Blue and Gold Illustrated

August 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 4 of 55 AUGUST 2021 5 D iscussion about Notre Dame's pass catchers this season often starts with three players. Sophomore tight end Michael Mayer is the leading returning re- ceiver and most obvious mismatch. Senior wide receiver Kevin Austin Jr.'s emergence is most critical to the pass- ing offense's ceiling. Junior running back Kyren Williams' already frequent involvement as a receiver could in- crease even more. All three players are integral pieces and have big-play upside. If Notre Dame's pass game takes a step for- ward in explosiveness, those three will be at the center of that progress. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, though, is quick to trumpet another player 's importance to the mission. Don't dismiss graduate student slot receiver Avery Davis, he said. "His value to this program cannot be put down," Rees noted. "He has been through more than anyone who we have, and he has kept a great at- titude throughout it all. "He has worked his way to find a place on this team and find a role in an impactful way. He had the two biggest plays of our season. He's just a presence. He's always out there, someone you can count on day in and day out." Davis — a 5-11, 202-pound quar- terback turned running back, corner- back and finally receiver — has more career catches and games played than any returning Notre Dame wideout. He emerged as the primary slot receiver a year ago. His season included a 53-yard catch and four- yard touchdown on the final drive of regulation in Notre Dame's take- down of then-No. 1 Clemson — the plays Rees referenced. Those big moments were infre- quent, but they didn't happen by ac- cident. Davis has finally found a spot where he can make an impact. Notre Dame has found a position that high- lights his skill set. Heading into his third season as a receiver, he's finally comfortable. He admitted this spring he was still a bit uneasy heading into the 2020 opener. "It was at a point where I was play- ing a position in the fall, and in the spring I was playing a completely different position," Davis said of his first two-plus years at Notre Dame. "From a comfort aspect, you're not really able to set your mind on a specific task and grow at it, because there's such uneasiness and so much uncertainty." Davis' 2020 statistical impact was still modest: 24 catches, 322 receiv- ing yards and two touchdowns. He topped 45 receiving yards just twice in 12 games. That 39 career catches is enough to lead all returning Irish wide receivers says more about the turnover at the position than Davis' career. Even as the No. 1 slot receiver last year, Davis played only 385 snaps. That's 32 snaps per game and 93 fewer than No. 2 tight end Tommy Tremble. No. 3 tight end Brock Wright played just 40 fewer snaps than him. But that was a year ago in a run- heavy, multiple-tight-end offense. Notre Dame likely won't lean as heavily into that identity in 2021. And Davis offered enough in 2020 to suggest he could help in a larger role. Probably not as a go-to target, but as an open-field playmaker who can run after the catch and take ad- vantage of a defense that focuses on defending the Irish's other receivers. "He has ability to win one-on-one matchups," Rees said. "You saw last season, if he's in the right position, he will go make a play for you. He's somebody we don't put any over- sight to. We just make sure we're put- ting him in position to be successful." Rees is on to something. Davis av- eraged 8.0 yards after catch (YAC) per reception, which led Notre Dame and tied for 19th nationally among wide receivers with at least 30 targets. That's higher than 2021 first-round NFL Draft pick Kadarius Toney, who had 984 yards for Florida last year as a slot receiver. It's higher than second-round picks Rondale Moore (Purdue) and Terrace Mar- shall Jr. (LSU). As Davis' catch against Clemson and pair of 20-yard grabs in the Blue- Gold Game attest, he owns some deep-threat ability as well. He can play field receiver if Notre Dame uses Williams and running back Chris Tyree in the slot more often. Davis, though, is among many mouths Notre Dame wants to feed. The Irish will give Austin every chance to be a No. 1 receiver. Mayer will command targets. Williams had 35 catches last season and could see that number rise. More involvement for Tyree presumably includes more than eight catches, which was his 2020 total. Senior receivers Braden Lenzy, Lawrence Keys III and Joe Wilkins Jr. are angling for breakout years. In that context, a 35- or 40-catch season for Davis would be a success. At the same time, Rees and Notre Dame appear motivated to get him involved with more frequency. Don't be surprised if his impact becomes harder to miss. "That kid is somebody we all look up to and is a great example of what it means to be selfless and work to- ward your goals," Rees said. "To his credit, he has carved out a pretty nice job." ✦ Avery Davis' Potential Impact Can't Be Ignored ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Davis' 39 career catches are the most of any returning Notre Dame receiver. PHOTO COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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