Earlier this week some reports began to surface that rising sophomore Troy Niklas was working out with the tight ends during voluntary off-season training after spending his freshman season cracking the two deep at outside linebacker. This could mean a number of things for the versatile athlete and the Irish in general.
We’ll start off by looking at what this could mean for Niklas. On the surface the move is a little surprising because Niklas was able to crack the two deep as a freshman without the benefit of enrolling early and even started a game only to move to a position with a legit elite incumbent starter and two highly thought of back ups providing a lot of depth in 2012.
Niklas is extremely athletically gifted and Brian Kelly raved about his ability to make plays in space as an outside linebacker last year so it should be safe to assume that his athleticism should allow him to make plays on offense as well once he gets down route running and picks up the offense.
As for the other duty of a tight end – blocking – Niklas is a physical specimen and should be able to make an impact in that regard in relatively short order. He will face a tough battle with Alex Welch and Ben Koyack for playing time though with both returning tight ends having much more experience at the position. Welch did spend most of last season injured, however, making his own durability a question mark.
The big question here though is why would Kelly and his staff consider moving a rising sophomore who made an instant impact at an extremely importnat position to a position where the Irish, at least on paper, have pretty good depth?
Hopefully, what this means, is the defensive staff is very pleased with the young talent they have at the drop backer position already with the likes of Ishaq Williams and Ben Councell and incoming freshman Romeo Okwara along with the returning upperclassmen like Danny Spond to man the position. Williams was a 5-star recruit, but even with the advantage of a full spring practice, Niklas leap frogged him last season. A full year in a system and a adjusting to the speed of the college game – remember, Williams played against much weaker competition in high school than Niklas – could have Williams ready to tap into his immense talent though.
Schematically, this could mean that Notre Dame is going to be using more multiple tight end sets moving forward and wants to make sure that they have adequate depth at the position to do so. Last season injuries to Welch and Mike Ragone rushed Koyack on the field before he was really ready to be a blocking tight end and without adding a tight end in this past recruiting class the Irish have just four scholarship tight ends heading into the season.
With an elite receiving tight end like Eiftert, seeing more multiple tight end sets would make a lot of sense since it would allow Eifert to create mismatches against linebackers with the Irish seemingly in running formations. The New England Patriots created the blueprint for really exploiting the benefit of having multiple elite tight ends and Brian Kelly might be trying to replicate their success with a quarterback position that very likely could be ushering in a new, inexperience starter in 2012.
Of course, this could all mean nothing. Remember, last season Kelly moved Lane Clelland to defensive end in the off-season only to move him back to offensive tackle in the spring. It will be interesting to see where Niklas ends up though. He certainly has the athleticism to play tight end and if we can pick up the nuances of the position, Notre Dame could find itself with yet another receiving threat at the position.