SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Not only are Notre Dame’s three leading receivers from last year gone, but 2015’s top tight end was relegated to a cheerleading role thanks to being ruled ineligible earlier this month.
So without Will Fuller, Chris Brown, Amir Carlisle and Alize Jones at its disposal, Notre Dame’s offense will need a few previously lightly-targeted players to shoulder a heavier workload. Redshirt sophomore tight end Nic Weishar is solidly in that group.
Weishar progressively developed his strength over his first two years on campus to get to the point where he can be the kind of complete player Notre Dame expects from its tight ends. The Midlothian, Ill. native and Marist High School alum is up to 240 pounds and said he’s finally strong enough to successfully block opposing defensive ends and rushing linebackers if he gets his technique right.
Jones’ ineligibility will accelerate Weishar’s growth into the Irish offense a year after he caught three passes for 19 yards (Jones’ 13 receptions for 190 yards topped Irish tight ends). Notre Dame’s plan was to move Jones around and have the former four-star recruit play both tight end and wide receiver, but without him, Weishar and redshirt junior Durham Smythe will have to be relied on as the team’s pass-catching options at tight end.
“I think just when the Alize news came out, I did realize, for me, I need to step my game up in the passing game,” Weishar said. "Alize is a great player and we’re definitely gonna miss him, just me personally and Durham too, just kind of saying that we really need to step it up and be the tight ends that this team needs.”
Smythe’s 2015 season was truncated due to a shoulder injury and torn MCL, with the Belton, Texas native only appearing in three games (Texas, Virginia, Ohio State). Without him, Notre Dame’s offense went almost a full season without a reliable tight end for the first time in the Brian Kelly era.
Of course, the Irish offense flourished last fall, but that was on the success of Fuller, running backs C.J. Prosise and Josh Adams, quarterback DeShone Kizer and one of the nation’s better offensive lines. Without the get-out-of-jail free cards of Fuller and Prosise, Notre Dame will probably needs its tight ends to produce more in line with that unit’s 2010-2014 numbers.
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Weishar’s added strength has helped him practice more effectively so far through August, which is another important step for him.
“I’d say he’s made progress in the areas of body control, balance and volume,” Kelly said. “At this time last year, we had lost him for two or three practices already — overheating, not being able to make it through practice, inconsistency in terms of just being out on the field. Nic hasn’t missed a practice and we’ve had some pretty hot days out there, and his volume’s been high. I think just in that, his ability to be out there every single day and take the load of the position has been a big uptick for us.”
Whether it’s Kizer or Malik Zaire starting for Notre Dame, they’ll likely wind up relying on Weishar and/or Smythe this fall. Developing those quarterback-tight end relationships will be important in August, given they’ll have to be on the same page come Sept. 4 in Austin.
“Last year, we had Will Fuller out there that, throw it to him whenever you’re in trouble,” Weishar said. “Now I feel like, the tight ends, we do have a lot of confidence with the quarterbacks.”