Notre Dame quarterback has ‘surpassed’ expectations this spring with varied role

Notre Dame redshirt freshman quarterback Avery Davis throws a pass in a drill during a recent practice at the Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long works with a group of tight ends during a drill in a recent practice at the Loftus Sports Center in South Bend. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)
Notre Dame redshirt freshman athlete Avery Davis
Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long speaks with the media at the Guglielmino Athletics Complex in South Bend recently. (By Tom Davis of News-Sentinel.com)

SOUTH BEND – When the Notre Dame football team takes to the field Saturday for its annual Blue-Gold Game (12:30 p.m., NBCSN) many eyes will be focused on the quarterback battle between redshirt junior Brandon Wimbush and redshirt sophomore Ian Book. However, the quarterback that has caught the attention – in a positive way – of second-year Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long isn’t either one of those guys.

The Notre Dame coaching staff has experimented with a number of position alterations this spring, including moving athletic third-string quarterback Avery Davis to a hybrid wide receiver-running back position, in addition to working as a quarterback. The early returns have been very surprising and pleasing.

“Avery is an explosive young man who picks things up really quickly,” Long said recently.

The Irish had great success a few years ago when they figured out different ways to get the ball into the hands of athlete Theo Riddick, who was not a quarterback, and Long said that they are doing the same with Davis.

“A lot of the design is when he is in there, he’s going to be touching the ball,” Long said. “He is going to be the number one read in that scenario.”

After spending years as a quarterback, Long said that Davis has developed a natural feel for being a pass-catcher.

“He has really good instincts as a route runner,” Long said. “You can tell that when he is out there. By playing quarterback, he always liked that.”

Not only can Davis run routes well, but the 5-foot-11, 203-pound speedster has the ability to get yards after the catch as a runner, as well.

“He can make guys miss,” Long said. “He has really surpassed my expectations. This last week, he’s really been one of the more explosive players on our offense that we have had.”

Davis will mix in with a deep, but a mostly unproven group of receivers that are being led by redshirt junior Miles Boykin and sophomore Michael Young and despite being moved around, Long said that Davis has been happy to find some role to be utilized.

“It’s been pretty good,” Long said of Davis’ attitude. “He’s scoring a lot of touchdowns, so I think that he enjoys that. That always helps.”

The Notre Dame coaches are doing similar work with redshirt freshman Jafar Armstrong, who is primarily a wide receiver, but will also get repetitions running the ball.

“We’re trying to keep it simple with (Davis),” Long explained, “because he is having to go back and forth.

“He’ll be in the backfield at running back, he’ll be at receiver and when our (third strings) are up, he’ll get some quarterback reps, but the last few practices, he’s done a great job at receiver and running back for us.”

A year ago, Long’s hands were tied due to the fact that his top three runners (Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tony Jones Jr.) each battled injuries throughout the season. With the addition of Armstrong and Davis, as well as the return of Williams and Jones Jr., Long has the depth to be more creative offensively and survive an injury to the position group.

“That hurt us last year,” Long said. “(Being creative) was a big part of our offense in spring ball and fall camp, but when those backs got knocked out; we couldn’t use that part of our offense.

“Just having the ability to have more depth back there with those type of guys, injuries can’t take us out of that personnel.”

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