Don’t look now, but the Irish might have another elite tight end in the making. That’s the early word out of The Gug, an especially impressive declaration considering sophomore Durham Smythe has yet to play a game for Notre Dame.
But with Ben Koyack on his way out and no Irish tight end having played a snap, Smythe looks poised to be next in line. With a physically impressive skill-set and the ability to play attached to the line or split wide, we’ll see how ready Smythe is to take charge come this weekend.
Let’s take a closer look at the Texan.
6'4.5" 242 lbs.
Sophomore, No. 80
Notre Dame didn’t look to be in the hunt for another tight end when Smythe popped onto their radar, a long-time Texas commitment that flipped to the Irish late in the process after taking a visit to South Bend in late January. Smythe’s offer list was might impressive, not necessarily reflective of the three-star rating Rivals gave him.
But the Irish ended up with Smythe on Signing Day, beating out Stanford, where Smythe took an official earlier in January.
"[He’s] another tight end that we really believe fits the style of the offense that we run,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “He hasn’t even tapped his potential at 6'5", 230, and he’s 230 right now. He’s going to be obviously a big, physical player for us but has the soft hands and the ability to get out and run routes. We’re excited about Durham coming in later in the process, but getting a chance to meet his family and spending time, it’s a great fit.”
Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.
Of the young tight ends on Notre Dame’s roster, Smythe seems the most likely to be able to handle all the duties the Irish offense throws at the tight end. As the sophomore matures -- and spends time with Paul Longo -- he’ll become a more competent in-line blocker. But outside of Koyack, Smythe seems to be the most complete player.
With only practice footage and word of mouth to use as evaluation tools, getting too excited about Smythe now would be premature. But with a talented collection of receiving threats and a position group that should see Tyler Luatua snag some of the snaps that require a physical presence, earning his way onto the field will be impressive enough.
It’s important to keep our expectations in line with what Smythe is right now: A young No. 2 tight end in an offense that’s going to be primarily using one tight end. That’s not to say that Smythe won’t do big things in his career at Notre Dame, but making 10 catches this year seems to be on the high side of expectations.
Of course, offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock has a soft spot for tight ends, and formationally, Smythe could be used to create mismatches or give a different look to the offense. But after looking back at the past few seasons of stats, it’s not fair to expect Smythe to work his way onto the Mackey Watch List just yet.
Still, when Koyack graduates and moves on to the next level, Smythe looks like the heir apparent. That means he’ll likely get the same national attention afforded to the Irish’s starting tight end, continuing an impressive run of Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert and Troy Niklas, all at a position many didn’t expect to produce much under Kelly.
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Torii Hunter Jr.