Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 25 Chris Tyree, speedy sophomore running back

Chris Tyree spring
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 5-foot-9 ½, 188 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: Thanks to the universal pandemic eligibility waiver, Tyree has four seasons of eligibility remaining despite starring as a freshman in 2020.
Depth Chart: As far as the depth chart goes, Tyree will be listed behind junior running back Kyren Williams, but Irish offensive coordinator Tommy Rees made it a spring and offseason priority to develop schemes in which the two can share the field simply to make sure Notre Dame has as many of its playmakers lined up at once.
Recruiting: The consensus four-star prospect committed to the Irish as the No. 1 running back in the class, per rivals.com, in May of 2019. Notre Dame’s primary competition came from Oklahoma and Alabama, but Tyree never wavered in his commitment in the seven months between making it and signing during December. By the end of the cycle, Tyree was downgraded to the No. 4 back in the class and the No. 78 overall prospect, but recruiting ebbs and flows aside, was still good enough to be the second-highest running back recruit of the Brian Kelly era.

Of the 6 four- or five-star running backs who preceded Tyree with the Irish since 2010, his career is off to the best start and it could be argued only Dexter Williams (2015-18) and perhaps Tarean Folston (2014-17) put together better careers than Tyree already has.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS
As of Monday morning, Tyree has not announced any NIL deals yet, but for many players, learning the process and taking their time with an initial sponsorship or two makes both prudent and financial sense. Why not make sure all your proverbial ducks are in a row? And why risk watering down your brand and earning potential with an immediate deal if you think something bigger could await you in a few weeks?

And Tyree certainly expects something bigger to come his way, if not in the preseason, at least this season.

CAREER TO DATE
For all the persistent consternation about Notre Dame not playing freshmen often enough, particularly ones who could make immediate impacts, the Irish offense leaned on tight end Michael Mayer and Tyree quite a bit during the pandemic. Tyree scored touchdowns in two of Notre Dame’s first three games and took 32 carries for 220 yards in the first month of the season.

The Irish did not restrain the freshman, even with Williams breaking out into one of the country’s best running backs.

Tyree then punctuated his season with a 94-yard touchdown rush against Syracuse on Senior Day and a face-saving 21-yard score against Clemson in the ACC championship game, his only carry of that blowout loss, but a carry that some argue kept Notre Dame in the College Football Playoff.

2020: 12 games; 73 carries for 496 yards, a 6.8 yards per rush average, and four touchdowns. 8 catches for 65 yards.

QUOTE
The Irish spent plenty of time this spring discussing the concepts of Williams and Tyree playing together — sometimes with both in the backfield but more likely one split out as a wide receiver, which also helps soothe some of the ongoing questions at receiver — but until those concepts are seen, they remain more theoretical than anything else. And with the two split onto different teams during the Blue-Gold Game, there was no chance to see such implementations this spring.

To Tyree, that theory is more common sense than anything.

“We both make plays,” he said in late March. “I think it’s really important that we build off each other. We’re both really versatile when it comes to playing in the backfield and playing at receiver, also. We both in high school played receiver, so it makes a lot of sense to be very versatile. At the end of the day, we both make plays, and that’s how we can build off each other.”

And to Tyree, Williams’ breakout sophomore season may be only a template to exceed.

“This offseason I took a lot of time to get bigger, stronger, faster,” he said. “I’ve gained a little bit of weight. I’m really confident in being a complete back, expanding my role on the team. Coach Rees has basically — he wants me to build on what I did last year. I think we all understand that good things happen when the ball is in my hands, so just being able to expand that and then get more opportunities to get me the ball is the goal for right now.”

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2021 OUTLOOK
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.

DOWN THE ROAD
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. (Folston heading to the NFL even as an undrafted free agent made sense, too, given that was his best chance at making a roster. Every carry in an additional season with the Irish would have diminished his appeal to the NFL, purely from a tread standpoint.)

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.

During Kelly’s 11 years, Notre Dame has never outright lacked a running game, but for the first half of his tenure, that was more a result of design and the offensive line than it was outright backfield talent. That has finally changed and changed drastically. The odds — injury, time, etc. — suggest the Irish do not have five NFL running backs on their roster right now, but it would not be terribly shocking if they have three or four.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
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. 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. 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. 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. 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. 38 Jason Onye, incoming and raw freshman defensive end
No. 37 Joshua Bryan, incoming freshman kicker
No. 35 Marist Liufau, junior Hawaiian linebacker
No. 34 Osita Ekwonu, junior defensive end
No. 33 Shayne Simon, senior linebacker
No. 29 Matt Salerno, senior punt returner, walk-on
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