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Reports: Notre Dame receiver Lorenzo Styles enters transfer portal with defensive back intentions

PlayStation Fiesta Bowl - Oklahoma State v Notre Dame

GLENDALE, ARIZONA - JANUARY 01: Lorenzo Styles #21 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish makes a catch for a touchdown past Tanner McCalister #2 of the Oklahoma State Cowboys in the first quarter during the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl at State Farm Stadium on January 01, 2022 in Glendale, Arizona. (Photo by Norm Hall/Getty Images)

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About halfway through Thursday’s Blue-Gold Game draft, Notre Dame head coach Marcus Freeman introduced a position group by a player name, calling out Lorenzo Styles as “the only athlete” on the Irish roster, rather than pigeonholing the rising junior as a receiver or as a cornerback.

Styles will now look for another roster with multiple Friday afternoon reports of him entering the transfer portal just the day before Notre Dame concludes spring practices.

A week ago, the receiver began dabbling at cornerback. He then spent all of Tuesday’s practice at the position. He played defensive back in high school, so it was not entirely foreign to him, and he said the right things in interviews after the practice.

“Talked to coach Freeman about doing what’s best for the team,” Styles said Tuesday. “I feel really comfortable back there. I have a background and stuff, it feels good.”

But from a depth chart perspective, it did not make much sense. As frustrating as Styles’ 2022 was — six dropped passes were more than the rest of the Irish roster combined — there was still a clearer path to playing time at receiver in 2023 than at cornerback. With only two years of eligibility remaining, Styles was unlikely to embrace a year spent idling behind fifth-year Cam Hart, preseason All-American Benjamin Morrison and a trio of contenders at nickel back in rising sophomore Jaden Mickey, senior Clarence Lewis and Oklahoma State transfer Thomas Harper.

Per ESPN’s Pete Thamel — also the first to report Styles’ entry into the transfer portal, this scribe believes, and apologies to whoever beat Thamel if that is inaccurate — Styles wants to play defensive back at his next stop. A clearer path to playing time would logically be part of that want.

He played only receiver the last two seasons, catching 24 passes for 344 yards and a touchdown as a freshman before snagging 30 passes for 340 yards and a score last year. Styles’ time at Notre Dame peaked with eight receptions for 136 yards and a touchdown in the 2021 Fiesta Bowl against Oklahoma State, a dominant performance that hinted at a breakout in 2022. That breakout never came, undone by dropped passes.

Without him — and this was going to be true as soon as Styles flipped to cornerback, regardless of a transfer — the Irish are back in a questionable position of depth at receiver. Counting converted running back Chris Tyree and former walk-on Matt Salerno, Notre Dame will have nine receivers on the depth chart when freshman Kaleb Smith arrives this summer. No matter how much praise has been heaped on the three early-enrolled freshman receivers and no matter how well they play in tomorrow’s Blue-Gold Game (2 ET, available exclusively on Peacock), it is reasonable to think no more than two of the first-year quartet will readily contribute next season.

At that point, two injuries would once again cost Notre Dame a full two-deep at receiver.

Even if pushing back against that realistic outlook and insisting on optimism, every coach will tell you he wants 10 receivers to work through practices. Nine is already a touch short-handed, though manageable.

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