Taking over: Tyree leads running back room in preparation after Williams departure
Mannion McGinley | Friday, December 31, 2021
Earlier in December, Irish junior running back Kyren Williams declared for the NFL draft, indicating he would not take part in Notre Dame’s Fiesta Bowl appearance on New Year’s Day.
After a warm send-off for Williams, Irish fans turned their heads to the running back room. Sophomore back Chris Tyree stepped up ready to answer their call, backed by true freshmen Logan Diggs and Audric Estime.
Tuesday morning in Arizona, Tyree discussed how they’ve handled William’s departure. He said he has no intention of simply filling Kyren’s shoes, but instead will try to be his own star within the important role Williams held.
“We see a great opportunity,” Tyree said. “Kyren was such a big piece in our offense. That’s where we got a lot of our energy from. Just all three of us really, Audric, Logan and myself, we see a really big opportunity this weekend, just making plays and finding our role on our offense.”
During the season, he battled a turf toe injury, and now back in the shotgun, Tyree said he doesn’t think he “would wish turf toe on [his] worst enemy.”
Still, Tyree intends to take the lead both on and off the field. He’s learned certain strategies towards that field leadership from Williams. Though he knows that won’t exactly be easy, he said he’s ready.
“There’s a wave of consistency that you have to have as an every-down back,” Tyree said. “I have learned that as I played with Kyren and just [by] being in the room with him. He has a lot of great habits that set the standard for what we have to do in the future. Honestly, just learning from him and just being in the room with him, I’m pretty confident in myself and the other guys with me. So, I [feel] pretty good about it.”
Despite his injury, Tyree logged 204 rush yards, 303 return yards and 143 receiving yards on the season. Tyree also claimed three touchdowns across his three disciplines on the field. Around his injury and all the way up to this game, Tyree said, he and the rest of the running back room have remained locked in.
“Our biggest focus was just doing the little things right every play,” Tyree said. “That’s where the explosives happen, is when someone breaks to the second level and the receiver is blocking, he’s finishing his block, just little things like that. So, just being able to master that and become experts at doing the little things right, that’s what brought our success throughout the course of the season.”
As the Irish head into this contest against the Oklahoma State Cowboys, the team will expect a lot from Tyree. The last time Notre Dame faced such an impactful front line the Irish took on the Wisconsin Badgers on Sept. 23. Then, the Irish got held up in the run game except for a 97-yard kick return from Tyree that he turned into a touchdown. His kind of speed and on-field decision-making will be a focal point for the Irish this weekend.
Tyree knows he won’t be alone on the field, though. He said he trusts Diggs and Estime — and he saw with his own eyes that they both are reliable options on the field.
“Throughout the time that I was out, I was, one, trying to recover and trying to get back; but, two, being a leader,” Tyree said. “I realize that it was pretty hard for Kyren out there and he was pretty much the only back out there. But once Logan came in, just really understood his role and took advantage of it, I understood that there are so many people in that room that could do the same thing.”
He said their Fiesta Bowl preparation didn’t come without his first taste at that lead role. Tyree had seen both freshmen make an impact on the field. Diggs has 200 rushing yards in seven games. Estime, although appearing in only one game, had 61 yards. Between the Stanford takedown and now though, Tyree got a glimpse at what it’s like to run the running backs room. He saw the different strengths they all bring to it that he knew would be there.
“I just had to make sure that everyone was prepared and had to make sure that the young guys were ready to go,” Tyree said.
Now, he expressed a belief that they are ready. Offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said he trusts the whole trio to make some noise on Saturday.
“We have a ton of belief in Chris, in Logan, in Audric to go out there and represent that room and our level of play to a high level,” Rees said.