Blue and Gold Illustrated

June/July 2023

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

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BLUEGOLDONLINE.COM JUNE/JULY 2023 5 L orenzo Styles' position switch and portal plunge were the final two pieces of a sudden swerve on an originally promising Notre Dame ca- reer arc. Fifteen months after sparking visions of stardom as a receiver, he's looking for a new home as a cornerback. The first twist came when Styles dropped down the depth chart last fall as issues with catching the ball per- sisted and became mental. Both sides decided midway through spring prac- tice that a move to cornerback might be the best path for rediscovering himself. Two days after a full practice at corner enthused him, though, he hopped into the transfer portal looking to play de- fensive back somewhere else. A top-100 recruit with playmaking ability on tape isn't a player you think of moving to defense, let alone one you want to lose. But Styles' departure doesn't hit the team or the receiver room like a boulder rolling downhill — nor did his brief stop on defense. And not be- cause Notre Dame wanted the player or the person to leave. The same goes for the loss of Virginia Tech graduate trans- fer Kaleb Smith, who announced his re- tirement from football April 15. A position switch that would have been a non-starter a year ago and a loss that would have crashed the Irish re- ceiver unit last spring feels like a speed bump now. Notre Dame can point to the yearlong transformation of the receivers from suspect to potential strength as the reasons why. An injection of young tal- ent, a successful position switch to re- ceiver, newfound depth and some spring risers made moving Styles workable and his exit, while not ideal, survivable. The Blue-Gold Game was a confirma- tion. It was the end to 15 spring practices that fueled the positive outlook despite a lack of returning production. Without Styles (54 catches the last two years) and Smith (1,143 career receiving yards), no returning pass catcher on the roster has more than 25 career catches or 361 yards. But worries are undetectable, espe- cially after the spring game. "The ownership of what the guys have done has gotten better," receivers coach Chansi Stuckey said. "We hit on all three freshmen, and that was huge. That's super rare." Stuckey spoke to reporters three days before the Blue-Gold Game. His unit made him look smart during it. Freshman Jaden Greathouse hauled in 11 passes for 118 yards, displaying the smarts and savvy to find spaces in zone defenses and the ability to win against man coverage that Stuckey bragged about earlier. His ball skills and red-zone production were evident in earlier spring practices. "It's a lot faster than high school," Greathouse said. "I'm slowly but surely getting there, and I'm excited for this summer so I can work." It hasn't appeared to be too fast for him, nor for classmates Rico Flores Jr. and Braylon James. Flores had just 1 catch in the spring game, but his polished route- running skills and strength made him a practice standout. James (6-foot-2, 195 pounds) isn't quite as refined a route run- ner, but he has added 15 pounds of muscle since arriving and, according to Stuckey, is "the biggest and freakiest of them all." Those three make the position's long-term forecast balmy while offer- ing short-term help. "All three of those freshmen will play for us this year," head coach Marcus Freeman said. They are not, though, the only positive developments of spring practice at re- ceiver. Chris Tyree's switch from running back to slot receiver made sense on pa- per as soon as it was revealed in the first practice session. Fourteen more practices showed it has worked. Tyree struggled with drops in an open practice April 1, but has quickly picked up the expanded route tree. He hauled in a contested catch on the final drive of a closed scrimmage earlier this spring. He caught a 15-yard pass over the middle in the spring game. The new pieces turned heads. But fa- miliar faces shouldn't be overlooked ei- ther. Junior Jayden Thomas' contested- catch skills and the physical mismatch problems he created in the slot went overlooked in a run-heavy offense and a Michael Mayer-centric passing game. He ought not to be forgotten after his 4-catch, 71-yard outing in the Blue- Gold Game. Tyree's move to the slot has allowed Notre Dame to put Thomas to the boundary more often. Elsewhere, Stuckey said junior Deion Colzie has responded to elevated expec- tations that stemmed from a late-season emergence as a third-down target, even if it took a few practices to get there. It all amounts to a higher floor. Soph- omore Tobias Merriweather might hold the key to the unit's ceiling. He's a big body (6-foot-4, 205) with speed, ac- celeration and fluidity not often found at his size. Stuckey lauded his improved route running skills. A concussion pre- vented him from likely entering the starting lineup last November. He has been a first-team receiver all spring. "The expectation is for him to be a great receiver and be one of the guys that goes down in history," Stuckey said. "A lot of this game is mental. He's turned the corner mentally and he loves being challenged." Notre Dame isn't brimming with proven starters at receiver. It has, though, cultivated enough talent and seen col- lective growth from it this spring to feel comfortable betting on the current group to not only withstand a couple depar- tures, but also thrive in the fall. ✦ ENGEL'S ANGLE PATRICK ENGEL Patrick Engel has been a writer for Blue & Gold Illustrated since March 2020. He can be reached at Freshman Jaden Greathouse is one of several young Notre Dame receivers who made positive strides this spring. PHOTO BY CHAD WEAVER Receivers Look Equipped To Withstand Exits

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