When junior receiver Chase Claypool caught six passes for 151 yards and two touchdowns in Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold Game on April 21, it elicited memories of his performance against Wake Forest in November. Setting the 2017 highs for the entire Irish receiver corps in both receptions and yards that afternoon, Claypool pulled in nine catches for 180 yards and a touchdown against the Demon Deacons.
Otherwise, Claypool’s career highs are four receptions and 56 yards, both set in the September victory at Michigan State. In nine of his 12 games last season, Claypool failed to make as many as three catches. (That does not count the Citrus Bowl, which Claypool missed due to a shoulder injury.)
No matter the level of quarterback play, Notre Dame needs its No. 2 receiving target to fare a bit better than that, certainly more consistently. In this instance, that begins with Claypool’s emotions.
“We talk about where [my] intensity level is at,” he said following the spring exhibition. “Either it’s too low and [I’m] just not moving around or it’s too high and [I’m] too amped up, screaming.
“[Irish head coach Brian Kelly] wants me right in the middle. I’m making plays, going on to the next play, and then when my series is done and I’m off, then I can celebrate.”
This may seem unusual for football, a game where emotions run high and nearly every better-than-okay play is celebrated with gusto. A sack is followed by a dance or a pantomimed bowling motion. A five-yard rush creates an opportunity for jawing, at the very least. A first-down catch is only completed in the receiver’s mind when he signals for the chains to move before even the referee does, though Claypool insists pounding his chest is his move of choice.
It is likely Claypool finishes among Notre Dame’s leading receivers again in 2018, exiting the spring behind senior Miles Boykin in any projections but alongside sophomore Michael Young in the starting conversation. Even though Claypool began the spring finale with the second-string, he should be in figurative starting lineup in the fall — the starting designation may end up a matter of semantics, hinging on how many tight ends and/or running backs line up for the first Irish play from scrimmage each Saturday.
“It’s nice knowing that [my hard work has] carried over,” Claypool said. “I don’t have to take a step back. Just going to keep working and hopefully make the same production of this game in the first game against Michigan.”
If Claypool catches six passes and two touchdowns against the Wolverines (119 days away, if wondering), he will have plenty of chances to pound his chest. The Irish coaches simply hope he passes up a few of those opportunities.
WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS/IS AT RECEIVER:
Notre Dame lost leading receiver Equanimeous St. Brown and top touchdown-catcher Kevin Stepherson this offseason. If Claypool had put forward a strong and consistent spring, he may have taken the mantle as No. 1 receiver which instead seems to have landed at Boykin’s feet following his Citrus Bowl heroics. Recovering from the shoulder surgery did slow Claypool at the beginning of spring practice, limiting those chances.
Senior Chris Finke’s steadiness will keep Boykin, Claypool and Young on edge. If one slips, this spring Finke continued to show himself ready to step into their place.
AS FOR TIGHT ENDS:
Not a whole lot needs to be said that has not been discussed at length already. Senior Alizé Mack will be looked to star, and if he does not, sophomore Cole Kmet provides an additional vertical threat while fifth-year Nic Weishar brings back his strong hands for red zone considerations. Sophomore Brock Wright should contribute as a blocker as he did in his debut year.
WHERE NOTRE DAME’S RECEIVERS WILL BE:
Freshman Micah Jones enrolled early this spring, an advantage receivers coach Del Alexander does not expect to see manifest itself until the fall. Jones will be joined by three classmates this summer, Lawrence Keys, Kevin Austin and Braden Lenzy.
If Lenzy arrives physically ready to contribute, his speed alone will likely get him on the field. Boykin’s and Claypool’s greatest physical attributes are their size and height, though neither is anything close to slow. Young and Finke are more quick than they are fast. Lenzy should offer a speed threat currently lacking in the Irish receivers corps.
Boundary receiver: Young; Finke.
Field receiver: Boykin; Javon McKinley; Jones.
Slot receiver: Claypool; Freddy Canteen.
Tight end: Mack; Kmet; Wieshar; Wright.
Freshman receivers yet to arrive: Keys; Austin; Lenzy.
Freshman tight ends yet to arrive: Takacs and Tommy Tremble.