2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

Digital Edition

Blue & Gold Illustrated: 2020 Notre Dame Football Preview

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Page 67 of 163

66 ✦ BLUE & GOLD ILLUSTRATED 2020 FOOTBALL PREVIEW TIGHT ENDS S eldom will one find a football team's of‑ fensive coordinator also be the tight end position coach. Yet that's what Notre Dame had from 2017‑19 with Chip Long, who — despite achieving much success with the program during his stint — had to part ways with the Fighting Irish staff last December because of internal discord. Still, it was hardly a coincidence that un‑ der Long's supervision the tight end posi‑ tion became a centerpiece in the offense and improved each season under him after bottoming out with 16 catches during the 4‑8 debacle in 2016. A former tight end himself at North Ala‑ bama, Long (now an offensive analyst at the University of Tennessee) had a natural affinity for the position from a play caller's perspective. It also helps that the position has been the single most consistent standard of excellence at Notre Dame for 50 years strong now, both on the recruiting trail and in production. Last year, the Fighting Irish tight ends hauled in 63 passes that totaled 755 yards (12.0 yards per catch) and 11 scores. The latter was a single‑season school record, while the receptions mark was short of the 66 catches at the position in 2011 — with 63 of them by future first‑round pick Tyler Eif‑ ert. (In 2018, Notre Dame tight ends snared 56 passes.) Throwing most of those passes back in 2011 to the tight ends was then sophomore starting quarterback Tommy Rees — who now happens to the be the first‑year offensive coordinator for the Irish. Despite the loss of Long, if anyone has an appreciation for valu‑ ing the tight end in the attack, it's Rees. In his four seasons as a quarterback at Notre Dame, Rees worked with two tight ends who were the first selections at their positions in different NFL Drafts (Eifert in 2013 and Kyle Rudolph in 2011). Then, as a senior in 2013, he relied heavily on two more future pros, Troy Niklas (a second‑ round pick) and Ben Koyack (a seventh‑ round choice), completing 42 passes to them that averaged a whopping 15.9 yards and then a school‑record eight touchdowns at the position. One of the more trite expressions in ath‑ letics is "next man in," but it is a way of life among Notre Dame tight ends to rarely have significant drop‑off. So even with second‑ round NFL pick Cole Kmet not returning for his senior year, and first‑year coordinator Rees and first‑year tight ends coach John McNulty taking charge in their respective capacities, there is no reason to believe tight end usage will experience a severe dip. Another year with a reception total in the 50s seems like a safe projection with the presence of a couple of former top‑50 re‑ cruits — senior Brock Wright and freshman Mike Mayer — along with four‑star talents such as junior George Takacs and freshman Kevin Bauman. Yet it is junior Tommy Tremble who is in line to be the next top pro prospect at the position after a strong sophomore campaign that included seven starts, four touchdowns and some productive blocking. The tight end torch still burns brightly as it gets passed down the line. ✦ PASSING THE TORCH The Fighting Irish are primed to continue their excellence at this position Junior Tommy Tremble was a regular in double-tight-end sets last year and snared four touchdown passes. PHOTO BY ANDRIS VISOCKIS

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