2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2019 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 73 of 163

72 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2019 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS A t Notre Dame, the "R Word" — rebuild- ing — is not in the vocabulary at tight end. Not many schools can lose a tandem like Alizé Mack and Nic Weishar, who were the No. 4- and No. 7-ranked tight ends by Rivals in 2015 and 2014, respectively, yet not skip a beat. In fact, offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long believes the rhythm should improve. In the 21-man Irish freshman class signed in February 2017, Brock Wright was ranked as the No. 1 tight end and No. 44 overall player in the country by Rivals, while Cole Kmet was tabbed No. 3 at the position and No. 95 overall nationally. Their enrollment coincided with the hir- ing of Long. In the offensive coordinator's first season (2017), the tight end production improved from 12 to 45 catches, and Dur- ham Smythe became a fourth-round draft selection. In 2018, the number of catches went up to 56. "It's year three, and both are extremely confident," Long said of Kmet and Wright. "Cole seems a lot faster without 20 pounds of tape on his ankle [he endured a high-ankle sprain last season]. Brock is strong as an ox and has been a surprise for us." To Long, Kmet has the attributes to be- come the 11th first- or second-round NFL pick from Notre Dame at tight end the past 45 years. "He's a freak athlete, a once-in-a-lifetime guy you get to coach," Long said of Kmet, who led the 2018 Irish baseball team in saves with nine but halted his participation there this spring because of elbow soreness. "With his speed and size, he should absolutely dominate the middle of the field." Frustrating to Long last year was not es- tablishing the pass across the middle and garnering yards after the catch. Mack aver- aged only 8.7 yards on his 19 receptions in 2017 and 10.0 on his 36 grabs last year. Both figures seemed way too low for some- one who was heralded as a vertical threat. Kmet's 15 catches were good for 162 yards (10.8 yards per grab). In contrast, Smythe in 2017 snared 15 passes for a whopping 16.3 yards per catch, in good part because he ran the seam effec- tively and hung on to some tough receptions. "None of them were breaking any tackles last year, so I kind of got away from it a little bit," Long said of the play calls at tight end. "The amount of yards we left out there last year is absolutely embarrassing. Being able to get yards after contact is probably our No. 1 emphasis." Production will not necessarily be mea- sured on just the number of catches made, but in the efficiency, including blocking, that will allow Notre Dame to continue to play in multiple tight end alignments with Wright and perhaps sophomores Tommy Tremble and George Takacs. Wright has earned monograms each of his first two seasons with work on special teams, but saw only 30 snaps on offense in 2017 and 57 in 2018. That should change in 2019. "He's my best buddy, and it's exciting whenever we get to go out there together on the field," Wright said of joining forces with Kmet this year. Just don't call it a rebuild. ✦ Kmet started seven games at tight end as a sophomore last season and finished with 15 catches for 162 yards. PHOTO BY BILL PANZICA CONTINUING THE TRADITION Cole Kmet leads the next wave of productive players

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