A lack of opportunity. A lack of production. A lack of payoff as the clock ticked down to 0:00 on eight frustrating occasions.
Notre Dame senior tight end Durham Smythe experienced all of the above as a member of the 2016 Irish.
He was targeted a mere 1.5 times per contest including a mid-season game against Stanford in which a pass didn’t come his way.
Smythe gained just 112 yards on nine receptions, numbers that reflect a good game, not season, from a handful of his predecessors at the position.
And half of his four touchdowns – a solid number for Notre Dame tight ends historically – occurred in September defeats.
As for the other pair? Let’s just say Durham Smythe, the nation’s sixth-ranked tight end prospect in 2013, didn’t come to Notre Dame to riddle Army’s secondary.
Smythe could have pursued a graduate transfer for 2017. He could have started elsewhere in an attempt to improve his pro stock. He chose instead to finish what he started, and it didn’t hurt that new offensive coordinator Chip Long happens to favor multiple tight ends and the short passing game.
“Oh sure, I mean, that’s not why you’re going to make your decision,” said Smythe of Long’s influence on his return. “But with him coming in and explaining his offense and what he likes to do, I was immediately all in at that point.”
Unlike Notre Dame’s 2016 squad – one notably without a top talent in academically ineligible tight end Alizé Jones – Long’s 2016 Memphis offense favored both running backs and tight ends in its passing attack.
- Memphis tight ends Daniel Montiel and Joey Magnifico (a combined 36 receptions for 423 yards and 5 touchdowns) plus running backs Darrell Henderson, Sam Craft, Doroland Dareus (the lead runner) and Patrick Taylor (51 receptions, 467 yards, and 5 touchdowns as well)
- Conversely Notre Dame’s quarterbacks targeted just 66 of their 388 passes to running backs and tight ends, completing 45 for 434 yards and five touchdowns (four courtesy of Smythe).
- To put that in perspective, Memphis’ running backs and tight ends combined for 21 more receptions than Notre Dame’s RB/TE had thrown their way, nearly doubling the total number of completions.
- Adams caught 21 passes last fall but one-third of them accounted for a grand total of seven yards. Since departed senior Tarean Folston eight (66 yards) while rising junior Dexter Williams snared only four – two apiece vs. Syracuse and Miami.
In addition to Smythe’s nine catches to lead the tight ends, senior-to-be Nic Weishar caught three. Senior Tyler Luatua has not been targeted since one pass was tossed his way early in his true freshman season of 2014.
(The aforementioned Jones was targeted 24 times en route to 13 receptions as a true freshman in ’15 prior to his academic suspension last fall.)
To be sure, the crew at Tight End U (that nickname has been on deserved hiatus on these pages) won’t see such paltry production this fall.
“Foremost is consistency. Over the last few years we’ve had flashes of really great play both running and passing,” said Smythe of the position. “But we have to be a group altogether, the four or five of us, to do everything well consistently. Be sufficient in the run game and block and on the next play, split out and run a 30-yard (route).”
For Smythe, the former has proven more challenging than the latter. But how about 10 off-season pounds later?
“That was my goal, to get to 255 this off-season,” he said of a 256-pound listing in comparison to last August’s number of 245. “That’s where I am right now and want to keep it. I feel great. Besides the after-effects of two surgeries it shows what this strength and conditioning staff has done. It’s been really impressive across the board, not just with me.”
Smythe’s 10 pounds of good weight added over a three-month off-season was no small feat considering the amount of cardio the team has endured under new director of football performance Matt Balis and the rest of the strength and conditioning staff.
“I think it’s easier as you get older because you get used to being in school at Notre Dame and you can focus on things like being able to eat as much as you need to,” he said. “This semester I have one class for three credits (he’ll graduate in May). So when I finish a workout, even though there’s a lot of cardio coupled with a tough lift, I can eat. Then I eat two hours later. And two hours later.”
Smythe looked to gain weight and strength while others had to lose the former (Smythe jokingly admitted preferring his program’s plan of eat, eat, eat) all in an effort to win where they decidedly did not last fall.
The fourth quarter.
“I think (Long’s up-tempo approach) is something that will wear defenses down later in the game,” said Smythe. “And the strength staff that we have has us ready to play at our best in the third and the fourth quarter where last year statistically we struggled.
“(Long) preaches that we will be at our best in the third and fourth quarter when the defense is wearing down. As fast as we’re moving already, that’s something I can definitely see panning out.”
That’s exactly what Smythe plans to do during his final season in South Bend.