With Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph and Tyler Eifert, Notre Dame has put together a string of tight ends that might very well make ND the new “Tight End U.” Losing Eifert, the 2012 Mackey Award winner, to the NFL will be a tough obstacle to overcome, particularly without Everett Golson at quarterback. Many have noted Tommy Rees’s tendency to lock onto one receiver (first Floyd, and then Eifert), and he will not have the safety blanket of throwing to one of the premier targets in college football again this season.
With a position chart consisting of Troy Niklas, Ben Koyack, Alex Welch (returning from injury) and freshman Mike Heuerman, Notre Dame has some depth at tight end but does not have any proven stars. That being said, Chuck Martin’s offense is loaded with potential at the position. Though Eifert was the go to receiving target coming off the end of the line in 2012, current juniors Niklas and Koyack both had considerable playing time but were used mainly as blockers. The two combined for a total of 8 receptions for 114 yards and 1 touchdown.
Looking nationally, the majority of the nation’s top tight ends from 2012 have graduated or moved on to the NFL. Of the eight semifinalists for the Mackey Award last year, only Washington’s Austin Seferian-Jenkins returns to college football this season. Of course, Seferian-Jenkins is facing off-the-field issues stemming from a March DUI, so just how much he sees the field this season is still up in the air.
Irish Player to Watch
Height/Weight: 6’7”, 260 lbs.
The former Los Angeles Times lineman of the year and two-way high school standout signaled a huge recruiting win for the Irish when they were able to pluck him out of Southern Cal’s backyard to come to south bend. Niklas played in 12 games as an outside linebacker during his freshman campaign, earning 20 tackles and a fumble recovery before making the move to offense as a sophomore. After making the move during spring practice, Niklas ended up becoming an important part of Irish run packages while also showing off some potential with his hands against Navy and Purdue. After Notre Dame lost the country’s best receiving tight end to the NFL, Niklas will need to step up and fill part of the downfield void left by Eifert.
In 2012, Niklas played in all 13 games but only caught 5 passes. Again, the pass catching numbers will rise significantly in 2013. He was essentially forced into trial by fire as a sophomore and will come into this season with considerably more experience. There is no question that at 6’7” and 260 pounds Niklas looks the part, often getting compared to Rob Gronkowski – both of whom seem to end up shirtless a lot. If Niklas is able to use his size and athleticism to create an advantage over smaller and slower defenders, he could end up having a monstrous season for the Irish.
*Note: you’ll want to start at the 7:00 minute mark below.
Enemy Player to Watch
Xavier Grimble – USC
Year: RS Junior
Height/Weight: 6’5”, 250 lbs.
Half of Notre Dame’s 2012 opponents have tight ends named to the Mackey Award watch list (Kaneakua Friel of BYU, Devin Funchess of Michigan, Xavier Grimble and Randall Telfer of USC, Gabe Holmes of Purdue, Chris Coyle of ASU and Luke Kaumatule of Stanford). While Chris Coyle boasts the most impressive stat line of the group with 57 receptions for 696 yards and 5 touchdowns last season, he is undersized and less of an all-around threat than is USC’s Xavier Grimble. Grimble, a redshirt junior from Las Vegas’s Bishop Gormon high school (same high school as DeMarco Murray, Shabazz Muhammad and C.J. Watson) caught 29 balls for 316 yards and 5 touchdowns as a sophomore after recording 4 scores as a freshman.
In two games against Notre Dame, Grimble only has 3 catches for 21 yards. Of course, playing on a team where Marqise Lee and Robert Woods are also options for the quarterback means that far fewer balls are going to find their way to you. When you watch Grimble play, you’ll notice he moves extremely well for someone his size though certainly doesn’t have the wow factor of fellow Pac-12 tight end Seferian-Jenkins.