The last time we saw Alize Mack on the field for Notre Dame, he was a promising but raw true freshman showing us the glimpses of talent that made him the #1 tight end in the country out of Bishop Gorman three years ago. We also knew him as Alize Jones. Since then his name has changed and he spent his entire sophomore season on the sidelines due to an academic suspension. After a year in exile, Mack is ready to make his presence felt.
Pedigree & Career to Date
Mack came to Notre Dame as 247Sports #1 composite tight end in the entire country. Georgia, USC, Oklahoma, UCLA, Auburn, and Tennessee all offered Mack along with pretty much every Pac 12 team. This was a big time win for Notre Dame from one of the best prep programs on the west coast – Bishop Gorman (home of Ronnie Stanley).
Mack played quite a bit as a true freshman in 2015 but his impact was sporadic. He caught 13 passes for 190 yards but did not find the endzone. He made a crucial 45 yard reception against Temple to help set up the game winning touchdown. Mack also hauled in a sideline grab against USC on a pass thrown by Torii Hunter. The play went for 35 yards but could have been an easy score with a better throw from Hutner. In the 2016 Fiesta Bowl against Ohio State, Jones had 2 catches for 24 yards.
He flashed glimpses of being a game breaking tight end, but they were few and far between as is usually the case with true freshman. Mack looked poised to breakout last year, but instead he was suspended for the entire year due to academic shortcomings. He took the suspension in stride though and focused on his classwork and became a great teammate offering encouragement over social media.
More importantly though, Mack was allowed to practice and spent the season on the scout team. Unlike Everett Golson’s academic exile, Mack was still with the team and didn’t miss any practice time so he shouldn’t have too many signs of rust this fall.
Why Alize Mack Will Breakout
Mack’s talent is undeniable and it was on full display throughout the spring. Brian Kelly continually raved about the junior’s skillset throughout spring ball calling him “uncoverable”. New offensive coordinator Chip Long is also coaching tight ends and his offense is very tight end friendly so the stars appeared lined for Mack to play up to his potential.
Here’s just one reminder of how good Mack is.
Alizé Jones taking a page out of the Odell Beckham Jr. handbook ?? pic.twitter.com/8swyDehNnT
— Tamara Brown (@NDSportsBlogger) August 29, 2015
Notre Dame will be using Mack in a variety of ways this fall. In a two tight end set with Durham Smythe, Mack could be flexed out as a unattached tight end. Mack has the size and speed to match up with any safety on the Notre Dame schedule and come out victorious when flexed out.
Mack’s blocking has improved enough that he can be counted on to be a more traditional tight end in an attached set as well. In that role Mack will be an absolute matchup nightmare for pretty much any linebacker that is unfortunate enough to get tasked with covering him. Pray for any linebacker tasked with trying to cover Mack one on and one.
As an attached tight end, Mack will be a huge asset for Brandon Wimbush in the play-action game. There isn’t a linebacker Mack will face in the fall that he won’t be able to beat one on one straight up. If that same linebacker flinches even a little on a play action it will be game over and some poor safety will be left to clean up the mess. That is if they can bring Jones down.
Why Alize Mack Won’t Breakout
There are only two ways in which Mack won’t break out this year: 1) injuries 2) coaching failure. I struggled for a while to come up with a reason why Mack won’t break out and really the only scenarios I an envision it happening are external factors. Notre Dame doesn’t have any other tight ends with Mack’s skillset – very few programs do – and there isn’t any reason that he shouldn’t be utilized early and often by Notre Dame in 2017.
Tight end production for Notre Dame had fallen off dramatically over the last few years. That fall off, along with the special teams disasters last year, ended up costing Scott Booker his job. Chip Long’s background as a tight ends coach has everyone optimistic that Notre Dame will get back to its Tight End U tradition this fall with Mack.
Barring injuries or the staff not getting him involved the only thing that could slow down Mack this year is Mack himself. He already lost one season because of academic issues and while he has been said to have matured quite over the last year, he will still carry that label heading into the season. We’ve seen him take some ownership and leadership over social media, but now that is back with the team he needs to do the same in the meeting and classrooms.
With a first time starting quarterback in Brandon Wimbush, Mack should be one of the Notre Dame signal caller’s best friends. Long and Kelly should find ways to get him involved early to give Wimbush some easy plays to build his confidence. In a perfect world, Notre Dame comes out running the ball right at Temple on Labor Day weekend with the stable of Josh Adams, Dexter Williams, and Tony Jones Jr and then unleashes Mack down the middle of the field on a play action for a big chunk play.
It is difficult to project a stat total for Jones because of all of the variables in play – a new offense, a potentially strong running game, and some other game breakers at wide receiver, but a season similar to Troy Niklas in 2013 should be the floor for Mack. Niklas only had 5 career catches before his true junior season when he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and 5 touchdowns. The ceiling should be Tyler Eifert’s 2011 campaign of 67 catches for 803 yards. Notre Dame simply has too many playmakers for Mack to see that kind of volume though.
Niklas parlayed that breakout season to an early departure for the NFL and a 2nd round NFL Draft selection. Speculation has already begun that Mack could follow a similar path to the NFL with a big season because of his athletic skills. Some may say that it’s way too early to even speculate that but who thought Niklas would be in a position to leave early at this time in 2013? Mack has the talent to have an even bigger junior year than Niklas did. Will there be enough passes to go around is the only question.