Liufau, played just 58 defensive snaps last season but showed promise on special teams coverage units.
Unlike most of his fellow linebackers, Kollie wasn’t seen wearing the Guardian helmet padding during the first two August practices.
Deion Colzie out with knee injury
Sophomore wide receiver Deion Colzie, who worked on the side Friday, suffered a strain of the posterior cruciate ligament in his left knee and has missed recent practices.
Freeman expressed optimism Colzie would return soon after taking 166 snaps as a freshman, including 25 in the slot.
Joe Wilkins Jr., working back from April 1 surgery to repair a fractured foot, is “ahead of schedule,” Freeman said, and expected back for the opener. Wilkins, seen running sprints and agility drills in full uniform this week during open practice periods, has 11 catches (two for touchdowns) over the past two injury-marred seasons.
Freeman wasn’t asked about Michael Carmody, the reserve offensive tackle who also watched drills from the side in street clothes on Monday and Thursday. Carmody wasn’t spotted at practice on Friday.
Freshmen Jayden Bellamy and Nolan Ziegler, who weren’t spotted during open practice periods on Thursday or Friday, are recovering from illnesses, Freeman said.
Mike Berardino covers Notre Dame football for NDInsider.com and the South Bend Tribune. Follow him on Twitter @MikeBerardino.