Notre Dame Football

The Return of the Tight End?

January 10, 2017

The hiring of news coaches can often times mean good or bad things, and sometimes a bit of both.  But, other times, a new voice at a position can have a dramatic impact.  I think the one position we’ll see that significant improvement next year will be at tight end.

While I think Scott Booker was a nice guy who worked hard, and a coach who has potential, I think the jump was just a bit too big for him at the time he was hired.   Booker was a very young, inexperienced coach whose specialty was defense.  Suddenly becoming a great tight end coach was probably too much to ask for anyone in his position.  
Rick Kimball/ISD Alize' Jones

The hiring of Chip Long will give Notre Dame a tight end coach with seven years experience coaching tight ends, and a offensive coordinator calling plays who also is the tight end coach.  The tights ends are going to see the ball, and that’s a good thing for the Irish offense.  

They will be much more difficult to defend if the opposition has to defend the short middle of the field, and the middle of the field past linebacker depth.  If opposing safeties are worried about Irish tight ends getting depth past their linebackers, that’s a very good thing, and a great opportunity for big plays in the passing game.  Sooner or later, a safety has to choose to defend the outside receivers or the rapidly approaching tight end.  When you can force a team to make those decisions, you become very hard to defend.  

Last season, Notre Dame’s tight ends caught a total of 12 balls, for 159 yards and 4 TDs.   The 4TDs were not bad, but the yards and catches were abysmal.  Chris Finke caught more balls (10) than Notre Dame’s leading and starting tight end, Durham Smythe (9).  

In comparison, Tyler Eifert’s last season (2012), he caught 50 passes, for 685 yards and 4 TDs.  ND’s other tight ends contributed another 8 catches, for 114 yards, and a total for a season total of 58 receptions, for 799 yards and 5 TDs.  

In 2013, the drop-off wasn’t that significant as Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack combined for 42 receptions, for 669 yards and 8 TDs.  

After 2013, things started to go down hill quickly for the tight end at Notre Dame.  With Long coaching them, I think we’ll see that upward trend again.  

ND will have Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua back for certain.  Durham Smythe could also be back for another season.  We also expect Alize’ Jones to return to the team this spring after sitting out the season due to academic suspension.  Jones’ addition would be a much needed plus at the tight end position.  

Jones caught just 13 passes for 190 yards in his freshman season, but it was obvious to anyone watching that Jones posses gifts similar to Eifert, and if properly motivated and eligible, he could become one of the nation’s best tight ends.  This is where good coaching comes into play.  Weishar and Luatua will be solid, but nothing great, but Jones could be special.  If Smythe comes back, he will have plenty of experience and I’m sure he’ll want to showcase what he can do as well.  ND will have plenty of experience, and one potential star returning.  

Adding Jones is the key, and if he is ready to go, we should see the tight end emerge again in 2017.

Being added to the mix are two tight ends who are extremely talented in freshmen Cole Kmet and Brock Wright.  Both players we very impressive in their all-star game experiences this past week, and both have good size already.  Wright should arrive at 250+, while Kmet will likely show up at 235 pounds or more.  Both will be more physically ready to play as a freshman than Jones was when he arrived.  

As talented at Jones is, it would not surprise me in the slightest to see him lined up wide to create a match-up problem for smaller defensive backs.  Jones has the ability to jump, the quickness to get some separation, and the size to use his body to shield defenders to be effective in a wide out situation.  It would not surprise me to see ND in two tight end sets the vast majority of offensive plays next year, with Jones taking more of an outside role, but also with the ability to line up as an in-line blocker, and even as an H-back out of the backfield.  He will be a match-up nightmare in the H-back role, and he should easily be 250 by the time the season starts next fall.  

With so much experience returning, it will be interesting to see how much of an impact the freshman have.  I feel both have more potential than any of the players on the roster outside of Jones, but don’t count out Wieishar, who improved as a blocker, and Luatua, whose speciality was blocking before he decided to transfer and then returned in the fall.  

The good news for the tight ends is having Long added to the mix.  He coaches the position.  He’s had a lot of success coaching tight ends at other places and in the offense he runs, and he’ll have both talent and experience to draw upon next fall.  

Look for the return of the ND tight end in 2017, as long as Jones is back eligible and fully ready to become the player he can be.  

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