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Leftovers & Links: On the long-term silver lining to Notre Dame’s lack of receiver depth and on Peacock

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Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman joins Rich Eisen to talk about that Vegas video, what he's seen from the Irish during camp and who might start at QB for the season-opening showdown at Ohio State.

After losing sixth-year receiver Avery Daivs for the season on Friday, Notre Dame is offering optimism about its few available receivers, insisting those young players will step up to the challenge created by having only six healthy scholarship receivers in practices right now.

That is to be expected, both because of human nature and because it would not serve Irish receivers coach Chansi Stuckey to publicly throw his hands up in the air and say his three sophomores and one freshman are overmatched and not ready to be starters. Stuckey will, however, admit the obvious: Six healthy scholarship receivers is not enough.

“A number that would be great would be 10 guys,” he said Monday. “Ten guys would be great. You have guys to rotate in, develop, and you create that competition in the room.”

Stuckey is getting creative in practice, having his players run only parts of routes, assuming they do not need to mentally rep the 15 yards of straight-line running leading into a break. That is not ideal, but with only five healthy receivers recruited for the position, along with former walk-on Matt Salerno, Stuckey has few other choices. There are other walk-ons around, but no one is under the illusion that senior Conor Ratigan or junior Henry Cook is going to produce against Ohio State on Sept. 3 (7:30 ET; ABC).

“Every day, we’re looking at the script trying to see who needs to do this or we need to see this,” Stuckey said. “If he’s running a lot, then let me get him out of this one, or he should be here.”

At the moment, Stuckey has fifth-year Braden Lenzy, sophomores Lorenzo Styles, Deion Colzie and Jayden Thomas, freshman Lorenzo Styles and Salerno all fully available. He may have fifth-year Joe Wilkins (Lisfranc injury) on hand before the Irish face the Buckeyes, according to head coach Marcus Freeman on Saturday. That pronouncement moved up Wilkins’ public recovery timeline by a month, give or take, so it should be taken with a grain of salt until Wilkins is seen taking physical contact.

Aside from a hit or two, though, Wilkins may not need much time to be contributing.

“He’s a guy that’s been in the system for a while,” Stuckey said. “It’s not going to be a huge adjustment, but the speed of the game, the physicality, mentally trusting his foot again are going to be some huge things. I have to feel great and [offensive coordinator Tommy Rees] has to feel great about putting him on the field and trusting him.”

Even if Wilkins is full-go and Salerno fits his role, only a perfectly ideal season will allow Notre Dame to survive its depth issues at receiver.

“Everyone on our offense will have a role, and if everyone is the best version of themselves, we’ll be exactly where we need to be,” Stuckey said.

Best versions are rare, be they because Merriweather eventually hits the proverbial freshman wall, because Freeman’s optimism over Wilkins’ timeline may be yet aggressive or because Lenzy and Styles could be run ragged by the end of September.

It is when best versions go awry that the lack of depth will most stymie the Irish. No offense to Salerno, but for this thought exercise, it is best to return him to walk-on status and view Notre Dame as having six healthy receivers, including Wilkins.

If two struggle — freshman wall, tweaked hamstring, whatever — then Stuckey’s “great” figure of 10 receivers would give the Irish four chances at finding a suitable replacement to still have the bulk of a two-deep. He wants 10 receivers to get through practices without wearing out anyone, but it is the lack of multiple chances to find a plug-and-play replacement that will show up for the world to see on Saturdays this fall.

The Irish will move someone to receiver to strengthen these numbers. A half-dozen guesses might yield the eventual choice — freshman tight end Eli Raridon? Freshman cornerback Jayden Bellamy? Junior safety Xavier Watts? — but given there will still be two weeks before Notre Dame faces Ohio State, waiting on that weekend revelation is tolerable.

Relying on freshmen and/or such creativity has served the Irish well enough in recent years. The needs for them always stemmed from the same mistake: recruiting lapses. Just like Notre Dame pulled in only one receiver in the current freshman class, the Irish did not have enough defensive tackle depth in 2017 after going 1-for-4 in 2015’s recruiting and not signing any in the class of 2016. Jerry Tillery could not hold the point of attack all on his own, forcing 2017 freshmen Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa and Kurt Hinish into immediate action.

Notre Dame signed only three cornerbacks in the recruiting classes of 2018 and 2019, and only TaRiq Bracy stuck to the position at all, which led to Clarence Lewis starting as a freshman in 2020 while Cam Hart quickly flipped to cornerback from receiver.

Therein lies the silver lining to Davis’ injury. The quick starts spurred Tagovailoa-Amosa and Hinish to immensely productive five-year careers and spots on NFL rosters currently. Lewis has started in parts of two seasons and is likely to begin this year starting, as well, while Hart has developed into a possible mid-round draft pick.

Opportunity forced accelerated growth in those moments. Styles, Colzie, Thomas and Merriweather may not be enough to keep the Irish offense humming this season, but being thrown into the fire in front of 105,000 fans in less than three weeks will benefit them in the long run.

ON PEACOCK
NBC announced Monday that Notre Dame’s matchup with UNLV on Oct. 22 at 2:30 ET will be available exclusively on its streaming platform, Peacock.

The signup details and repeated instructions can wait until October. For now, let’s recognize an undeniable fact: This is sports in 2022. The NFL, MLB, NBA and NHL all air games exclusively on streaming apps.

Without going through every single college football schedule, it is safe to assume every team in FBS with all its games broadcast will have at least one exclusively on a streaming app. Including …

— Every single SEC team, with four of those games coming on the first weekend of the season.— Oklahoma against Kent St. on Sept. 10, only notable because this game on ESPN+ marks the end of the Sooners having one game each year available via only pay-per-view.

Counting all 131 FBS teams in this regard cannot actually be done preemptively, as so few of them are able to set their TV schedules ahead of time like Notre Dame and NBC do. Most of them do not know more than September’s kickoff times, let alone exactly when they will play in mid-November.

JAC & JASON
NBC also announced Jac Collinsworth will handle play-by-play calls of all Irish home games in 2022 with former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett serving as the color commentator.

TOO HIGH? TOO LOW?
Looking through the “Counting Down the Irish” results, a process in which yours truly does not cast a ballot, it is unfair to now say Styles was not ranked high enough, despite finishing at No. 7 when predicting what players will have the most impact on Notre Dame’s season.

Ballots were due a week before Davis’ injury. Styles was appropriately ranked at that point.

Fifth-year linebacker Bo Bauer was not. At No. 24, he should be viewed in the top 20. Fifth-year nickel back TaRiq Bracy gets the corresponding “too high” ranking. Perhaps simply flipping his No. 19 and Bauer’s No. 24 would have been more accurate.

The same can be argued for sophomore running back Audric Estime at No. 25 and classmate and position-mate Logan Diggs at No. 18. Assuming Diggs will be effective in September, after tearing his labrum in mid-April, is too rash. Any delay will further Estime’s production.

And that will be the extent of the personal balloting thoughts from this space.

INSIDE THE IRISH
Heat slows new-look OL to open preseason practices; QB competition continues for nowNotre Dame loses last receiver depth with Avery Davis suffering a torn ACL on FridayNotre Dame ends preseason QB competition, naming sophomore Tyler Buchner the starter

COUNTING DOWN THE IRISH
Others receiving votes; shedding some insights into Notre Dame’s QB competition25 to 21, already highlighting Notre Dame’s defensive front-seven20 to 16, led by ND’s defensive line depth and highlighting the lack of offensive options15 to 11, where Notre Dame’s defensive depth becomes too much to overlook10 to 6, Notre Dame’s offensive youth movement moving to the forefrontThe top five, including four names on the Lombardi Award watch list for the best lineman in the country

OUTSIDE READING
College football coaching carousel: Names to know for next wave of jobs
The 25 most important players in 2022’s College Football Playoff race
College football Freaks List 2022
Quenton Nelson declines to answer questions about contract talks
Army rugby alum KoiKoi Nelligan on his service deferral to pursue pro rugby

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