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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 4 Avery Davis, junior defensive back, former quarterback-turned-running back

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 01 Michigan at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - SEPTEMBER 01: Notre Dame Fighting Irish quarterback Avery Davis (3) battles with Michigan Wolverines defensive lineman Chase Winovich (15) in game action during the college football game between the Michigan Wolverines and the Notre Dame Fighting Irish on September 1, 2018 at Notre Dame Stadium, in South Bend, Indiana. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Michigan Wolverines by the score of 24-17. (Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 200 pounds.2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Davis has three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.Depth chart: Davis moved to defensive back this spring, where his best chance at playing time is by proving himself at nickel back. If fifth-year Shaun Crawford (torn ACL) is 100 percent healthy, he figures to have the advantage there, but otherwise Davis will be competing with those known as cornerback reserves, whoever doesn’t end up starting opposite senior Troy Pride.Recruiting: The three-star prospect was viewed as a dual-threat quarterback with a history of winning in high school. The Under Armour All-American and Texas native turned down offers from Baylor, Texas Tech and Houston when he chose Notre Dame.

After preserving a year of eligibility as the scout team quarterback in 2017, Davis switched to running back/receiver, primarily the former, last year with the anticipation of Phil Jurkovec arriving and shoring up the Irish quarterback depth chart. Davis struggled to break through from the backfield, a slow process amplified by the quick success from fellow-running back-newcomer Jafar Armstrong.

Davis’ best opportunities to make a strong impression came in mop-up duty against Wake Forest and Stanford. He fared alright in the former, taking 11 touches for 58 combined yards, but then he dropped a pass and fumbled the ball twice in the latter. Given the idea of mop-up duty is to reduce stress, Davis cost himself future moments.

With Armstrong one of five running backs in the mix at this point, Davis flipped to the defensive backfield this past spring, getting a decent amount of first-team run at nickel back with Crawford sidelined.

2018: 9 games; 22 carries for 70 yards; five receptions for 30 yards.

When Davis joined the defensive backs, Irish defensive coordinator Clark Lea balanced pumping his fist with biding his time.

“Part of this is you understand where you may need to shore up your depth,” Lea said at the start of spring practices. “So secretly I keep an eye on those offensive skill players, so when coach brought Avery’s name up, I was thrilled, because I’ve been secretly watching him work. He embodies what a humble worker is. The kid is remarkable.

“He’s got physical skills, he’s got speed, but just more his approach, his mindset. He’s such a defensive-natured kid. It’s like getting a free agent signing. All of a sudden you enhance your skill at the position, and then comes the conversation that this is going to require a ton of patience. That has to start with us as coaches. We understand where he is, we understand where we need him to be.”

As Davis got his first reps at cornerback, he had to learn to reverse his footwork. The approach to a snap is essentially opposite what he had been doing when running or throwing routes.

“Avery is starting to feel more comfortable every day,” head coach Brian Kelly said at the end of March. “We’re seeing a little bit of improvement in his play each and every day. It’s really more the nuances of the position than it is knowledge at the position. We saw that today, he was able to break on an underneath route and almost pick it off.

“His economy of movement is really what we’re trying to get. He’s not understanding yet how a defensive back moves compared to a wide receiver. Just getting that technique down, I think we’ll see him close quicker and be in better position to play the ball in the air.”

“Davis will get a chance this season, but what he does with his first few snaps will determine how many more come his way. When a quarterback moves to a skill position, the leap of faith requires the reward of early opportunities, but a further promised role is not deserved by an unproven sophomore.

“A large part of Davis’ output will tie to how Armstrong performs. If the latter emerges as more of a pure running back, at least for this season, such could open an opportunity for Davis to serve as the hybrid threat (offensive coordinator Chip) Long prefers in two-back situations. Somebody needs to fit into that role, and those are the two most obvious candidates, somewhat joined by (Tony) Jones.”

Davis never flashed enough in the spring to garner thoughts of genuine playing time this year. That could certainly change in the preseason, but such a leap in progress would be a surprise at Davis’ new position.

Crawford should get first crack at nickel back in the preseason, and if he is healthy enough, the starter’s role likely defaults to Crawford. If that is not the case, at least one sophomore cornerback and perhaps a freshman will challenge for the duty, and they are simply more natural at the position than a converted quarterback.

With Lea’s patience, though, Davis could develop into a worthwhile cornerback. He has the requisite shiftiness and speed — supposedly his overall winter testing numbers compared favorably to the rest of the position’s, per Kelly — but needs to learn the position.

In 2020, Notre Dame will look for another starting cornerback and perhaps a nickel back, as well as having two holes to fill at safety. The safety concerns could occupy unproven players who otherwise might dabble at nickel back in the spring. That could subsequently create a window of opportunity for Davis to capitalize upon. By all accounts, he is willing to be patient.

“This isn’t like let’s just throw one out there and see what happens,” Kelly said at the start of spring practice. “I think he’ll be a really good corner. I think he can play at the next level at that position. He’s 190-something pounds, he’s got power, he’s got hands, and he’s got a football acumen that’s really high. We’ll see what happens.

“He’s excited. He wants to win. He wants to help our football team, so we’ll give it a run and see what happens there.”

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Isaiah Foskey, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver
No. 85: George Takacs, tight end
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 80: Micah Jones, receiver
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right guard, three-year starter
No. 77: Quinn Carroll, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive guard
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive lineman
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, left tackle, two-year starter
No. 73: Andrew Kristofic, offensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle, three-year starter
No. 71: John Olmstead, offensive lineman, early-enrolled consensus four-star
No. 69: Aaron Banks, left guard
No. 60: Cole Mabry, offensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, veteran backup offensive lineman
No. 57: Jayson Ademilola, defensive tackle
No. 56: John Dirksen, offensive lineman
No. 56: Howard Cross, incoming freshman defensive lineman, consensus four-star
No. 55: Jarrett Patterson, starting center
No. 55: Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle returning from injury
No. 54: Jacob Lacey, consensus four-star defensive tackle, early enrollee
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, senior defensive end
No. 52: Zeke Correll, consensus four-star center, early enrollee
No. 52: Bo Bauer, linebacker, sophomore
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, junior defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, senior inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, senior defensive end
No. 42: Julian Okwara, senior defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, junior defensive tackle
No. 40: Drew White, junior inside linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, junior kicker
No. 35: TaRiq Bracy, sophomore cornerback
No. 35: Marist Liufau, Hawaiian freshman linebacker
No. 34: Jahmir Smith, sophomore running back
No. 34: Osita Ekwonu, inside linebacker, consensus four-star
No. 33: Shayne Simon, sophomore linebacker
No. 31: Jack Lamb, sophomore linebacker
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, junior linebacker
No. 29: Ovie Oghoufo, sophomore linebacker-turned-defensive end
No. 27: J.D. Bertrand, consensus four-star linebacker
No. 25: Braden Lenzy, speedy sophomore receiver
No. 24: Tommy Tremble, sophomore tight end
No. 24: Jack Kiser, early-enrolled freshman linebacker, Mr. Indiana Football
No. 23: Litchfield Ajavon, four-star safety, freshman
No. 23: Kyren Williams, early-enrolled freshman running back
No. 22: Kendall Abdur-Rahman, quarterback-turned-receiver, freshman
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, the only returning starting linebacker
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, three-year starting safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, defensive back returning from yet another injury
No. 20: C’Bo Flemister, sophomore running back
No. 19: Jay Bramblett, freshman punter
No. 19: Justin Ademilola, sophomore defensive end
No. 18: Joe Wilkins, sophomore receiver
No. 18: Nana Osafo-Mensah, freshman defensive end, consensus four-star
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, junior receiver
No. 16: K.J. Wallace, freshman defensive back, three-star
No. 15 Isaiah Rutherford, freshman defensive back, consensus four-star
No. 15: Phil Jurkovec, sophomore quarterback
No. 14: Kyle Hamilton, freshman safety, consensus four-star
No. 13: Lawrence Keys, sophomore receiver
No. 13: Paul Moala, sophomore safety-turned-linebacker
No. 12: DJ Brown, sophomore cornerback-turned-safety
No. 12: Ian Book, starting quarterback
No. 11: Alohi Gilman, senior safety
No. 10: Chris Finke, fifth-year receiver, second-year starter
No. 9: Cam Hart, freshman receiver
No. 9: Daelin Hayes, senior defensive end
No. 8: Donte Vaughn, senior cornerback
No. 8: Jafar Armstrong, starting running back, junior
No. 7: Brendon Clark, freshman quarterback
No. 7: Derrik Allen, sophomore safety
No. 6: Tony Jones, senior running back
No. 5: Troy Pride, starting cornerback, senior