Blue and Gold Illustrated

Oct. 12, 2019

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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6 OCT. 12, 2019 BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED BY LOU SOMOGYI O ver the past 50 years, no college football program in America can match the string of excellence at tight end Notre Dame has manufactured. In that half century it has produced 10 first- or second-round picks in the NFL Draft (five apiece), 12 oth- ers who were drafted — including future All-Pro Mark Bavaro in the fourth round — and several more who made rosters as free agents. All eight opening-game starters at tight end for the Fighting Irish since 2004 have been drafted. In 2019, the position literally re- mains in excellent hands with junior Cole Kmet and sophomore Tommy Tremble — with junior Brock Wright, Rivals' top-ranked tight end nation- ally in 2017, another option. In an effort to boost production on offense following the 23-17 loss at No. 3 Georgia Sept. 21, Notre Dame opened the game against Virginia the next week with Kmet and Tremble in a two-tight-end alignment. Kmet ended up taking all 67 snaps the of- fense ran, and snared four passes for 65 yards. Tremble took 35 snaps, meaning that more than half the time the team was in the double-tight-end personnel grouping. This formation with the right per- sonnel proved extremely beneficial to head coach Brian Kelly earlier in his Notre Dame career. After a 4-5 start in his first season (2010), Kelly for the first time imple- mented a double-tight-end grouping with Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone for freshman quarterback Tommy Rees' first career start, versus No. 15 Utah. Rees and company, aided by a strong defense, finished that season 4-0. Two years later, future first-round pick Eifert went on to win the Mackey Award as the nation's top tight end, but starting alongside him in eight games was future second- round choice Troy Niklas. Eifert pro- vided a mismatch to defenses as the detached tight end, while Niklas was primarily the in-line blocker. That look provided a needed bal- ance during a 12-0 regular season in which Notre Dame averaged more than 200 rushing yards in that span for the first time in 12 years. In Kmet and Tremble, the Fighting Irish might have their best combina- tion at the position since Eifert and Niklas. BIG-PLAY CAPABILITY Although neither was in the lineup full-time through the first four games, Kmet and Tremble combined for 18 catches, 271 receiving yards (15.1 yards per reception) and two touchdowns. Anything above a 12.0 at tight end (Tyler Eifert was 13.7 in 2012) is exceptional. Kmet already reeled in 37-, 31- and 28-yard completions down the seam in his first two games back (Georgia and Virginia) since returning from his collarbone injury suffered in early August, while Tremble nabbed gains of 29, 26 and 20 yards. For context purposes, consider that in offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long's first two seasons in 2017 and 2018, the tight ends averaged only 10.6 yards on 45 catches two years ago, and 9.7 on 56 grabs in 2018. With no other prime figure in the first third of the season at wide re- ceiver to complement senior Chase Claypool, the two-tight-end forma- tion might be the best option for mul- tiple reasons. One is the big-play capability dem- onstrated by both Kmet and Tremble. Two is it can aid the running game. And three, it can present matchup problems or confusion on defense be- cause schematically the Irish can run double tight ends one play and on the next split four receivers wide — including the tight ends — without switching personnel groups. Such versatility could pay off. "Both of those players, in particu- UNDER THE DOME DOUBLE FEATURE Two-tight-end formation could be current answer to enhance offense Junior Cole Kmet (left) and sophomore Tommy Tremble (right) lined up in a two-tight-end package for more than half the offensive snaps against Virginia Sept. 28. PHOTO BY A. HARRISON/WPG PHOTO BY MIKE MILLER

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