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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 25 Chris Tyree, junior running back, possible Irish bellcow

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 25 Shamrock Series - Notre Dame v Wisconsin

CHICAGO, IL - SEPTEMBER 25: Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Chris Tyree (25) returns the football for a touchdown during the Shamrock Series game between the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and the Wisconsin Badgers on September 25, 2021 at Soldier Field, in Chicago, IL. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 190 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A junior, Tyree played in 12 games in each of his first two seasons, though of course the universal pandemic eligibility waiver spared him a year of technical usage in 2020, meaning he has three seasons of eligibility remaining.Depth Chart: Tyree will be listed as Notre Dame’s starting running back in 57 days as the Irish head to Ohio State. Sophomore Audric Estime will be his biggest, if not only, early-season challenge, given the shoulder injury suffered in April by sophomore Logan Diggs and the Achilles injury that will keep early-enrolled freshman Jadarian Price sidelined this fall. Diggs’ return could spare Tyree some carries, and perhaps even that top-listing, in October, but “could” may be doing some heavy lifting in that speculation.Recruiting: A consensus four-star prospect and at one point the No. 1 running back in the class, Tyree narrowed his recruitment to Notre Dame, Oklahoma and Alabama, most heavily considering the Irish and the Sooners. He committed to Notre Dame seven months before the early signing period, and despite his high-profile status in the cycle, he never wavered from that pledge. Though downgraded to the No. 4 back in the class and No. 78 overall prospect, per, by the end of the cycle, Tyree was the second-highest running back recruit of the Brian Kelly era.

Tyree’s speed mandated he play right away for the Irish, given the general lack of it on recent rosters. He played largely out of the backfield as a freshman before becoming more of a do-everything option in 2021, both years serving as a successful complement to Kyren Williams’ brilliance.

2020: 12 games; 73 rushes for 496 yards and four touchdowns; 8 catches for 65 yards; 456 kickoff return yards.2021: 12 games, 2 starts; 56 rushes for 222 yards and one touchdown; 24 catches for 258 yards and two touchdowns; 347 kickoff return yards including a 96-yard touchdown return to spark the blowout of Wisconsin in late September.

RELATED READING: Chris Tyree’s choice to break loose that touchdown return against the Badgers

Notre Dame changed some of its marketing tactics in 2021, a byproduct of NIL rights finally being a reality, giving its players more access to photos and videos taken from the sidelines. Of the many advantages to that approach, it leads to more photos and videos reaching the public, including shots like this from Tyree’s game-breaking touchdown at Soldier Field.

There may be no direct payout associated with that change, but it buoys the players’ social-media platforms, which then leads to larger payouts for them, all good things.

One of those more typical NIL moments, a roster-wide sponsorship with a poster brand, led to Tyree picking out a poster of Dennis Rodman at his finest, a unique choice for a Virginia-native speedster born after Rodman last appeared in the NBA.

Oh, and apparently Tyree has picked up some wheels via NIL, though a more practical version than may be typically expected.

Kyren Williams was a clear leader for Notre Dame the last two seasons. His animated sideline presence made that clear on Saturdays, but it permeated well beyond those 13 annual occurrences, as well. Tyree is expected to replace Williams in the backfield — asked in the spring if Tyree is ready to be the starter, new Irish running backs coach Deland McCullough simply said, “That’s what the plan is. … Chris has the attributes to be the starter here at Notre Dame, clearly.” — but the off-field, locker-room and meeting-room aspect of that may be the real challenge for Tyree, naturally more soft-spoken than Williams’ demonstrative demeanor.

“It’s just been up to me being more vocal,” Tyree said this spring. “Leading by example is not just one thing that a leader does, it’s not what we do here. I’ve been pushed to be more vocal and hold people accountable.”

The push extends past Tyree to the entire running backs group. Williams could provide enough energy to spur all of them. Now, they all need to step forward a bit.

“We’ve grown a lot, especially the last couple months with Kyren being gone,” Tyree said. “I think we understood everyone had to step up a little bit.”

“Tyree’s freshman season was unprecedented during the Kelly era, and that should be taken more as a reflection of Tyree’s talent than anything else. Coming a carry short of 500 yards in a year in which Notre Dame clearly and admittedly struggled working new players into the offense due to the lack of a true offseason during the pandemic suggests Tyree should be primed for much more in 2021, particularly given his added muscle as a result of that thorough offseason.

“But with an inexperienced offensive line that will need to develop some chemistry, not everything will be as easy for Tyree.

“Tyree should still eclipse 500 yards easily this fall, simply because the Irish will lean on him and Williams to lead an unproven and developing offense. If Tyree ends up near 800 yards, with another couple hundred receiving, then Notre Dame should be scoring plenty to supplement what preseason prognostications expect to be a once-again dominant defense.

“With the mindset of prognosticating, let’s predict Tyree will gain more than 1,000 yards from scrimmage, as well as return at least one kickoff to the opponent’s half of the field. Williams may get the headlines, and deservedly so, but Tyree being even more potent as a sophomore will play a key part in enhancing Williams’ final collegiate season. …

“Yes, this will be Williams’ final year at Notre Dame, barring injury. Running backs simply should not bypass the NFL draft when they have a chance to hear their names called; a running back’s shelf life is too short.

“That will put Tyree in the primary running back role in 2022, which should be his final season. If he can prove to be durable in the next two years — not that Tyree was otherwise in 2020, but at his size, he needs to prove and reprove that trait to the NFL — then his speed will garner attention from the next level.

“He will have assistance. Incoming freshmen Audric Estime and Logan Diggs both look ready to contribute from their arrival, Estime more than Diggs, though neither to the extent that Tyree did. By 2022, at least one should be the reliable backup to Tyree that he and senior C’Bo Flemister are to Williams.”

Last year, honing in on a prediction for Tyree’s 2021 output provided an angle for this 99-to-0 entry, but doing so now could simply turn into an exercise of demeaning the rest of Notre Dame’s offense. Tyree and junior tight end Michael Mayer are the only pieces of the Irish attack that are known commodities, and the injuries to Diggs and Price have made it clear, Tyree may need to be a bellcow for Notre Dame, always a risky proposition for any running back, let alone a speed-based running back.

Tyree has more physicality than his speed belies, but his best asset is still his ability to burn down the sideline. Turf toe last season cost him that explosiveness for a bit, just as a sprained ankle did this spring. Nicks impede any running back, but they slow speed backs the most.

A healthy Tyree could blow past 1,200 yards from scrimmage next season. A banged-up Tyree could struggle to roll past 700.

But the Irish will need him healthy. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees seems poised to attack with a vintage offensive line this season, something that will always be Rees’ underlying preference, though one indulged only when applicable. With just Estime to join Tyree as an established back heading into the season, that approach from Rees will wear on the duo.

Notre Dame could slow down its offense to ease that burden a bit, and against the Buckeyes in particular, shortening the game will be prudent for the Irish, but that can be effective to only an extent.

Tyree will get plenty of opportunities this season. If healthy and spry, that could turn into a prolific year. His injuries have not been the kind to justify concerns about his durability, but the injuries to other Irish running backs do justify concerns about anyone’s durability in the pivotal role Notre Dame needs Tyree to fill this year.

A healthy Tyree with a couple big plays this season would garner enough NFL interest to entice him to make that jump. His speed alone will make some front offices elevate his draft grade.

Any running back receiving even a middling draft grade needs to strongly ponder that decision. Tyree going to the NFL after 2022 bodes well for Notre Dame this season, in large part because it suggests he plays most of the season healthy, even if it may worry Irish fans for 2022.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 85 Holden Staes, incoming freshman tight end
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit
No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury
No. 79 Tosh Baker, one of four young Irish offensive tackles
No. 78 Pat Coogan, sophomore center, recovering from a meniscus injury
No. 77 Ty Chan, incoming offensive tackle, former four-star recruit
No. 76 Joe Alt, sophomore starting left tackle
No. 75 Josh Lugg, sixth-year offensive lineman, likely starting right guard
No. 74 Billy Schrauth, early-enrolled freshman offensive guard coming off foot surgery
No. 73 Andrew Kristofic, senior offensive tackle-turned-guard
No. 72 Caleb Johnson, sophomore offensive tackle, former Auburn pledge
No. 68 Michael Carmody, junior offensive line utility man
No. 65 Michael Vinson, long snapper, ‘Milk’
No. 65 Chris Smith, defensive tackle, Harvard transfer
No. 59 Aamil Wagner, consensus four-star incoming freshman offensive tackle
No. 58 Ashton Craig, incoming freshman center
No. 57 Jayson Ademilola, fifth-year defensive tackle, coming off shoulder surgery
No. 56 Joey Tanona, early-enrolled offensive guard coming off a concussion
No. 56 Howard Cross, senior defensive tackle with heavy hands, and that’s a good thing
No. 55 Jarrett Patterson, fifth-year offensive lineman, three-year starting center, captain
No. 54 Jacob Lacey, senior defensive tackle, now lighter and a starter
No. 54 Blake Fisher, sophomore starting right tackle, ‘ginormous’
No. 52 Zeke Correll, senior center or perhaps left guard
No. 52 Bo Bauer, fifth-year linebacker, Ironman
No. 50 Rocco Spindler, sophomore offensive guard
No. 48 Will Schweitzer, sophomore end-turned-linebacker
No. 47 Jason Oyne, sophomore defensive end-turned-tackle
No. 44 Junior Tuihalamaka, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, consensus four-star recruit
No. 44 Alex Peitsch, junior long snapper
No. 42 Nolan Ziegler, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Irish legacy
No. 41 Donovan Hinish, incoming freshman defensive tackle, Kurt’s brother
No. 40 Joshua Burnham, early-enrolled freshman linebacker-turned-end
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, senior Vyper end coming off an Achilles injury
No. 31 NaNa Osafo-Mensah, senior defensive end
No. 29 Matt Salerno, fifth-year receiver, punt returner, former walk-on
No. 28 TaRiq Bracy, fifth-year starting nickel back
No. 27 JD Bertrand, senior linebacker recovering from a plaguing wrist injury
No. 25 Philip Riley, sophomore cornerback
No. 20 Jadarian Price, early-enrolled freshman running back with a ruptured Achilles
No. 9 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL

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