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The Journal Gazette

  • Dylan Sinn | The Journal Gazette Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool caught 50 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns last season.

  • DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette Notre Dame wide receiver Chris Finke, a former walk-on, is a captain this season and will command more attention from defenses after catching 49 passes in 2018. 

  • DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette Notre Dame wide receiver Chase Claypool has the size and physicality to be the Irish's No. 1 receiver. He's been one of the team's most impressive players in fall camp.

Thursday, August 22, 2019 1:00 am

Irish eager to take chances

Bevy of talented receivers make deep passes a priority

DYLAN SINN | The Journal Gazette

SOUTH BEND – Last season, Notre Dame's offense was an efficient machine, mostly moving in bite-size chunks. But this season, the Irish want more explosive plays. 

The coaching staff has been encouraging quarterback Ian Book to take more risks with his passes and throw the ball deep more often. Book has pushed himself to do so in practice, but the effectiveness of such a strategy will hinge just as much on the performance of Notre Dame's pass-catchers.

Fortunately for the Irish, they have talented receivers on the outside capable of making those big plays. Miles Boykin is gone to the NFL, but 6-foot-4 Chase Claypool is back, as is slippery slot receiver Chris Finke and a promising group of younger receivers ready to step into larger roles.

Finke said he and Claypool aren't concerned about the extra responsibility of being the team's top two receivers. 

“We didn't really think of it as one, two and three last year,” Finke said of the depth chart. “It was just Miles, Chase and I were the starters and whoever's getting the ball is getting the ball, so nobody's thinking about, 'Oh, I'm No. 1' or 'I'm No. 2,' it's more just do your job, get up and catch the ball, get some yards after the catch, score a touchdown.”

Claypool will almost certainly be Book's favorite target when the quarterback is looking deep. The senior wideout is the prototypical No. 1 receiver, possessing size, physicality, leaping ability and strong hands.

The British Columbia native caught 50 passes for 639 yards and four touchdowns opposite Boykin in 2018. In camp this fall he has made an array of leaping catches in traffic, despite routinely facing off with Troy Pride Jr., Notre Dame's best cover corner.

“Chase can be as a good as he wants to be,” Finke said. “He's a menacing receiver, he's a big dude, he's fast too and he's stronger than everybody. Chase has been doing really well, he's been working hard on his craft in the offseason and he's been putting it to work on the field. ... I'm excited to watch him play this year.”

Finke spent most of last season in the slot, making long, game-turning touchdown catches against Michigan and USC and totaling 49 receptions for 571 yards. The former walk-on is now a captain and he'll be more of a priority for opposing defenses without Boykin on the field.

The 5-foot-10, 185-pound fifth-year senior will play out wide far more often than last year, though wide receivers coach Del Alexander said he didn't expect Finke to have trouble with that transition.

“We teach big picture,” Alexander said. “We teach them concepts, not just what one guy does. ... Finke can play anywhere, the boundary, the slot or the field.”

Behind those top two receivers, the Irish are looking for some young players to step up. Their depth at the wide receiver position took a hit when junior Michael Young, who was slated to be the No. 3 target, had surgery for a broken collarbone in practice Saturday. Coach Brian Kelly said Wednesday that Young could be back in as little as four weeks, but it could also be significantly longer than that.

Without Young for the foreseeable future, the Irish will lean on redshirt freshmen Lawrence Keys III and Braden Lenzy. Kelly also suggested running backs Jafar Armstrong and Kyren Williams could see action split out wide.

“We're going to miss Mike (Young), he had a really good camp going,” Kelly said. “But we've got a lot of really good players that will step up.”

dsinn@jg.net