Tyler Luatua’s Transfer Hits Notre Dame Tight End Depth

Durham Smythe - Notre Dame TE
Durham Smythe is one of just three scholarship tight ends currently projected for the 2016 Notre Dame roster. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

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.

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  1. I don’t blame him for wanting to go to BYU. BYU has one of the greatest tight end traditions in the country (they throw the ball to their tight ends at BYU and that is why BYU has so many in the NFL).

    Why can’t we be like BYU?

    1. I’m just guessing – and i realize this is a year old – but judging by his name, Luatua sounds like he’s Hawaiian. BYU is a Mormon school. I won’t go so far as to guess Tyler’s religion, but at least he’ll be used to practicing among Mormons. (Hawaii has a huge Mormon population)

  2. Don’t blame him at all. He like the other tight ends on the roster have not been used in the passing game. like Fasano, Carlson and Eifert were.

  3. I agree with Alley O’ on both points. How do we know if Luatua couldn’t catch as well as block? How often was he (or Counsell for that matter) thrown passes? I know Fuller and Hunter should be more likely targets, but when Counsell and Luatua were in, they were blockers; if the TE would be a possible pass receiver, Jones or Weishar were running the pattern. That’s too predictable- and easier to prepare against. Also, as for Morgan, why stay with Schmidt on obvious passing downs (like with 30 seconds left vs. Stanford) where athletic ability (Morgan, or another DB) was more needed than setting up defenses (Schmidt’s strength). I loved Schmidt’s leadership, but how often was he a step too slow when rushing a QB or filling a running gap? Hindsight is 20/20, but not having your best players in depending on the circumstance , or being too predictable what your TEs would be doing isn’t likely to maximize the opportunity presented with each situation.

  4. @Bob Rodes,
    It just seems like the Irish were too quick to give up on the TE’s in the passing game. Alize will improve on the blocking, but could have had more passes thrown his way. I see the same problem at LB with Morgan. Why couldn’t they have given him more snaps, if for anything, just to prepare for this year?

  5. @Alley: that’s so, but we also need to find a TE that can both catch and block. Last year, nobody fit the bill. Alize Jones didn’t see a lot of playing time because he is an iffy blocker and dropped way too many balls. If he leaves, it’s because he doesn’t want to correct these deficiencies, and I am very sure that he does.

  6. ND currently has two TEs committed for the 2017 class – one of which being the top rated TE in the country by some sites – and the other also rated in the top 5. No need to bring in a 2016 TE at this point. I am not worried about this one bit.

  7. I agree, bringing Hounshell back seems to be the best option. It would cause little to no disruption in ND’s long term plans, it buys them a year to look at recruiting another elite TE, he knows the offense already so he’d be easy to plug in, and it gives them flexibility at the position. If they achieve all that, it should be minimally disruptive to the offense.

  8. I don’t blame him for leaving. Let’s hope Alize doesn’t do the same. The Irish need to use the TE position more in the passing offense.

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