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Notre Dame Can Restore Tight End U Moniker in ’17

Notre Dame TE Alize Jones (Photo: (Photo: Zach Bolinger // Icon Sportswire)

Notre Dame TE Alize Jones (Photo: (Photo: Zach Bolinger // Icon Sportswire)

Notre Dame had one hell of a run of tight ends from 2005-2014 with six consecutive starting tight ends getting drafted. Five of of the six were even second round picks or better.  Since then, however, production at the position has been virtually non-existent.  That should change in 2017 with the talent Notre Dame has at the position.

The return of “Tight End U” could have very well happened this year for Notre Dame if not for the suspension of Alize Jones.  The sophomore was suspended for the entire season in August.  With Jones sidelined, no one stepped up and seized the opportunity.  Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, and Tyler Luatua combined for just 12 catches for 159 yards.  Smythe was a red-zone weapon at least with four touchdowns among his nine receptions.

Jones was expected to be a playmaker for Notre Dame in 2016.  A truly gifted athlete would could work the middle of the field or split wide in the mold of Tyler Eifert.  The good news is the at Jones was still able to practice with the team so he won’t have to get into playing shape again and should be able to step right in in spring practice.

Jones also exhibited one of the best attitudes from any player who has been suspended for academic reasons I can ever remember.  When Everett Golson was kicked out of school for a semester, he went into exile.  Jones on the other hand was all over social media offering his teammates support and positive messaging.  He has already gotten the team to pick up the hashtag #tictoc since the ’16 season ended counting down to 2017.

The loss of Jones was bigger than many expected it would be in 2016.  With the young and inexperienced wide receivers,  Notre Dame could have used a big, fast target like Jones to garner attention from opposing defenses.  Having him back in 2017 to team with Kevin Stepherson’s downfield speed and Equanimeous St. Brown’s freakish athleticism, Brandon Wimbush will have targets a plenty to choose from.

Elite Freshmen Coming In

In addition to Jones, Notre Dame will have a pair of elite freshmen on the roster at tight end next fall.  Brock Wright, the highest rated recruit in Notre Dame’s class currently, just tore up Under Armour All-American Bowl practices last week.  He showed his skill as a receiver and a blocker in the game on Sunday as well.  Wright even drew the praise of NFL Hall of Famer Deion Sanders during the week.

Wright isn’t the only All American tight end in this year’s class, however.  Cole Kmet is busy doing all he can to make sure his classmate and friend don’t outdo him while he prepares for the US Army All-American Bowl in San Antonio.  Kmet isn’t ranked quite as high as Wright, but is still a 4-star recruit and All-American in his own right though.

Even though Notre Dame has two All-American tight ends in this class, Irish fans shouldn’t be worried in the slightest about either wavering.  The two have become very close throughout the recruiting process. Additionally, they have spoken regularly about being excited to play together and how the two compliment each other.  Kmet is considered more of the detached tight end who could be split out wide, while Wright is the more traditional tight end who will attached to the line more often than not.

Wright will enroll early at Notre Dame when classes resume along with four other early enrollees.  Because he is advanced as a blocker and will have a full off-season and spring to develop, he could see the field very early in his Notre Dame career.

Don’t You Forget About Me

Durham Smythe was set to be Notre Dame’s top tight end in 2015 before injuring his knee and shoulder in week two against Virginia and missing the rest of the regular season.  When Jones’s suspension was announced in August, it was assumed that the time was now for Smythe.

While things didn’t exactly work out that way for the Texas native, he still has a year of eligibility remaining and could return for a 5th season in 2017 to provide Notre Dame depth and another red-zone option.  Only St. Brown and Stepherson caught more touchdowns for Notre Dame in 2016.

Luatua and Weishar will be seniors in 2017.

A New Voice Leading the Notre Dame Tight Ends

There are a lot of reasons for the drop off in production from the tight end position for Notre Dame, but the significant fall off once Scott Booker took over coaching the tight ends from Mike Denbrock can’t be overlooked.  Eifert did have a stellar 2012 season under Booker, but Eifert was already a star when Booker took over the tight ends in 2012.  Booker also did get a lot out of converted defensive end Troy Niklas in 2013 but since then, the production just hasn’t been there.

Booker won’t be back in 2017 more so for the train wreck special teams were in 2016, but regardless there will be a new tight ends coach at Notre Dame in 2017.  Mike Denbrock will be the offensive coordinator at Cincinnati and Mike Sanford is the new head coach at Western Kentucky.  That means that no one that coached the tight ends or had a say in the Notre Dame passing game in 2016 will be back in 2017 except Brian Kelly.

It is assumed that Chip Long – Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator – will also coach the tight ends given his background.  Long will have a lot to work with.

Notre Dame Tight Ends Produce in the NFL

While the production of tight ends on the Notre Dame roster has fallen off, it hasn’t stopped the Irish alum in the NFL from making their presence felt.

  • Anthony Fasano – Yes, Fasano is still playing the NFL.  He just wrapped up his 11th season and while he is in the twilight of his career, he still played in all 16 games this season.  He scored two touchdowns too boot giving him 35 for his career.
  • John Carlson – Unfortunately, Carlson isn’t still playing but it isn’t necessarily by choice.  Carlson was forced into retirement prior to the 2015 season after multiple head injuries.
  • Kyle Rudolph – Set career highs with 83 receptions and 840 yards this season while adding 7 touchdowns.  Only Dennis Pita and Travis Kelce caught more passes this season at the tight end position than Rudolph.  He narrowly missed his second Pro Bowl nod to Jordan Reed and Greg Olsen (yes, that Greg Olsen).
  • Tyler Eifert – Another injury plagued season for Eifert.  Still reeled in 5 touchdowns despite playing only 8 games.  When healthy, he is one of the most dynamic tight ends in the game.
  • Troy Niklas – The lone disappointment of the group.  Niklas caught one pass for no yards this season and has less than 100 career receiving yards through three seasons.
  • Ben Koyack – “Redshirted” his rookie season but came on down the stretch for the Jaguars.  Finished his sophomore season with his first career touchdown in the season finale.

Notre Dame has the talent on the roster for 2017 to add to that list in the near future.  The age old question remains to whether or not this staff will get the most out of it.

13 comments

  1. Bruce Gregory Curme

    bruce johnson,
    I do not think Damien or I could be described as writing a love note to BK. We are simply saying that an 8-4 turnaround in 2017 is not acceptable at this point.

    As for tight end U – the days of Snow, Casper, and McAfee never really ended. We’ve had a great run at that position. The new QB would be well advised to find his TE on certain blitzes that are commonly thrown at first year QB’s.

    • Bruce,

      Forget trying to convince BJ of anything. Anyone that doesn’t want ND to crawl on it’s hands and knees and kiss Meyer’s ring are losers. Meyer could hire a plane to write “I will never come to ND” in the sky and he’d still think ND should grovel to him. I stopped trying to reason with him because you’d have better luck banging your head on the desk.

      • Bruce Gregory Curme

        Yeah, I get that Damian. As for Coach Meyer, I do think he is a great coach. But anyone who doesn’t believe that they can win big at Notre Dame, like Coach Greg Madison, for example, (spelling?) Does Not Belong At ND to begin with.

        Bruce GC ’77 ’82

  2. I said this a few times last season and I repeat – Notre Dame can be pushed around, with no payback, no pushback. It became obvious in the 1st game when Texas pushed us all over the place.

    Kelly is a good recruiter but IMO he is not a Div. 1 Head Coach, especially at a place like Notre Dame. 7 years of public temper tantrums on the sideline have brought the inevitable result – his players have tuned him out.

    I have heard him speak of his players needing his ‘guidance’, and that is absurd.

    And that is what I have to offer from my (reserved) seat in the peanut gallery.

    • USC punked ND even more than Texas did. If I recall correctly, an SC player committed a cheap shot personal foul ON ND’s SIDELINE, and all the ND players did was roll out a red carpet for the opponent to get back into his huddle as quickly as possible. So you are correct – no pushback, no payback. I’m not promoting fighting, but maybe not get annihilated by 3 TD’s or something of that nature would be in order.

  3. But as long as Kelly remains, we get to keep the “Running Back Purgatory U” moniker. So there’s that.

    • Or you could take it a step further and say the “All Positions that Require Speed Purgatory U.” But hey, I’m sure the top recruit’s blocking will come in handy at the goal-line when they turn a 7 inch run into a 7 yard run.

  4. Mike "King" Kelly

    Ken McAfee was my favorite. In 77′ I was a tourist on the Campus and He and Joe were walking to one of the many practice fields, all enclosed. The Student Managers kicked my brother and I out. And the Irish kicked the Air Force Falcons out of the Stadium

  5. Bruce Gregory Curme

    I actually like the looks of the new coaching staff at all levels. I also like the past and current recruiting Brian Kelly has done – it is his saving grace and it is what still separates him from his immediate predecessors in a positive way. I believe we can reasonably expect immediate improvement on ST, the O line, tight ends, the D backfield (already improved a bit), and maybe the D line too.

    What irks me is this:
    It is year 8, we will have an inexperienced quarterback, a new OC, a new DC, we are coming off a 4-8 year against fairly easy competition, and other than 2012, 2015 and a gutsy bowl win over LSU, we have nothing to show for this past 7 year period. Nothing. Add to that the off field problems and anyone should be able to understand the increasing rejection of the program by increasing portions of the fan base.

    What can save it? An overachieving team in 2017 could save it. But what observational evidence do any of us on the “outside” have to lead us to expect a bunch of overachievers to rise from this wreckage?

    Bruce G. Curme
    La Crosse, Indiana

    • Bruce,

      I agree with your points. BK has a ton of ground to make up for. 4-8 this year is unacceptable with the talent they had and the schedule.

      Like you I like the assistants they have been hiring, all mostly proven talents in their respective areas (some may not be HC material, but they have done well in their specialties). But I’m wondering if it’s too little too late.

      I think for next year BK needs a NY Day 6 bowl win, yes that’s a win, for me at least to consider it a successful year. And I think most fans are sick and tired now of the off field problems. Injuries as well (though thankfully that wasn’t at least as much of an issue this year). I also realize how difficult that would be in any other year with all the changes in the coaching, and the fact that we will be playing with a new QB that has not seen the field much.

      But that is the hole BK has dug himself, and he is the only one that can dig himself out.

      • You guys can write all
        The love notes u want about Brian Kelly et al but is is all
        a continuing disaster under bk and js
        Nothing happens until
        They are replaced

    • And that is unacceptable.

  6. I like how you snuck Ben Koyack in there. Hopefully he continues to progress.

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