Notre Dame knew it was rebooting the tight end position this fall. But with an early-season injury to Durham Smythe, Scott Booker‘s position group has had to rely on a converted defensive tackle, two players who had yet to see a college football field and Tyler Luatua, who served mostly as a blocker in ten games as a freshman.
That’s not to say there isn’t talent at the position. We’ve seen as much from freshman Alizé Jones. But there are limited opportunities. With Will Fuller and C.J. Prosise playing like stars, there are only so many footballs for the rest of a talented roster.
Through seven games, it’s clear the tight end position is still getting settled. So let’s take a look at a position group that’ll likely evolve throughout the season’s final five weeks.
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Emerging Player: Alizé Jones.
You likely wouldn’t have been surprised if I told you that Jones was leading the tight ends in catches. But maybe a bit surprised if you considered he had almost double the amount of the rest of the position—all while being mostly anonymous this year.
At just nine catches and 117 yards, Jones is still finding his way. He’s been close to a few game-changing plays—a nifty one-handed grab was close to getting pulled off and tight coverage turned a near touchdown into an incompletion last weekend.
Jones has one freshman mistake on his resume—a fumble before halftime against Georgia Tech that didn’t end up costing the Irish—evidence that he’s still showing some of his youth. But with attention likely pulled the way of Prosise and Fuller over these final five weeks, Jones should have opportunities in space. Now it’ll be up to him to capitalize on them, especially if DeShone Kizer calls his number.
Biggest Surprise: Chase Hounshell
If you’d have told me that Chase Hounshell’s six games were the most he’s played since his freshman season as a backup defensive lineman, I’d have thought you were nuts. But the decision to let Hounshell stay with the team and transition to tight end has paid off in a big way, with the physical fifth-year player healthy after multiple shoulder injuries and capable of serving as an attached, in-line blocker.
Down the stretch, the Irish will likely need to ride the running game to continue to win football games. And with Smythe out and Luatua still showing some inconsistencies, Hounshell’s return is one of the more unlikely stories, and a testament to his willingness to endure through some terrible injury luck.
More to Come: Nic Weishar
I’m not sure how the snaps will break down for Weishar. But the sophomore tight end earned a lot of respect from Brian Kelly during fall camp, and even if he’s off to a slow start this season, Weishar might be able to earn some chances by staying consistent in practice.
That could come in two tight end sets. It could come in the red zone, where Weishar ate up Irish defenders. And if Jones suffers the slide that comes with a lot of freshmen as the season wears on, Weishar could be the one to capitalize on those opportunities.
While he doesn’t have the athleticism that Jones shows, Weishar is a natural catching the football and using his body as a shield. After spending last season on the scout team with Kizer, they could get an opportunity this November to put that chemistry to work on the field.