CULVER — A season ago, Chase Claypool entered Notre Dame’s fall football camp as the No. 2 wide receiver on the depth chart. With Miles Boykin now a member of the NFL’s Baltimore Ravens, though, Claypool will get a chance to be the No. 1 guy for the Fighting Irish this season.
Claypool had a strong junior season, hauling in 50 catches for 639 yards and four touchdowns. He had a 130-yard receiving night against Northwestern, averaging a little more than 16 yards per catch in the Irish’s victory last November.
The senior’s mindset hasn’t changed, however, entering his final year wearing the blue and gold.
“I don’t think so. I still think we have to compete the same, no matter what my position is on the team,” Claypool said following the team’s first fall practice Sunday at Culver Academies.
It wasn’t the summer Claypool wanted, as he spent most of it rehabbing an ankle injury he suffered in the Blue-Gold spring game in April. Claypool had a minor surgery on the ankle to fix some of the damage.
In the past month or so, though, Claypool said he’s been at 100 percent. That doesn’t mean the Notre Dame coaching staff isn’t going to take it slow with him.
“We haven’t asked him to get in and out of explosive cuts, and I think what I was alluding to is when you observe him in practice, we’re not going to throw a heavy load on him in the first three, four, five days,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Friday before camp began. “We’re going to slowly get him back up to 100 percent and then peak him for Louisville (Notre Dame’s first opponent on Sept. 2).”
That’s the plan the coaching staff implemented Sunday.
“We weren’t looking for a burst today. You saw he kind of had a ‘veteran day’ today, if you will, in terms of we’re going to be slow bringing him back,” Kelly said.
Claypool felt good playing football for the first time since the surgery.
“I’m glad (Kelly) didn’t hold back on anything because I think he saw me moving around pretty good,” Claypool said. “So, in case something does happen, he has a plan for that.”
While Kelly tried to hold back his top receiver as much as possible, he also noticed the senior being the leader he’s expected to be for the Irish this fall.
“His maturity, his ability working with the other players is exactly what we want from him,” Kelly said. “We’re going to get exactly what we need from him as we round into shape.”
Claypool, along with graduate senior Chris Finke, are expected to lead the Irish wide receiving group in 2019. While both guys are sliding up a spot on the depth chart, where they’re listed doesn’t affect how they play in their minds.
“We really don’t think of it as one, two and three. Last year, it was just Miles, Chase and I were the starters and whoever’s getting the ball is getting the ball,” Finke said. “So nobody’s thinking about a No. 1 or a No. 2. It’s more just do your job, get open, catch the ball, get some yards after the catch, score a touchdown.”
Claypool echoed Finke’s sentiments, saying he, Finke and Boykin were more of a single unit than three individuals last year.
“You always have to go in with the mindset that you’re the No. 1 guy. In the second half of (2018), I really felt like me and Miles really split that role — and Finke as well,” Claypool said. “So I think it’s nothing new, especially after going into the spring playing that same role.”
Austin Hough can be reached at email@example.com or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN