Next man up: Mitchell Evans steps into larger role after Mayer’s departure
Emily DeFazio | Wednesday, December 28, 2022
With projected first-round NFL Draft pick Michael Mayer officially out of the Irish tight end room, the remaining members of this position group have big shoes to fill in this 6-foot-5 offensive hole. One player shouldering that responsibility is Mitchell Evans, who notched a touchdown for Notre Dame against UNLV earlier this season. The sophomore has emerged as a valuable member of the developing offensive makeup and already has the next-man-up mentality intact. This mindset will come in handy with the recent changeover in the Irish’s roster.
Notre Dame’s pedigree in developing tight ends signals a high standard. Evans acknowledged that standard is an expectation amidst everyone in the tight end room. He cited both football and academic excellence as aspects that attract players of that caliber and said these qualities will continue even without a star player at the forefront.
“Notre Dame is Tight End U,” Evans said. “Mike [Mayer]’s gone, but you gotta keep that standard of this room and keep it positive, keep it good.”
When the Gator Bowl picked the Irish to play in the game, there was still no official word from Mayer as to whether or not he would take the field. After his announcement came on Dec. 7, however, the likelihood Evans’ number would be called significantly increased. He will seek to carry the tight end standard into Notre Dame’s matchup against South Carolina in Jacksonville.
“All around, they’re a good team,” he said of the Gamecocks. “They’ve got a good front, good DBs. I respect them, so it’s gonna be a good game.”
During this time of preparation after the regular season, Evans said that he focused on his footwork and run blocking ahead of Notre Dame’s postseason showing Friday. Because of this, he said that he has developed a lot as a player in the past few weeks especially from taking on a bigger role.
“I’m just learning more. I’m just kind of seeing more, in a way,” he said. “I kind of feel it out better a little bit more, read the defense a little bit better.”
Focusing on fine-tuning his own game will be beneficial ahead of the larger offensive adjustments the Irish will have to make, especially given Drew Pyne’s recent transfer to Arizona State. Sophomore Tyler Buchner will retake the helm at QB1 after suffering a regular season-ending shoulder injury in September, which will alter the chemistry of the unit. Despite this change, Evans said he is excited to have Buchner back and is looking forward to working with him on the field.
“It’s going to be exciting just having Tyler [Buchner] back, just new guys stepping for us in some big roles,” he said. “It’s gonna be fun, it’s gonna be energetic.”
He will most likely be working with Buchner at a larger capacity given Mayer’s departure as Mayer was a key part of the offense, especially as a blocker in the run game. The unit has worked to develop their blocking capabilities in light of this.
“They’re all doing a great job of kind of filling in that void of Mike,” Evans said. “We have young guys stepping up.”
Evans himself is one of these players that is stepping up, and he said that he has prepared for this. He said that his coaches and his own work allowed him to develop enough to take this new role in the offense.
“Just watching extra film with the extra time that we have now, just taking that extra step to kind of put myself in that position,” he said. “Learning what to do against certain fronts, certain looks.”
Ahead of their showing in Jacksonville, Evans has had time to put his work to the test against the defense in practice. This serves as the culmination of the team’s hard work.
“That’s what builds a good culture,” he said. “Just going at it, having fun, but at the same time also executing. We’re doing that at a high level”