Replacing Tyler Eifert: A Tight Position for Troy Niklas, Notre Dame

Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Troy Niklas (85) battles with Purdue Boilermakers safety Landon Feichter (44) to catch a pass in game action. Notre Dame defeated Purdue by the score of 20-17, at Notre Dame Stadium. (Photo – Robin Alam / IconSMI)

Notre Dame has a lot of key pieces to replace on offense heading into the 2013 season, none bigger than Tyler Eifert.  The consensus All-American and most prolific tight-end in Notre Dame history is headed to the NFL, leaving a gaping hole in the Irish offense.  Eifert lead the Irish in receiving yards and was tied for the team lead in receptions and touchdown receptions last season while often facing double and triple teams in coverage.  He was also invaluable to the development of Everett Golson as the Irish quarterback always knew he had a matchup advantage when Eifert was on the field.  With Eifert gone the Irish are losing their leading receiver from last season and Golson’s security blanket who could create space for other playmakers, now it’s up to a group of talented but largely inexperienced tight-ends to replace the best in Notre Dame history.

The odds-on favorite to replace Eifert as the Irish’s number one tight-end this fall is last season’s backup Troy Niklas.  Niklas, a converted linebacker spent most of last season learning the skills necessary to excel at the tight-end position while playing in all 13 games and totalling five receptions for 75 yards and a touchdown.  The California native is a physical specimen, coming in at 6’7’’ and weighing 259 pounds, making him a nightmare for any defender.  After spending a season as Eifert’s understudy, Niklas is ready to shine as he has all the physical and mental tools to continue the legacy of great tight-ends at Notre Dame.

Another player competing for playing time at tight-end will be the much maligned Ben Koyack.  Koyack came to Notre Dame as a highly touted recruit who was one of the top tight-ends in the 2011 class; however, since then its been a bumpy ride for the junior.  Koyack has been plagued by monumental struggles in the blocking department and inconsistency with his hands.  This season will define Koyack’s career at Notre Dame, with depth at the position if he continues to struggle he will fall on the depth chart, but if he lives up to his potential there is a great possibility for him to become a crucial member of the Irish offense.

With the Irish tight-end corps lacking experience, senior Alex Welch can provide leadership.  Welch missed all of last season with an ACL injury but is recovered and ready to get back on the field in the upcoming season.  Despite being with the program since 2010, Welch has only seen action in 10 games as he was redshirted in his freshman season and injured all of last season.  The Ohio native and Elder High School alumnus is viewed as a blocking specialist but does have good hands and the ability to contribute to the Irish offense.

The Irish also have an injection of youth at the position as incoming freshman Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe look to compete for playing time.  Heuerman is already on campus as an early-enrollee, giving him an opportunity to learn the playbook and practice with the team in an effort to get on the field during his freshman season.  Heuerman has great physical skills and with the head start he gets from enrolling early could factor into the equation on offense this season, primarily in triple tight-end sets along the goal line.  Smythe, a Texas native, also possesses great physical tools and will push for some playing time but likely will find himself on special teams.

A potential wildcard in the situation is former Irish basketball player Joey Brooks.  Brooks has great athleticism and height at 6’6’’ but is new to football at a high level.  With the depth at the position it is unlikely Brooks can overcome his lack of experience to play a key role this season, but his physical skill that he can transfer for basketball will make him an intriguing player to watch in practice leading up to the season.


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  1. Shazamrock 5 years ago

    Congrats to Tyler Eifert!

    Selected by Cincinnati in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft!

    Seems to be a pretty good fit for Tyler.

    An improving Cincinnati team that went 10-6 last year and made the playoffs!

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  2. woody o hardy 5 years ago

    Observation: Tyler was awesome. Michael Floyd was awesome. However, the best teams are not one dimensional. Our TE’s will be productive next year. Our running game will be strong and our QB dynamic. There will be positive surprises. It will be FUN!!!!!!


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  3. Toulmin H. Brown 5 years ago

    Tyler Eifert caught that ball on 3rd down in ND’S opening drive BCSNC 2013! Which by the way would have put Notre Dame in scoring position to tie the game. Even after a review they got it wrong.

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  4. ARMAC 5 years ago

    A tight end has to be able to block or outrun a linebacker, and out-muscle or out-reach a safety. Niklas, Koyack, and Welch all fit the mold. We have been spoiled by tight ends, but these guys will be good.

    Honorable Mention might be made of WR Corey Robinson. His spring drills show great reach and impressive ball skills. If the coaches find themselves short a tight end somewhere down the road, Corey will be a natural fit. He also blocks better than expected.

    Robinson will most likely redshirt. Time in the weight room will make him a formidable player. But Kelly may need an extra redzone weapon this season, so who knows. He may be too useful to redshirt.

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  5. JC 5 years ago

    Excellent points Pierce,

    Please forgive our decadent/bad samaritans for their minutiae. I too, like Shaz, see exciting TE development coming our way. I denfinitely like your point on “triple tight-end sets along the goal line.” Power-run-the-ball will certainly be the agenda this year contrary to our logically deceptive resident psuedo-psychologist…eh duranko! Yeah, this is what real ND men do! Your up!

    Here come our beloved Irish! Foxsports 1 – Regis & Lou!

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  6. duranko 5 years ago

    The whole “replacing the departed…….” dialogue couterproductive and
    psycdhologically self-defeating.

    Some players graduate, some go pro early, some transfer, some get injured.

    It’s unremarkable, de riguer and the way of the world.
    The only thing relevant is who’s around and what they are doing.

    Gone is gone.
    Here is here.

    We play the here’s not the gone’s.

    We have 12 games and 12 opponents. That’s our schedule. We don’t play
    last year’s yardstick.

    What profit it a man to discuss a “gaping hole?”

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    1. Jody 5 years ago

      I totally concur with that sentiment duranko. These concerns with “replacing the departed” simply become a self defeating notion of sorts that are void of accounting for present/future strengths not common to the past.

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  7. RocketMan25 5 years ago

    Niklas doesn’t have blazing speed – he isn’t as fast as Eifert for instance, but he has pretty good speed for a TE. Eifert might have had the best pure speed of ND’s latest string of TE’s though. Niklas has the tools to be the next great Irish TE if he improves his route running.

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  8. Shazamrock 5 years ago

    Awesome Photo!

    Projects similar hints of “The Catch” by 49er great Dwight Clark (thrown by ND QB great Joe Montana) with a blend of the famed physiqueness statue of Rocky Balboa!

    Now throw in the angle of his Gold Helmet looking skywards towards the heavens with a player drapped all over him, and what more could you ask for!

    (Hats off to Robin Alam)

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  9. ChrisJ 5 years ago

    Niklas is a freakin animal physically. Does anyone know what kind of speed he has? Obviously we didn’t get to see much of that last year.

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