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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 13 Lawrence Keys, senior receiver

Lawrence Keys 2021

Listed measurements: 5-foot-10 ⅜, 173 pounds.2021-22 year, eligibility: A senior, Keys still has three seasons of eligibility remaining.
Depth Chart: Conflicting praise this spring made it clear what Keys must do to assure his path to playing time. The conflicting nature of that also made it easy to believe Keys will end up second on the depth chart behind either fifth-year Avery Davis at slot receiver or senior Braden Lenzy as the field (wide side) receiver.Recruiting: A consensus three-star prospect, Keys’ recruitment lasted until National Signing Day, when he chose Notre Dame over Texas, harshly spurning his homestate (and nearly hometown) LSU, as well as SMU, Georgia and Michigan.

Keys’ ideal branding opportunity is the same as would presumably be for most college athletes.

Keys did not play as a freshman in 2018, but the Irish could see his clear speed throughout practices that season, to such an extent he was baked into the game plan for the College Football Playoff semifinal against Clemson. The game was so quickly out of hand, though, that Notre Dame never got to that part of the game plan.

Keys quickly flashed in 2019, one of the best Irish receivers in the early-season trip to Georgia, making three catches for 35 yards, but he never quite established consistency thereafter. That trouble continued in 2020, when hamstring issues and pandemic protocols kept Keys from playing in three games while he made more than one catch in just one game.

“My goal for this spring was to come in, get stronger to help me be more explosive on the field, be more versatile,” Keys said at the end of this past spring. “This spring you can definitely tell there’s a huge difference from last spring.”

Adding to his 2020 frustrations, Keys fumbled two punt returns, costing him that gig for at least the season and forcing walk-on Matt Salerno into the role.

2019: 12 games; 13 catches for 134 yards with six rushes for 45 yards.2020: 8 games; 5 catches for 51 yards.

Brian Kelly spent the spring repeatedly acknowledging Keys’ talent, while also reminding all, such talent remains yet unrealized.

“[The senior receivers] have to be consistent, because that has been the area that they haven’t been for us,” Kelly said the first week of April.

“They’ve been good, I need them to move to that great level, and they’re capable of it,” he added in the middle of the month.

And after the Blue-Gold Game, Kelly’s theme had not changed.

“Lawrence Keys is running a dig route on what we call our option route, and he doesn’t break out and (we) throw the ball inside. He clearly had a read to break out. That attention to detail is the next level with these guys that we’ve got to get.”

But Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees had more praise to offer, albeit somewhat backhanded praise.

“Lawrence Keys has probably had as good a spring as anybody on offense,” Rees said. “He’s shown an ability to stretch the field, make explosive plays, and that was one of the things that we challenged him with. We’re going to put you in opportunities to make plays down the field. It’s time to go make them.

“Some of that is continuing to develop his strength, some of that is understanding what we’re trying to do and how we’re trying to do it.”

Keys’ speed will earn him opportunities in 2021, no matter his struggles to date. The biggest difference between Notre Dame the last four years and the teams it wants to emulate has been the lack of perimeter playmakers. The Irish simply have not incorporated enough speed.

Presuming Keys’ hamstrings hold up, giving him repeated chances to change that program shortcoming will only serve to push Notre Dame forward, even if not in a linear fashion.

That certainty may include doubts of productivity, but such as it goes when you have not found the end zone yet in your career.

If Keys can change that within September, he could quickly build momentum.

DOWN THE ROADKeys’ career will be one of the most intriguing as it pertains to how the Irish handle the roster crunch created by the universal pandemic eligibility waiver. A speedy receiver who needs to learn to better diagnose coverages and add some muscle should only develop into a complete receiver given more and more time. But devoting that time as a receiver enters his fifth and sixth seasons is quite a commitment from Notre Dame.

Logically, the Irish will offer Keys a fifth year if he wants it in South Bend, and that could come with a surefire starting role if he builds some momentum in 2021 and Davis inevitably moves on with his career after this season.

But extending that into 2023 would come at the expense of the trio of consensus four-star receivers joining the program this spring and summer.

Thus, it is most likely Keys’ career ends elsewhere, be that in 2022 or 2023, if he wants to push that envelope, and there is little reason not to, particularly given the advent of NIL rights.

Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 91 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, freshman receiver, four-star prospect out of Georgia
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end
No. 79 Tosh Baker, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 78 Pat Coogan, incoming freshman center
No. 77 Quinn Carroll, junior offensive lineman
No. 76 Joe Alt, incoming and towering freshman offensive lineman
No. 75 Josh Lugg, fifth-year right tackle, finally a starter
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, junior offensive tackle, possible backup center
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, early-enrolled offensive tackle, former Auburn commit
No. 70 Hunter Spears, junior offensive guard, former defensive tackle
No. 68 Michael Carmody, sophomore offensive tackle
No. 62 Marshall guard Cain Madden transfers to Notre Dame, likely 2021 starter
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, senior defensive tackle
No. 56 John Dirksen, senior reserve offensive lineman
No. 56 Howard Cross, junior defensive tackle
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, the best Irish offensive lineman
No. 55 Kahanu Kia, freshman linebacker, Hawaiian, LDS member
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, junior defensive tackle
No. 54 Blake Fisher, early-enrolled freshman left tackle, starter?
No. 52 Zeke Correll, junior, starting center
No. 52 Bo Bauer, senior linebacker, #BeADog
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 47 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 44 Devin Aupiu, early-enrolled freshman defensive end
No. 44 Alex Peitsch and No. 65 Michael Vinson, Irish long snappers, both needed
No. 41 Kurt Hinish, fifth-year defensive tackle, eventual record-holder in games played
No. 40 Drew White, fifth-year linebacker, three-year starter
No. 39 Jonathan Doerer, fifth-year kicker, using the pandemic exception
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 32 Prince Kollie, freshman linebacker, Butkus Award winner
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
No. 29 Khari Gee, freshman safety, former LSU commit
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, senior cornerback, possible nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, junior linebacker
No. 26 Clarence Lewis, sophomore cornerback, second-year starter
No. 25 Philip Riley, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back
No. 24 Jack Kiser, junior linebacker, onetime pandemic hero
No. 24 Audric Estime, freshman running back, former Michigan State commit, four-star
No. 23 Litchfield Ajavon, junior safety
No. 23 Kyren Williams, junior running back
No. 22 Logan Diggs, incoming freshman running back
No. 21 Lorenzo Styles, early-enrolled freshman receiver
No. 21 Caleb Offord, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 C’Bo Flemister, senior running back, coming off an offseason with a smirch
No. 20 Justin Walters, early-enrolled freshman safety and likely early special teams contributor
No. 20 JoJo Johnson, freshman cornerback, former Cincinnati commit
No. 19 Jay Bramblett, junior punter
No. 19 Justin Ademilola, senior defensive end
No. 18 Joe Wilkins Jr., senior receiver, team favorite
No. 18 Nana Osafo-Mensah, junior defensive end, coming back from a knee injury
No. 18 Chance Tucker, freshman cornerback
No. 17 Jack Coan, graduate quarterback, Wisconsin transfer
No. 17 Jordan Botelho, sophomore defensive end, full-speed at all times
No. 16 Deion Colzie, incoming freshman receiver with both speed and leaping height
No. 16 KJ Wallace, junior safety, possible starting nickel back
No. 15 Ryan Barnes, early-enrolled freshman cornerback
No. 14 Kyle Hamilton, junior safety, preseason All-American, top 2022 draft prospect
No. 13 Paul Moala, senior linebacker coming off an Achilles injury

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