Blue and Gold Illustrated

Nov. 27, 2020

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

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Page 50 of 55 NOV. 27, 2020 51 IRISH IN THE PROS NOTRE DAME IN THE NFL: WEEK NINE HIGHLIGHTS • Alex Bars (Played at Notre Dame from 2014-18), OL, Chicago Bears: Started at center in the 5-4 Bears' 24-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans … Replaced last week's starting center, Sam Mustipher, who was inactive due to a knee injury. • Will Fuller V (2013-15), WR, Houston Tex- ans: Snagged five catches for 100 yards and a touchdown in the 2-6 Texans' 27-25 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars … Has 36 grabs for 590 yards (18th in the NFL) and six touchdowns (tied for seventh) this season … Has scored a touchdown in six straight games. • Bennett Jackson Jr. (2009-13), DB, New York Jets: Signed off of the practice squad to the active roster and recorded one tackle on special teams in the 0-9 Jets' 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots. BY ANDREW MENTOCK W ith his right hand on the turf, Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe positioned himself as an in- line blocker at the North Carolina State 20-yard line. His responsibility? Com- plete the difficult task of sealing Wolf- pack defensive end Bradley Chubb, a soon-to-be top-five NFL Draft pick and one of college football's best all- around defenders in 2017. Once the ball was snapped, Smythe shot off the line and got his hands in- side of Chubb, turned him 90 degrees and, off the right edge, opened up a lane that allowed Josh Adams to gain 10 yards. No. 9 Notre Dame would go on to a convincing 35-14 win over No. 14 NC State, with much of the credit go- ing to Adams, who ran for 202 yards and a touchdown, as well as a Joe Moore Award-winning offensive line. But Smythe's willingness and desire to do the dirty work was an integral part of the Fighting Irish offense that day, as well as the rest of the season. In preparing for the 2018 NFL Draft, scouts would look at that game when evaluating Smythe's po- tential. It helped that he led all Notre Dame receivers with three catches for 52 yards and a touchdown, but Smythe was never going to be like Travis Kelce from the Kansas City Chiefs or any other of the prolific pass-catching tight ends in the NFL. But maneuvering a player of Chubb's caliber in a one-on-one matchup? That was enough for him to be drafted by the Miami Dolphins in the fourth round (123rd overall). Thus far, he's turned his reputation as an intelligent and hard-nosed in-line blocker into 21 starts two and a half seasons into his professional career. Even after catching his first NFL touchdown in week six of the 2020 season, Smythe's perception of his role on the team never wavered. He appreciated the recognition he re- ceived in the box score, but he's never been enamored by the flashy play. "My game, since I've been at Notre Dame and in the league the last three years, is doing the dirty work, being that type of guy," Smythe said a few weeks after his touchdown reception. "That's my M.O. I enjoy doing it, and that'll be my lead role going forward." The value of a player with Smythe's abilities and selflessness is often overlooked. Blocking tight ends don't receive nine-figure con- tracts like offensive tackles do for also stonewalling defensive ends. Nor do they get headlines for putting up 1,000-yard receiver seasons, for which flex-tight ends such as Kelce are lauded. Smythe's father, Roy, played offen- sive line at Baylor in the early 1980s. His next step in life was medical school, but his experiences playing the game at a high level enable him to understand the nuances of Smythe's role within the Miami offense. "Durham always tells me not to look at Twitter, and I don't have a Twitter account, but when I see all the fantasy fans bashing him for not being 'more productive,' it is frustrat- ing," Roy said. "Everybody doesn't have the same perspective, I guess." Eight games into the season, Smythe has seven receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Yet even af- ter playing through a few injuries, he's started five games and played more than 50 percent of the offensive snaps for an on-the-rise Dolphins franchise. He says he was able to adjust to the NFL fairly quickly given his time in South Bend. "No stage is too big at this level, especially after playing at Notre Dame Stadium and in all the venues that we played in while I was there," Smythe said. "It almost feels like, at least from an atmosphere standpoint, that Notre Dame was the biggest stage you can be on. "You never have to think about the stage being too big. You can just go out there and play, and once you ad- just to the speed of the game, every- thing kind of runs smoothly." Notre Dame played a large role in Smythe's development both on and off the field, but he was actually initially committed to Texas before reconsidering his options and mak- ing a flip to the Fighting Irish late in his senior year. Still, even as a young boy growing up in Texas and with no connections to Notre Dame, Smythe always ex- pressed an affinity for the Fighting Irish, one his own family never fully understood. "Everyone watches Notre Dame on NBC every week, so I already knew about the program," Smythe said. "I was actually on the U.S. News & World Report university rankings as a third- or fourth-grader and saw that Notre Dame was in the top 15, and that's kind of where the fandom started, and it grew from there." ✦ Smythe enjoys doing the "dirty work" of block- ing, which has helped him earn 21 starts in two and a half NFL seasons with the Miami Dolphins. PHOTO COURTESY MIAMI DOLPHINS Tight End Durham Smythe Establishes Himself In The NFL

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