Earlier today news broke that Notre Dame’s reserve tight end Tyler Luatua will transfer from Notre Dame after a week or so of speculation regarding the future of the former 4-star recruit. With Luatua’s decision to leave Notre Dame final, the big question for Notre Dame now, is how his departure impacts Notre Dame’s depth moving forward and whether or not the Irish might make a late push for a tight end in the class of 2016.
Here’s what we know about Notre Dame’s tight end depth for 2016 as of today. Tyler Luatua is transferring leaving Notre Dame with three scholarship tight ends on the roster as of today – Durham Smythe, Nic Weishar, and Alize Jones. Those three tight ends have combined for just 20 career catches and a single touchdown. Not exactly the kind of production that we have become accustomed to at “Tight End U”.
Still Jones was a 5-star recruit who is still projected to be an elite receiver at the position. Smythe missed most of 2015 season after it was reported he was expected to be a prominent weapon for the Irish offense prior to his injury in week two. Weishar has yet to make his mark in the passing game, but still has three years of eligibility remaining. Even though Luatua leaves Notre Dame after two seasons without recording a single catch, his departure does put Notre Dame in a bind.
Carrying three scholarship tight ends for an entire season is a risky proposition – especially considering how often Notre Dame likes to run two tight end sets. Notre Dame also has seen the last two seasons that injuries can and will strike everywhere. Notre Dame lost Smythe for the most of the season in 2015. While Luatua wasn’t an asset in the passing game to date, he did serve a role as an extra blocker – especially in the redzone.
Since college football doesn’t have free agency, Notre Dame doesn’t have a lot of options here to add another tight end for 2016. They can add some tight end depth at this point in five different ways:
- Adding a late recruit before next Wednesday’s National Signing Day
- Converting a current player on the roster to tight end to build some depth
- Bringing back Chase Hounshell for a 6th year
- Adding a graduate transfer
- Look at walkon options
Of those options, the most obvious would seem to be bringing back Hounshell for a 6th year. Hounshell reportedly qualifies for a medical hardship 6th year and after playing tight end in 2015, he knows the offense and is familiar with the position after playing defense most of his career. Hounshell only has one career reception for just six yards, however.
TE Chase Hounshell says he will have a 6th year of eligibility.
— Irish Sports Daily (@ISDUpdate) November 12, 2015
Notre Dame could also look to make a late run at a tight end for the class of 2016 but given the fact that the staff made up their mind a while ago that they wouldn’t be brining in a tight end in this class, it’s hard to imagine them being able to add a recruit this late in the game that they wouldn’t look at in a few years as a less than ideal use of a scholarship. Notre Dame also already has two tight end commitments for the class of 2017 in Brock Wright and Cole Kemet – a pair of 4 stair recruits – meaning the Irish’s tight end bind should only last a season.
That being said, they could try to add a graduate transfer at the position as that is the closest thing to free agency in college football. Notre Dame has added 5th year transfers the last two years in Cody Riggs and Avery Sebastian, but hasn’t had good luck on the injury front in either case. A graduate transfer could be a great way to add depth without compromising scholarship flexibility down the road, but with Jones ascending and Smythe returning from injury, Notre Dame might not be seen as a great destination for a graduate transfer looking to make the most of their final season if they have NFL aspirations.
The Notre Dame staff could also look to the current roster for a position change to build depth. Rising sophomore Miles Boykin is a massive wide receiver with room to grow but moving him to tight end in the off-season would be more of a long-term move as he’d need a season or so to bulk up enough to really make an impact at the position. Outside of Boykin though, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of candidates who have the frames to be a blocking tight end. Perhaps a defensive lineman like Grant Blankenship, but at 270 lbs he might be too big to make the move.
Notre Dame had one walkon tight end on the roster in 2015 – Ben Suttman. Suttman was a high school teammate of Malik Zaire at Archbishop Alter. Notre Dame could also look to add a preferred walk-on in the class of 2016 to add another tight end. Again though, it could be too late in the game for this.
At the end of the day, the best course of action here for Notre Dame appears to be having Hounshell back for a 6th year assuming he wants to return and the option is indeed available to him. It wouldn’t impact scholarship limits beyond next year and since Luatua primarily served as a blocking tight end, Hounshell’s size makes him an ideal candidate to fill that role. We likely won’t know Notre Dame’s plan at the position though until Signing Day at the earliest when the media next meets with Brian Kelly.