As the days of off-season speculation and depth chart engineering dwindle with the season finally drawing near, the pre-season watch list cycle is in full swing the latest of which has two Notre Dame players represented. Both Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack were named to the Mackey Awards Watch List as the two fight vie to replace 1st round draft pick and 2012 Mackey Award winner Tyler Eifert.
It pays to play tight end for Notre Dame these days. How else could you explain the presence of both Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack on the Mackey Award’s Pre-Season Watch List considering the Irish duo hace combined for just 8 catches for 114 yards and 1 touchdown last fall?
Notre Dame has become Tight End U over the last decade with a string of four tight ends that have been drafted in either the second round or higher over the last eight seasons – Anthony Fasano (2nd round – ’06 Miami), John Carlson (2nd round – ’08 Seattle), Kyle Rudolph (2nd round – ’11 Minnesota), and Eifert (1st round – ’13 Cincinnati).
Playing tight end for Notre Dame has meant being prominently featured in offenses that like to throw the football and it looks like Troy Niklas is ready to take the mantle from Eifert although right now the Mackey Award is hedging it’s bets with the addition of Koyack on the list as well since those who followed Notre Dame this spring saw Niklas practice with the first team.
After making the move from defense to tight end last spring, Niklas quickly established himself as the team’s second tight end behind Eifert thanks in large part to his blocking. Niklas is a freak of an athlete with a prototypical frame for a tight end. He took a little time to get used to playing on offense though and had some consistency issues at times last season.
With Tommy Rees at quarterback in 2013, Niklas figures to be a prominent fixture in the Irish offense this fall. Rees relied on Eifert throughout his career at Notre Dame and figures to do the same this year with NIklas or Koyack if he is able to unseat Niklas in fall camp.
USC also placed two tight ends on the list – Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer. Notre Dame will also face Mackey Award candidates from Stanford (Luke Kaumatule), BYU (Kaneakua Friel), and Purdue (Gabe Holmes).
Over the last few weeks Notre Dame players have been all over the pre-season watch lists – primarily on the defensive side of the ball. Louis Nix, Stephon Tuitt, Bennett Jackson, and Prince Shembo were all named to the Bednarik Award Watch list with Tuitt and Shembo also landing on the Maxwell Watch List. Junior place kicker Kyle Brindza was also named to the Lou Groza Award Watch last week.