Lorenzo Styles mulls move to cornerback as Notre Dame's depth blossoms at wide receiver

Mike Berardino
ND Insider
LOS ANGELES, CA - NOVEMBER 26: Notre Dame Fighting Irish wide receiver Lorenzo Styles (4) dives for yards during Notre Dame Fighting Irish game versus USC Trojans on November 26, 2022, at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum in Los Angeles, CA. (Photo by Jevone Moore/Icon Sportswire) (Icon Sportswire via AP Images)

SOUTH BEND — The latest attempt to relaunch Lorenzo Styles’ stalled career at Notre Dame has seen him dabbling with a potential position switch from wide receiver to cornerback.

The speedy junior, who saw his production and playing time fade down the stretch last season, has taken coach Marcus Freeman’s suggestion this spring and piqued curiosity with his natural instincts during occasional practice cameos on defense.

“Coming from my background, I told him I see a lot of traits that he possesses that could resonate on the defensive side of the ball,” Freeman said Saturday. “But I want it to be his decision. I want him to feel good about what position he’s playing.”

Encouraged to flip over to defense during 1-on-1 coverage drills, Styles has handled himself well. The older brother of Ohio State safety Sonny Styles and the namesake son of the former Super Bowl-winning linebacker, this Styles was a two-way standout at Pickerington (Ohio) Central High School.

Former Michigan State safety Xavier Henderson, who was three years ahead of Styles at Pickerington Central, raved about Styles’ all-around ability.

“Lorenzo was like a natural football player that could play wideout, safety, corner, running back,” Henderson told last July. “Lorenzo could do it all.”

In eight games as a senior in 2020, Lorenzo Styles made 22 tackles and scored four of his five touchdowns as a kickoff or punt returner.

 “I know a lot of people from where he’s from in Columbus, Ohio said he was a dang good DB in high school,” Freeman said. “I’ve always just kind of put that carrot in his (sight). It was him ultimately that said, ‘OK, I want to try it, Coach. I know you’ve said it and you’ve said it.’ We’ll see after next week what we decide to do with him.”

In a span of six games, dating to the Fiesta Bowl loss against Oklahoma State, Styles made 27 catches for 396 yards and two touchdowns. Over the final eight games of 2022, however, Styles was held to just 11 catches for 80 yards and no touchdowns.

He dropped a pass in four of his final eight games after a pair of drops, both against Cal, through the first five games.

“With him last year, it almost became a mental struggle in terms of just the basics of catching the ball,” Freeman said on March 22 as spring practice opened. “Lorenzo Styles is a talented, talented football player. I mean, really talented.”

The emergence of converted running back Chris Tyree as a speed threat at wideout this spring, along with the rapid development of early enrollees Braylon James, Jaden Greathouse and Rico Flores Jr., has bumped Styles down a peg or two in a crowded receiver room.

Perhaps coincidentally, Saturday’s discussion came as the two-week spring transfer window opened for undergraduates. Styles, who exclusively worked at receiver Saturday, has two years of eligibility left.

“We’d love to have him,” defensive coordinator Al Golden said when asked about Styles moving to cornerback. “That’s the head coach’s decision, but if that’s the direction it goes here in the next 24-48 hours, then we’ll get to work with him. Love the young man. Tremendous young man (who is) deserving of an opportunity to make an impact here at Notre Dame.”

Spring practice notes:Notre Dame center Zeke Correll looks to smooth the transition for Sam Hartman

Prince Kollie dealing with concussion

Reserve linebacker Prince Kollie has been in concussion protocol for the past two weeks, but the junior might still be cleared in time for the final week of spring drills.

Early enrolled freshmen defensive backs Christian Gray (knee arthroscope) and Ben Minich (right thumb) will miss the rest of spring practice after recent surgical procedures.

Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens talks to freshman cornerback Christian Gray (29) during warmups Saturday, March 25, 2023, at Notre Dame spring football practice in South Bend.

Kollie, a special teams standout who has shown promise in limited playing time on defense, missed several weeks last August after suffering a concussion early in fall training camp.

Redshirt freshman Jaylen Sneed, a backup rover who was a five-star signee out of Hilton Head, S.C., has returned to drills after missing time with an undisclosed issue.

'Transfer' Kaleb Smith medically retires

The Kaleb Smith confusion has been resolved by the medical retirement of the graduate transfer from Virginia Tech.

“We wish him all the best,” Freeman said. “He made a decision that this was probably what was best for him. We’re grateful for the time we had with him.”

Plagued by shoulder injuries with the Hokies, the elder Smith, who has known Sam Hartman since their days as Wake Forest commits, was not at Wednesday’s open practice. A former walk-on who became a team captain at Virginia Tech, Smith was considered a vocal leader from his arrival in mid-January.

Among those in attendance for Saturday’s jersey scrimmage at Notre Dame Stadium was 2023 signee Kaleb “KK” Smith, a high school wideout from Frisco, Texas.

Prepping for Navy without Chase Ketterer

Four-plus months from the season opener in Dublin against Navy and its vaunted triple-option offense, Notre Dame has yet to sneak in any specialized work during spring practice periods.

That will change in a few days.

“We’ve done some preparation in the film room and game-planning, but we haven’t practiced Navy yet,” Freeman said. “We actually are going to have a practice on Tuesday that will be focused on Navy.”

Notre Dame’s Chase Ketterer (27) celebrates after the Notre Dame vs. North Carolina NCAA football game Saturday, Oct. 30, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend.

Chase Ketterer, the walk-on running back who ran the triple option at New Prairie High School, was spotted Wednesday with his right arm in a sling. Tight end Justin Fisher (Mishawaka) simulated Navy’s fullback in practice last season, but the designated stand-in for Navy quarterback Xavier Arline remains unclear.

“We have to go figure out who’s going to be our scout team quarterback now that Chase Ketterer’s out,” Freeman said. “It isn’t going to be perfect no matter if it’s Chase Ketterer or anybody else. It’s hard to replicate what you’re going to see versus Navy. It’s impossible. But we have to teach somebody to be able to get some good reps on Tuesday.”

Follow Notre Dame football writer Mike Berardino on Twitter @MikeBerardino.

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