Camp Packet: Tight Ends

Need-to-know items, top talents, question marks, buzz, position battles, -- our camp preview packets catch you up to speed. Next in the series: the tight ends

Returning Contributors: Juniors Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack

Rookies and Redshirts: Senior Alex Welch (torn ACL last August) and the incoming freshmen pair of Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe. 5th-year senior walk-on Joey Brooks adds depth.

Position Coach -- Scott Booker: Enters his second season as head coach Brian Kelly's tight ends coach and fourth with the program, serving previously as an offensive intern in 2010-11.

Established Stars: None, but there's a pair on the Mackey Award's pre-season watch list (Niklas and Koyack) and its not inconceivable Welch is better than both of them.

Camp Buzz: Koyack. Niklas seems the lock to "start" or at least play a major role in every game. Koyack is the X-factor that could make a dent in the passing game as a detached tight end or pseudo slot receiver.

The Pressure is on… Welch. Not only to make an impact after three seasons of very little (two of which were spent completely on the sidelines), but to make an argument for a much-needed and potentially valuable fifth season in 2014. Welch was the team's best tight end not named Tyler Eifert prior to his August 2012 ACL tear. Can he regain that form at some point during the 2013 campaign?

The Battle is Between… Koyack and the guy he's trying to block. There were times last season in the press box I would look at Notre Dame's pre-snap formation and opine: "Better not run left" and that's because Koyack was isolated to that side in a space vs. a linebacker. He has the tools, but being better in the blocking game is essential for the former five-star to secure playing time, because Welch's strength at present is securing defenders. Notre Dame doesn't have an offense that can make up for missed opportunities in the running game.

A true junior, Koyack is blessed with excellent hands and good body control. If he can become a competent blocker, the sky's the limit over his final 26 games.

Wither? Mike Heuerman. Early enrollment, straight-line speed, and a bit of a nasty streak seems to point to potential first season playing time. But if the upperclassmen trio remains healthy throughout, there's no reason to waste a season of Heuerman's eligibility in mop-up roles. Its better for the promising Floridian to follow the program path of current NFL'ers Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and Tyler Eifert and take a first-season redshirt. (Then again, only Carlson stuck around for season No. 5).

BCS Dreams Because... Notre Dame is Tight End U. Two if not three from the group will emerge and rank among the nation's 10 best tandems/trios. The Irish will always get mileage out of the tight end position and the unit has been restocked through at least 2014.

Cause for Pause: Tyler Eifert was 10 times (not 2, not 5, but 10) the downfield contested pass-catcher and finished product that Niklas, Welch, and even Koyack are entering 2013. Eifert was a stud from the moment he hit the field in Game Two of his college career vs. Michigan (2010). He's arguably the best offensive player of the Brian Kelly era in South Bend, and his absence will be felt on the first 3rd and 4 in Ann Arbor.

Take it to the bank: Despite the loss of Eifert, the team's "12 package" or two tight ends, will again be used more than the supposed base comprised of 2 WR, a slot, a RB, and solo tight end. Top Stories