Deep and talented
Heather VanHoegarden | Wednesday, October 13, 2004
Saturday it was Jerome Collins. The week before it was Anthony Fasano.
Notre Dame’s tight ends have been key to the offense, both as receivers and run blockers.
The Irish often run a single-back set with Darius Walker or Ryan Grant and no fullback. This is because the tight ends are used as the lead blocker in most cases. They have been effective in the role, often going in motion prior to the snap to position themselves ahead of the ball carrier.
Sometimes it is Fasano or Collins, other times it is Marcus Freeman, Billy Palmer, John Carlson or Jared Clark. Either way, it has minimized the need for a fullback.
“That’s why you haven’t seen as much as our fullback play as you have [seen] our two tight end looks and our multiple tight end looks because we felt [the tight end group] was a strength for us,” Irish coach Tyrone Willingham said. “So we feel very fortunate that that group has embraced the challenge and allowed us to put a lot of our offense on their shoulders.”
Saturday against Stanford, Collins stepped up as Fasano did not play due to an injury. He caught three passes for 45 yards and made key plays on special teams as well, including two tackles.
“In football you’re always going to have injuries and that’s unfortunate, and it’s good to know that the offense isn’t going to suffer too much,” Fasano said of the depth at tight end.
Collins, a fifth-year senior, was recruited by Notre Dame as a receiver, but switched to linebacker during his freshman year, before moving to tight end this spring.
Collins isn’t the only viable option the Irish have at tight end. Fasano was named the John Mackey National Tight End of the Week after the Purdue game, a contest in which he broke the tight end receiving record at Notre Dame with 155 yards receiving on eight catches. He was forced to sit out Saturday’s game due to an injury, but the junior should be back for this weekend’s contest against Navy.
“I do [anticipate him playing Saturday],” Willingham said. “But I’m not sure about that. We’ll find out as we start [practice].”
Freeman has also been solid for the Irish, catching five passes in six games for 50 yards.
The real talents of this group are not found in the air, but rather in the balance between its pass-catching abilities and its run-blocking capabilities.
“I think they’ve really grown,” Willingham said of the tight end group. “I don’t think they were at this level in the previous years. I think they’ve been growing, getting better and improving.”
Although the Irish still use Rashon Powers-Neal and Josh Schmidt at fullback, their playing time has decreased in light of using the tight end as a run-blocker. Willingham explained why use of the fullback in college football general has declined.
“Because with the eight and nine-man fronts, you’re trying to balance the front up,” he said. “Sometimes your two-tight end alignments give you a chance to force them to balance up the front. So, in doing that, if you want to maintain wide receivers and spread it out, you take out the fullback.”
Fasano said that without the fullback, the offense has the opportunity to be a little more diverse.
“I think [having tight ends as run-blockers] really helps out the offense in a way, the passing offense,” Fasano said. “And also, if we can block just as good as the fullbacks, I think we’re a bigger asset in the pass game. Having as many tight ends on the field and being as athletic as we are, just really helps the offense.”
But Powers-Neal and Schmidt are still an integral part of the Irish offense. The depth at tight end just gives Notre Dame more options.
“We felt like we’ve got a little more depth at the tight end position,” offensive coordinator Bill Diedrick said.
“We’re utilizing those guys a little bit more than we have with the fullback. But I think that position’s really interchangeable. I still think that you defiantly need to have both. I think a lot of it will depend on the situation and who we feel will give us the best advantage.”