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Notre Dame Football

Gerad Parker breaks down Notre Dame's loaded tight ends group, Marcus Freeman's transition

April 14, 2022
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Gerad Parker has perhaps Notre Dame’s single-most gifted position group, from star Michael Mayer – a likely 2023 NFL Draft first round pick – to up-and-coming players such as Cane Berrong, Kevin Baumann and Mitchell Evans, among others.

The Irish’s first-year tight ends coach met with media Thursday to assess his group, his transition to Notre Dame, what’s impressing him about longtime friend and colleague Marcus Freeman and more elements. 

Q: What separates Michael Mayer from other tight ends? Any comparisons to him in your coaching career?

GP: The one that I’ve been involved with and been around is Pat Freiermuth, who is of similar temperament to (Mayer). The one that I coached? Probably Gabe Holmes at Purdue. We’d have to give him the nod in that area.

I told him, you have to be careful about praise because it’s a scary thing. The fact is, he’s the epitome of a pro. The way that he separates, he separates at the top of routes as good as anybody I’ve ever been around at wideout or tight end. That innate ability to be close to somebody and separate is the key to success in the route-running game, and he does that as well as anybody I’ve ever been around. Has great ball skills and a body type that allow him to survive a lot of things.

Really couldn’t say enough good things about where he is and the way he works and getting better. He cares about, great players like him care about getting better. It’s been pretty cool to be around.

Q: Have you seen from him things he’s focused on this spring?

GP: We made a huge emphasis for him on route depth, that’s something that just showed up and it’s something I know he wanted to pay attention. It’s just depth in routes. Maybe he was getting a catch a years past that would allow him to maybe get a catch and get tackled whereas if he had pushed his depth, maybe we would have gotten more out of it and would have been able to catch and run with it longer.

I think just overall defensive recognition stuff, stuff that I think this year is just going to help him solving problems faster on the field. Front recognition that can help him this year and in the future, help him to gain intel pre-snap that’s going to allow him to be more successful after the ball is snapped.

Q: How have you seen him step up as a leader?

GP: I think maybe the things that you could lit for a younger player who’s developing, there’s this laundry list of big things, whereas a guy like Mike Mayer there are little things and then the intangible stuff that he can grow in and just allow him to be better and us to be better as a football team. He’s challenged himself and I know we have to to make himself, two years he hasn’t had to step into a leadership role. Now the obligation is to be a great player and a great leader, to not only make himself better but make the team better. I think he’s embracing that, and you can feel his energy because he has natural leadership skills.

Q: Can you put him out wide at receiver with his skills?

MM: Yeah, you can put him anywhere. To be honest with you, Tommy Rees and the staff, what they’ve done, they’ve done a great job being able to build that. I think it’s really unlimited where you can put him because of his ability to understand route-running. He can run the route tree. I’ve told people that have asked, he really can run every route in the route tree. Maybe a little different than a faster wideout but he really can execute the route tree.

Q: What have you seen from Kevin Baumann and Mitchell Evans?

GP: I couldn’t be more pleased with where Baumann and Mitch Evans are, and even Woody. To be able to get David Sherwood to move over and play a role in our offense has been good for us as well. Kevin has stayed healthy and he’s really progressed and grown. For him to get in now 13 practices and stay healthy and really grow his hand-placement, hat-placement and the block game, really the last three practices he’s kind of become a route runner and learned some things about his body.

Mitch has really got unlimited resources in the pass game, made a really good play last Saturday in the scrimmage where he caught the ball vertically and made a move. He’s got a chance to be a special route runner and he’s learning how to survive in the run game, too.

Q: Evans was just naturally good. Does he just need to refine at this point?

GP: He hasn’t played it a bunch, but when you’ve got a guy who’s talented enough, you can fix those problems a whole lot quicker. He just turned 19 years old, I envy his youth. He has talent and once he continues to learn the art of the position, he’ll continue to carry out the tradition of this room, he really will.

Q: How do you try to enhance or impact the offense in addition to learning Rees’ offense?

GP: We’re not there yet. I’ve just been learning. I’ve been taking it all in and trying to … I’m at a point right now just to serve the head coach, serve the coordinator, serve the room and the staff and keep on learning. I’m trying to become an expert at the position and the offense before adding much value. Tommy’s been great in asking some things and if he wants input from the staff, we add it. We’ve had a couple little things to add.

Q: Been around some good OCs, what is Tommy’s skill set that makes him good?

GP: I really like, not to dive too deep, really like how he empowers the staff. The biggest thing we do for success throughout spring is we install, it’s heavy, it’s a lot. It’s good for us because our kids here can handle it and we’re able to really map out and go over everything we put in. So I think him communicating exactly what we want and our support staff drawing out, I’m able to get a PDF and go over everything they’re going to see. That’s something I’d never done before to that extent, so we can go over and show them every detail, every route. Communication of just knowing what we want done is more than half the battle. I think Tommy does that to the finest of levels, and then of course his background at the quarterback position has allowed us to communicate very well.

Q: When you recruit a guy maybe at a different position or who’s an athlete, what’s maybe the toughest thing to pick up, like say for a Mitch Evans?

GP: By far and away, run fits and defensive recognition in the front. You start saying, ‘Hey, you’ve got a four-down front, you’ve got a three-down front, you’ve got a bear front,’ you’re talking in a world he’s probably never had to care much about. I think far and away it’s just the defensive recognition in the front and then run fits.

Q: Where is Mitch with that and in his growth as a blocker?

GP: He’s right in the middle of it, he’s in a really good place in that fight to learning how. There’s times, we’ve had a couple of practices where we’ve said hey we’ve got to take another step here. Great job with where he’s put his hands and hat placement, because that’s half of it, pad level and where to place your body in order to win the leverage.

Q: Wanted to ask about Eli Raridon and Holden Staes?

GP: I’ve built good relationships and got in touch with families. Haven’t gotten a chance to meet yet, but the positive is they’re both coming up next week, is the plan, so I’m going to meet them in person. They’re both in a great place. I know Raridon is really rehabbing really well and coming along really nice.

The whole key with both of them, they’re both gifted enough, it’s just getting them here and getting the acclimated and learning how it is to train like a college athlete and then learn this playbook. So it will just be the intel of that and getting them acclimated. Otherwise their talent and gifts sure match what the room is.

Q: Could Raridon play a combo role?

GP: So I got here, got settled, learned who he was and watched his basketball highlight and was like, ‘Holy’ and I sent it to my brother, and my brother also texted back, ‘Holy.’ So that’s a good start. Pretty good mold there of things he can do.

Q: Cane Berrong back in summer? What have you seen from him as he gets back to being healthy?

GP: Great kid, great learner, very involved. Has done a good job staying involved mentally as if he was preparing to practice in the spring. HE’s really changed his body the last six weeks and he looks good. He’s getting healthy, he’s been able to get on the ball machine and do some of that stuff. He’s got great, soft hands. He catches the football easy.

Q: What have you seen Al Golden bring that’s actually helped the offense as well as defense as some coaches have mentioned?

GP: I think what Al has brought, too, like on the front end of practices, we do some ball security stuff where we team up on the front end. We’ve been able to team up and do full circuit ball security drills, offense and defense, stuff he brought from the Bengals that’s been really good.

And across both offense and defense, I think more than anything he’s brought a good mentality of what we could see because of the personnels we use. There’s been a lot of things he’s been able to bring to us and match up to us in situational football. Four-minute situations, red zone, third downs, we’ve just seen different things and this huge volume of defenses that’s going to allow us to be prepared or have things ready for when we see it in fall.

Q: When you watch a tight end playing basketball as you’re recruiting him, what can you glean from that?

GP: I think of course competitive spirit is one of our golden standards from Coach Freeman, and that is valuable to see. I think anytime you can see a guy with those type of skills on a basketball court, it tells you a lot about body control.

It shows you this guy’s got a really good chance to separate, and win the ball and that translates to the football field.

Q: Has there been a guy that maybe you weren’t yet sold on by football film but saw in basketball and led you to take another look?

GP: A prime example and I’m not throwing out names because he just won a Super Bowl but Brycen Hopkins at Purdue. I went down to Ensworth High School, we just didn’t know he hadn’t played a lot of football. His dad had an NFL background, I’m like he’s got a pedigree and I went and watched him play basketball and was like, ‘Whew, we probably should.’ Ended up working out.

Q: How have you seen Marcus Freeman kind of find himself as a head coach?

GP: It’s been so cool to see, because when you’re with a guy like that and build a relationship like we have and see that, you always have a great of these things way back when and it’s just neat. He’s here, and I think it’s so cool to be able to look back. I’m not evaluating him but you can’t help with somebody you respect and work for, that you see how it’s going because you have the same aspiration. One day down the road it’s something I would like to do, and you want to see how it’s going. I couldn’t be more impressed, he’s settled in nicely, had great patience, had a great plan, been ahead of things and looked out in front, gave us great direction. His message has been firm. He’s got a great message that’s been direct, it starts with the Golden Standard, and all the things we do. I’m impressed with how he’s settled into that, kept the message and had a good plan.

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