Irish tight ends compete to restore position to glory
Brian Plamondon | Tuesday, August 25, 2015
Over the last decade, Notre Dame has had arguably the best crop of tight ends in all of college football. From Fasano to Carlson to Rudolph to Eifert to Niklas, the Irish have churned out top pick after top pick at the position.
While most Notre Dame seasons have produced household names at tight end, the 2015 preseason has seen no one tight end break away from the rest of the pack — but that doesn’t mean the talent at the position isn’t deep.
As of now, junior Durham Smythe is penciled in as the opening day starter. He faces stiff competition, however, from sophomores Tyler Luatua and Nic Weishar, freshman Alize Jones, and even graduate student and converted defensive lineman Chase Hounshell.
This offseason, Irish head coach Brian Kelly hasn’t been shy about his excitement with the position and the potential to use multiple tight end sets. Smythe, Weishar and Jones are expected to contribute the most in the passing game, while Hounshell and Luatua — better known for their blocking skills — could see time in short-yardage situations.
“I think there is that sense of competition, but I think that helps all of us,” Smythe said. “And there are guys that come in and have strengths in certain areas of the game. If those strengths are strong enough, and you can play and help the team, then sure we’ll find a role for that. That competition only goes back to how talented this group is as a whole.”
The most talented of the group might be the incoming freshman Jones. Rivals.com’s fourth-rated tight end in the class of 2015, Jones has the frame and the hands to compete right away.
“He’s a good, athletic tight end,” Luatua said of Jones. “Especially in the passing game, catching some crazy balls. I feel like he’s going to play a lot for us this year.”
Even with Kelly releasing a depth chart next week before the Texas game, the battle for playing time will be far from over. Although Smythe is currently the No. 1 option, things could change in an instant. And each tight end is ready for his opportunity.
“I feel like we can put any combination of tight ends out there and do whatever we have to do,” Luatua said.
Despite high praises from Kelly, the tight ends know they must step up and reignite a position of pride for Notre Dame in the past. Last year, the since-graduated Ben Koyack totaled only 30 receptions and two touchdowns. This season, being reliable targets for junior quarterback Malik Zaire and finding the end zone will be key for the tight ends.
“As a tight end, one of the main things we need to focus on is being viable threats in the red zone,” Weishar said.
With all the excitement around the group, it’s easy to forget that they only have one total reception between them — Smythe’s seven-yarder during a loss to Arizona State. The lack of experience may come into play at some point down the road, but for now, Kelly is confident in each and every one of his tight ends.
“We know their strengths and what they can do,” Kelly said. “We think we’ve got some roles for each one of them.”