SOUTH BEND, Ind. — After sending a program-record nine NFL draftees to the next level, opportunity abounds at Notre Dame.
If the Fighting Irish are to reach the College Football Playoff for the third time in the last four seasons, coach Brian Kelly knows he and his staff must unlock individual skills and production previously unseen at the college level.
A combined 43-8 record in the last four seasons suggests that is more than possible in 2021. Here’s a look at five players who must step up for Notre Dame to continue its string of 10-victory seasons:
CHRIS TYREE, RB/KR
The former five-star recruit flashed his speed as a freshman, averaging 6.8 yards per carry and coming within a step of breaking several kickoff returns, but he still left fans wanting more.
With 1,100-yard rusher Kyren Williams expected to be featured as a slot receiver at times, the floor is open for Tyree to expand on his dual-threat capabilities. He also could be the salve for an underwhelming punt-return unit, but his spring was uneven in that area.
‘‘We recognize how good a football player Chris Tyree is,’’ special-teams coordinator Brian Polian said. ‘‘But if Chris is not yet comfortable — and there are times when he articulates [that] to us — I’m not going to roll him out there on national television.’’
JARRETT PATTERSON, OL
Offensive line coach Jeff Quinn must replace four starters from a Joe Moore Award finalist group, including second-round picks Liam Eichenberg and Aaron Banks and third-rounder Robert Hainsey.
That marked only the second time since 1982 that any program had three offensive linemen drafted in the first three rounds.
Now the spotlight falls squarely on Patterson, a two-year starter at center who missed spring practice while recovering from a season-ending injury to his left foot. With replacement Zeke Correll slated to stay at center, Patterson could float to any of the other four slots, depending on need.
The redshirt junior won’t just be expected to anchor an inexperienced line; he’ll have to be nearly perfect for the revamped group to avoid a significant drop-off.
‘‘Where does Jarrett play?’’ Kelly said after the spring game. ‘‘Is he a tackle, guard or center? We’ve got work to do, but we’re going to get there.’’
CAM HART, CB
After bouncing between receiver and cornerback his first two seasons, he has found a home on new coordinator Marcus Freeman’s defense.
Wiry-strong and hopeful of putting a history of shoulder injuries behind him, Hart could start opposite fellow underclassman Clarence Lewis. At 6-2 and 207 pounds, he has warmed to a press-heavy coverage scheme.
‘‘Coach Freeman has taken a lot of the thinking out of it,’’ Hart said. ‘‘I feel a lot more comfortable in this defense. It’s about being in the right position, using the right techniques. I can just focus on denying my man.’’
ISAIAH FOSKEY, DE
Four Irish defensive ends have been taken in the last two NFL Drafts. Foskey is on track to join that group once it’s his turn.
‘‘When I first got here, everybody said, ‘Hey, man, he’s the potential first-round pick of the future,’ ’’ Freeman said. ‘‘Foskey hasn’t played a whole bunch of football. We need to continue to get his football intelligence up.’’
At 6-5 and 257 pounds, the freakish athlete has shown his game-changing ability on special teams. The next step for the redshirt sophomore is to impose his will up front, especially as a pass rusher.
BRADEN LENZY, WR
The much-hyped Jordan Johnson transferred to Central Florida, and injuries continue to slow Kevin Austin Jr.
That leaves the floor open for speedsters Lenzy and Lawrence Keys III to replace the physical combo of Ben Skowronek and Javon McKinley.
Lenzy, a former Oregon sprint champ who has been slowed by hamstring injuries the last two seasons, had 88 receiving yards in the spring game. Kelly noted during the spring that Lenzy and Keys had made a renewed commitment in the weight room.
‘‘You can see it in the way they’re translating that on the field,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘They’re explosive, they’re running out, they’re breaking tackles.’’