#7 - Tight EndSenior Ben Koyack, sophomores Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe, incoming freshmen Tyler Luatau and Nic Weishar.
Both Heuerman and Smythe are redshirt-freshmen in terms of football eligibility.
Standout: Ben KoyackMuch is being assumed regarding player with just 14 receptions entering his senior season, but in an effort to put realistic projections for Koyack in perspective, it would be a bigger surprise if he is not a productive, weekly contributor to Notre Dame's offense than if he's a Mackey Award semi-finalist entering November.
Koyack improved greatly as a blocker during the course of the 2013 season and his production as a pass-catcher followed suit. Koyack enters camp as the team's likely go-to-guy in third down situations. If he remains 1B to classmate and wide receiver DaVaris Daniels' eventual (and assumed) 1A, the Irish passing game will click for 12 contests.
Look for more than 35 receptions and 3-4 touchdowns for Koyack -- standard fare for future NFL tight ends under the Dome. The key will be when Koyack secures his catches and when he hits pay dirt…third down for the former and against the likes of Michigan, Stanford, Florida State, and USC for the latter would be a good start.
Next In Line: Durham SmytheThe six-foot-four 242-pounder has weight and strength to gain, but Smythe appears ready to play in a relief role to Koyack entering 2013. More important, he might be in position to augment Koyack in the team's two-tight end sets, or "12 package" made famous by Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas in 2012, then Niklas and Koyack last fall.
"I don't want to overhype Durham, but he has some really unique ball skills for that position," said head coach Brian Kelly as the Irish prepared for the 2013 Pinstripe Bowl.
The next step is holding his own as an in-line tight end. If he's merely a pass-catching threat, Smythe will spell Koyack, not play alongside him.
Additional DepthSmythe's fellow redshirt-freshman and former four-star prospect Mike Heuerman entered and exited spring ball a couple ticks behind his classmate, the result of a 2013 season ruined by injuries (shoulder, sports hernia).
At six-foot-three and change, Heuerman concluded the spring session at just 225 pounds. He also wasn't shy to advertise how many times he was able to bench that weight -- a whopping 19. The future downfield target is much stronger than his slight frame suggests, but he might be a year away from mixing it up with the big boys on the annual Irish slate.
Incoming freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua will attempt to find playing time as a No. 4 tight end (unlikely) or as special team contributors (likely for both). Luatua could also move to linebacker.
X-Factor -- Nic Weishar: Could make waves as a pass-catcher in August camp, opening the door for brief playing time from scrimmage should one of the three varsity tight ends succumb to injury. Weishar can compete now with the ball in the air, but he's about 20 pounds away from in-line blocking duties.
Camp QuestionsWill Smythe further separate from Heuerman or can the latter gain enough confidence now several months removed from injury to give Notre Dame a solid 2A and 2B at the position? Will Koyack continue his ascent as the team's most reliable pass-catcher for presumed starting quarterback Everett Golson? Can Smythe emerge as a red zone threat for an offense in desperate need of improvement in that realm? Will Luatua be evaluated at linebacker? Could either Luatua or Weishar earn September playing time with impressive special teams efforts? Can Weishar separate from college corners -- and in Notre Dame's case, top tier college corners -- and become a viable threat as a true freshman?
Best-Case ScenarioKoyack becomes one of the nation's best pass-catching tight ends and continues to improve as a run blocker, especially in space…Smythe gives Notre Dame's offense a handful of receptions, a timely touchdown, and a few moved chains…Heuerman emerges by season's end to offer a promising 1-2 punch entering spring 2015…Weishar ends up not far behind the pair while Luatua's penchant for the physical lands him a role on the run teams -- or at inside linebacker. (Luatua won't be 18 until December -- a year of seasoning on the scout team seems prudent.)
Worst-Case Scenario Koyack is only average as a run-blocker, thus hamstringing Notre Dame's running game for the bulk of 2014…Smythe fails to make good on his potential until 2015…Ditto Heuerman…Koyack fails to match the production level of any previous Irish tight end, falling below the 35-catch, 3 TD baseline.
Out on a Limb Koyack is steady but Notre Dame heavily favors a three-wide receiver offense rather than a two tight end set for the first time since early 2010…Smythe and Heuerman find regular playing time against the likes of Rice and Purdue, but the glut of skill position talent keeps them from becoming regular rookie contributors -- the pair will make great strides next spring, as will Weishar.
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