Shortly after Notre Dame named Marcus Freeman as the new head football coach, the coaching staff was revamped. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees, cornerbacks coach Mike Mickens, and safeties coach Chris O’Leary remained, but the rest of the coaches left for new situations and were quickly replaced.
Wide receivers coach Chansi Stuckey was officially hired Jan. 24. In a short time, it seems like he had a profound impact on the players in his positional group.
“He’s been a huge help,” Notre Dame wide receiver Braden Lenzy said. “The whole culture of the hall seems very committed to what he brought, and it paid off. Even though they were few in number, I can’t remember a camp where we felt so dominant at the receiver.
“For me, I’ve never played better, and I attribute a lot of that to training.”
Given the torn ACL suffered by Avery Davis last Friday, it’s more important than ever that players like Lenzy step up.
It’s easier said than done. Fans have been waiting for Lenzy’s breakout season since he was a sophomore.
He says he’s faster than ever, but the former high school track star never lacked confidence in his speed. But for perhaps the first time in his career at Notre Dame, he feels assured he can dominate with other aspects of his game as well.
“Technically, I feel a lot more developed,” Lenzy said. “There are a lot of games that felt a lot harder in the past that make a lot more sense now.”
Lenzy says he has a better idea of understanding the covers before the break, especially identifying where the safeties are lined up and anticipating their movement.
“It gives me clues as to what the corner could do at the line of scrimmage.”
Once he identifies cover, he has a repertoire of initial moves to break free from the defense and open up.
“It’s not just about being able to do it, but knowing which version to use versus which cover or [how to get] leverage,” Lenzy said. “It’s not that I was going blind last year, but building on what I already knew and improving my intelligence as a receiver.”
It’s gotten to the point that the 182-pound wide receiver not only can handle press coverage, but he prefers to deal with it.
“More than anything, I feel most confident in my release packages. I want to see the press,” Lenzy said. “It plays to my advantage.”
On Monday, several other Notre Dame wide receivers expressed similar offseason improvements to the media.
“They’re hungry and want to learn, which isn’t a given in today’s world, but they buy into coaching,” Stuckey said. “They’re super competitive, and again, they have a lot of confidence in themselves.”
But the majority of the wide reception room was on the roster in 2021. So what did Stuckey do differently to get the most out of his players?
“One of the main things as a coach is you want your guys to trust you,” Stuckey said. “If they don’t trust you, they won’t accept what you teach. So when they start to see the fruit of what they do, then they start to believe a little more.
“I think that’s one of the biggest things is that I was able to help the guys with that, ‘hey, you have a certain skill set, and if you stick with that, you can do very good work.'”
Of course, wide receivers deserve a lot of the credit as well. Stuckey may have worked hard to build trust, but he can’t be with them all the time.
“Guys bought over the summer,” Stuckey said. “It takes commitment. We’re not with them in the summer, so they had to take what we were doing in the spring, the exercises we give them, and do it themselves so that when we come to camp, they can be better. They did that, so I was super, super proud of them.
Filling the Void: The Leadership of Avery Davis
Now that the Notre Dame players have dealt with the loss of Davis for a few days, it’s clear that the toughest void to fill won’t be his on-field production but rather his leadership.
“I’ve progressed a bit, but I don’t know if I ever completely fulfilled that leadership role as well as Avery did,” Lenzy said. “He’s not just a captain. In the eyes of many people, at least on the attacking side of the ball, it is “The Captain”. The whole situation is quite devastating.
Despite being only a year apart in school, Lenzy says the team values Davis’ presence because of the tribulations he faced at Notre Dame.
“Avery and I have a very different level of respect in the locker room,” Lenzy said. “It’s not [discouting] myself. It’s just respect [shown] towards him. He went through a lot more hurdles than me. He’s always going to be that guy but as far as experience and just being one of the older guys I’ve definitely tried to step up and reach out to some of the younger guys players.
These same young players will also have to become leaders. Lorenzo Style may just be a sophomore, but he caught 24 passes last year and knows he needs to step up.
“I’ve definitely been a more vocal leader,” Styles said. “We really don’t have too many guys in the room, so everyone has to step in. I feel like the whole room has become more vocal leaders.
Davis should still be on the team this fall and will be there as a leader, but he won’t be on the court. He also has other ACL recovery and rehab to deal with.
“Now we have to be behind him, push him through every decision he makes in his life,” Stuckey said, “because he’s still part of this brotherhood.”
To stay healthy
It’s football. Injuries are inevitable.
Minus Davis, Notre Dame has seven healthy scholarship recipients on its roster, and Joe Wilkins, Jayden Thomas and Deion Colzie have already missed time at fall camp due to injuries.
It is imperative that the wide reception hall do everything possible to stay healthy without limiting their preparation and training intensity. Game 1 against Ohio State is less than three weeks away.
“First of all, it starts with taking care of our bodies outside of the facility,” Styles said. “We always have to stay above that. Also, a lot of that comes from trusting our coaches. We have to trust that as part of the practice, they are going to protect us while we are also doing the required work that we need to do in order to be able to perform.
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