Will Notre Dame’s Tight Ends Fulfill Their Promise?

The tight end position has been one of immense potential since the arrival of Alize Mack in 2015. He was a prized recruit, one of the jewels of his class, and was going to bring to the tight end position what Tyler Eifert left behind in 2012. A matchup nightmare, they said. Unstoppable in the red zone. While he’s been a useful player, he has not lived up to his preseason hype the past few years (although being a disappointment in 2016 stemmed from his season long suspension).

During 2015-2017, the tight ends have been largely replacement level. Solid players, but not difference makers, and not up to the caliber of an institution that proclaims itself Tight End U.

However, hope springs eternal, and the tight end position is, on paper, as stocked as it has been in the Kelly era and before. Mack, Cole Kmet, and Brock Wright, who figure to be the first three on the depth chart, boast an average 247 composite rating of .9656, high four star players, and a  composite national rating of 72. Any school would love to have signed just one of these guys. Notre Dame has all three. With offensive coordinator Chip Long having an affinity for two tight end sets, could this be the year of the tight end?

The Bulldozer

During the 2017 recruiting process, Brock Wright was highlighted for his blocking. The old school type of tight end, who excelled while attached to the offensive line. So many of the modern tight ends are essentially large slot receivers. That’s not Wrights game. He was used as a goal line fullback last year, lined up in front of Josh Adams in the I-formation. He differs from Mack and Kmet in this regard, who are more receiving options and will be seen lined up in the slot or singled up on the outside in 3×1 sets.

Wright’s skills could be especially useful in assisting a revamped offensive line with a new left tackle. He can provide help as a pass blocker, but more importantly as a power player in the running game. He was able to perform in the spring in this capacity, but he was limited by a shoulder injury that needed surgery in the offseason. He participated just fine, but he was behind as far as weight training. Now fully healthy, he’s able to attack the offseason unabated.

I think he could be the Troy Niklas of this seasons team, if not the 2013 version, then the 2012 edition that provided a nice compliment to Tyler Eifert and was a stellar blocker for a strong running game.

The Gronkowski

Cole Kmet is a massive human. He can’t be out jumped at 6’5 1/2 and with arms like tree limbs. He can’t be outmuscled at 255. He’s also got the leg speed to beat linebackers up the seam. He’s a big problem. I compare him to Gronk because he’s not a twitchy athlete like Mack or Eifert were. He’s got a bit of a lumber to him. He doesn’t look fast, but then there he is separating from defenders. And once he’s got the ball in his hands, he’s not just tackled by one player. In the spring game, he caught an eight yard out in front of Julian Love, dismissed Love from the tackle, took on Daelin Hayes and Drue Tranquill, who looked like kids trying to take on their dad, and received Alohi Gilman with notable indifference, before being forced to step out of bounds. You’ll notice he’s never taken to the ground. The play ends with Kmet on his feet and handing the ball to the ref. This is a particular indignity for the defense. Four guys with clear shots and they couldn’t bring him down.

Gronk is a transcendent player and this is a comparison in style, not a prediction. But, because of this style, Kmet is the x-factor to this group. He needs to improve as a blocker, there’s no question about that. He hurt the team a couple of times in this area in the spring game. Here, he’s got a clean shot and the angle on Tranquill, he whiffs and Tranquill makes the tackle.

Obviously, that part of his game needs to evolve. But, he has the size and strength to do it, and his offensive coordinator is also his position coach. I feel confident he will at least be competent in that area.

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The Enigma

Mack was the heir apparent to Eifert. Sure, Niklas and Koyack were nice, but they weren’t the exciting, dominating players Eifert was in 2011 and 2012. Mack was to be that guy. He was the second highest rated recruit in the 2015 class, behind Wimbush, and was ranked in the top 70 nationally. An injury to Durham Smythe in week 2 against Virginia thrust Mack into a starting role as a freshmen where he held his own, and was highlighted by some key fourth quarter catches against USC and Temple.

The hype train was full steam ahead following the spring of 2016 before Mack was suspended for the season due to academic troubles. He returned in 2017 and was largely a disappointment. He made some nice plays, and was underrated as a blocker, but was outplayed by the older Smythe, and never flashed the big play ability he was billed with as a recruit.

This spring was more of the same: laudatory comments from beat writers and buzzwords like “unguardable” and “matchup nightmare”. All that’s left is the performance to match the promise. He is a senior now, and this is something of a contract year. There is something to be said for the senior season; it tends to inspire a responsibility and accountability that just isn’t there in earlier seasons for some players.

Mack is a good blocker with the leg speed and ability to run the entire route tree. He’s got good size and soft hands. To be fair to him last season, he wasn’t exactly aided by stellar play at quarterback. Wimbush needs to be better to take advantage of what he has in Mack. But, for his part, Mack also needs to show his quarterback he can be trusted to catch the ball in tight spaces, something that didn’t happen last season.

Overall

Given the propensity of Chip Long to put tight ends on the field and the talent Notre Dame has at its disposal at the position, this could be a tight end led offense next season. And with the leading Irish receivers being 6-4 and 6-5 in Chase Claypool and Miles Boykin, there is a level of physicality this team can play with not even seen last season. They just need their talented group of tight ends to live up to their limitless potential.

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13 comments

  1. southside 2 months ago

    GREG , nice article on tight ends for 2018. I decided to look up past successful tight ends and their QB’s at the time. Kyle Rudolph in 2008 , 2009 –Clausen QB. 2010 his Qb was Dane Crist. In 2011 Tyler Eifert Qb was Tommy Reese. In 2012 Eifert ‘s Qb was Golson /Reese. In 2013 Troy Nickilas QB was Reese. Anybody see a pattern here ? The success of these tight ends came from Qb’s – that were not in dual threat passing/running game. We can go back to Brady Quinn and tight end John Carlson —Quinn was not a running threat either. So has the production of tight end declined due to the recruitment of Zaire , Kizer , Wimbush-dual threat in the pass/run/option QB ? With the changing of college game to new type QB—one has to wonder if a tight end will get anywhere close to 30 receptions a season. Any thoughts on this on this ?

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  2. david 2 months ago

    Under Kelly:

    RBs have been sadistically underused.
    Tight ends have been woefully underused.
    Therefore wide receivers have been (get ready!) overused….making the ND offense pathetically predictable for defenses. This aided immensely by poor QB accuracy.

    Et voila: Incomplete, completion for 4, QB scramble for 3.
    3 and out.

    Wow. Kelly is worth millions.

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    1. Frank Vitovitch 2 months ago

      Cierre Wood – 1,100 yard rusher (2011) and #8 all-time in ND rushing yards
      Josh Adams – 1,300 yard rusher (2017) and #6 all-time in ND rushing yards (Just missed 1,000 in 2016 too)
      CJ Prosise – 1,000 yard rusher (2015)
      Theo Riddick – 900 yard rusher in (2012)
      Jonas Gray – Would have topped 1,000 yards in 2011 had it not been for injury

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    2. ndcrazymike 2 months ago

      Sadistically, woefully, pathetically predictable and immensely STUPID (get ready) another Davey the Dope Post!!! Tell us about SIMPLISTIC VELOCITY again DUMBASS!!! YOU KNOW NOTHING ABOUT ND YOU DONT WATCH THE GAMES (u know u do dumbass) SO HOW DO YOU KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT THE TEAM? PATHETIC, PREDICTABLE AND WOEFULLY UNDERUSED DESCRIBES YOUR BRAIN!! AND REMEMBER KELLY IS 1000 TIMES SMARTER THAN YOU “DUMBASS”!!!!!

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

        NDcrazymike, You forgot to mention that our running game broke some ARA era rushing records. Having said that, I must say this: if by “underused” David meant Dexter Williams…and only Dexter, I would agree with that small part of what he wrote.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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    3. duranko 2 months ago

      Sadistic underuse? Really, now that’s a tell.

      You might want to buy some “filters” before you bring your personal and familial psychobaggage here to a discussion of football.

      To quote Samuel Goldwyn, if you have further information to share about your expertise on sadistic underuse, either contact crazymike or dial 1-800-INEEDHELP. and “Include me out.” that’s the Goldwynism

      All inquiries at the 800 line are confidential

      Crazy mike? 180degrees the opposite.

      Have a nice day!

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  3. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

    The entire receiving corps this year is markedly better than last year. This improvement, plus an entire defense (and then some) returning intact, should be reflected in an upward move for the win column this year.

    Bruce G. Curme ’77 ’82

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    1. jeff 2 months ago

      Based on what exactly? Spring game?

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      1. Bruce Gregory Curme 2 months ago

        The Citrus Bowl, the Spring game, and the departure of several non-productive receivers, along with some improvement at the QB position… + the returning defensive starters and key new players. I’m just stating the obvious. Anytime you get 9 starters back from a decent defense, you are in great shape to start the season.

        BGC ’77 ’82

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      2. Positive Pete 2 months ago

        Based on our performance last year!!! Hello, did you see the Citrus Bowl? Bruce nailed it with his comments!!! The defense will be lights out “shut the door mamma bear” good with the return of Tillery and Coney over the NFL. Or as I like to say the NFsmell ???. Stay in college kids and get that degree ???. It is the smarter move!!!!

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  4. Rayjay 2 months ago

    I think both plays by Kmet indicate the nature of the spring game. No one is hitting as hard on the play like they would do under game conditions and on the missed block he is obviously just trying to shield rather than nail the defender because of the spring game. I am tired of waiting for Mack, too many dropped critical passes. Same kind of holds true for Claypool but maybe their focus will be better this year.

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  5. Greg Kelly 2 months ago

    We are so deep at this position we could have all three on the field and one as tackle eligible.

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    1. Positive Pete 2 months ago

      Spot on GK Money!!!! I can see all three being used at once!!! As my Pappy use to say “You got to bring the churn to make the butter!!!” We could go from Tight End U to Touchdown U ????. Go Irish!!!!!

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