Tight End U. That’s what some have called Notre Dame much like Penn State has been known as Linebacker U. With good reason too. With three former tight ends in the NFL and a fourth on his way there soon, plus all the tradition and excellence at the position over the years, the Fighting Irish always seem to have a great tight end on hand. This year will be no exception of course, but ND doesn’t just have one big-time tight end on the roster, but potentially several. This could be the deepest, most talented position on the roster by far.
At the top we begin with the All-American senior Tyler Eifert. Maybe the best news of the offseason came when Eifert declared his intention to come back to Notre Dame for at least one more season. He could have bypassed his final two years of eligibility and been a fairly high draft pick in the NFL, but decided he’d rather come back for one more season. And are the Irish thrilled with that decision. With Eifert, Notre Dame brings back a guy not only with All-American potential, but a guy with 90 career receptions for 1,155 yards and seven touchdowns. All this in bascially a season and a half of play. He’s already fourth on the all-time list for career receptions and second in career receiving yards for a tight end. With even an average season this year, he will become the most prolific tight end in Notre Dame history. Eifert becomes supremely important this season because of the graduation for Michael Floyd. With him gone and no one to take his place immediately, Eifert becomes the go-to guy. He’s a good blocker and a great receiver. We’ll see him lineup in the slot or wide or on the end. Whoever winds up playing quarterback will have a friend in Tyler Eifert.
All is not lost behind Eifert which is what makes this postion so strong. Returning to backup Eifert are former four-star recruits in junior Alex Welch and sophomore Ben Koyack. Neither guy made a huge impact last year in their first seasons of action, but both have plenty of talent and potential. One of these two probably step forward this year and become the next in line once Eifert leaves. Koyack seems the logical choice with his 6’5″, 253 lbs frame. Most everyone had him as one of the top tight ends in the country coming out of high school and as one of the best players, period, in the nation. He played last year mostly out of necessity, but with added bulk and experience he appears ready for a huge step forward. Welch is another guy with great size, 6’4″, 245 lbs, and should see plenty of action this year if he continues to get tougher and work on his blocking.
One guy to watch out for is sophomore Troy Niklas. Niklas came to Notre Dame as a linebacker, but his future in now at tight end where he could end up as another great Irish tight end. He stands 6’7″ and weighs 252 lbs giving him tremendous size to go with his athletic ability. He actually came out of high school as a four-star offensive tackle before moving to linebacker last season where he saw action in 12 games making 20 tackles and recovering a fumble. Now with his move to tight end, Niklas can worry about breaking tackles and scoring touchdowns. Time will tell how much of an impact he’ll have this season, but Brian Kelly seems very high on him and believes Niklas will be a terrific player when it’s all said and done.
The fifth option is senior Jake Golic who returns for his final season in South Bend. Golic has been a career backup and that will not change this season. He’s only seen action in three games in his career, but at the very least provides some depth in case there is injury ahead of him.
The bottom line here is that Notre Dame has tremendous depth, talent and potential at this position. Eifert will most likely go down as the most prolific tight end in Irish history this season and younger guys like Koyack, Welch and Niklas have a shot to make their mark and signal their future status as the next great Notre Dame tight end. I wouldn’t be surprised to see several two and three tight end sets for the Irish in 2012 simply because of the great depth they have. They are in good hands at this position, literally and figuratively. No matter what else happens in 2012, we can be assured that tight end will not be a weak spot.
1. Tyler Eifert
2. Ben Koyack
3a. Troy Niklas
3b. Alex Welch
5. Jake Golic