When Notre Dame recruited Mike Heuerman, they were chasing a tight end unlike any other on their roster. Undersized but highly-touted, Heuerman didn’t look like Kyle Rudolph, Tyler Eifert or Ben Koyack, but he certainly came with a similar recruiting pedigree.
Fast-forward to his third year in the program and the Irish are still waiting for Heuerman to break loose. Still undersized and not looking capable of adding weight to a shorter-than-ideal frame for a tight end, Heuerman looks and feels like an H-back in an offense that doesn’t feature one.
With a young depth chart that seems to be passing him by, let’s take a look at where Heuerman stands in the Irish offense.
6'3.5", 225 lbs.
Junior, No. 84, TE
Notre Dame out-dueled Ohio State for Heuerman’s signature, noteworthy considering his brother was playing for Urban Meyer at the time. There was a long line of suitors for Heuerman, who counted offers from Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Michigan, Oregon and others.
There was a lot of projecting when teams looked at Heuerman, who did most of his work as a defensive end as a senior. His high school switched to a Wing-T system, limiting Heuerman’s ability to do much as a pass catcher.
Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.
Sophomore Season (2014): Underwent hernia surgery prior to the start of the season. Did not see action.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEARHeuerman’s injury during camp made it impossible for him to get a jump start on freshman Tyler Luatua and sophomore Durham Smythe. But it’s unclear whether even a healthy Heuerman would’ve found a place in Notre Dame’s offense.
Having just committed a few paragraphs to ways the Irish offense could use Heuerman, I’m still skeptical that we’ll see that many new wrinkles in Kelly and Mike Denbrock’s system. And while I don’t think Heuerman’s lack of prototypical size is going to be a death blow, I still think he’s a work in progress that will need to prove he can block before he gets the opportunity to catch the football.
One place I think Heuerman will help immediately is special teams. With the Irish struggling to cover kicks in 2013, Heuerman is the perfect combination of power and speed that can run down the field and make a tackle.
The depth chart at the position certainly works in Heuerman’s favor… for now. Ben Koyack will most likely have every down duties. Smythe has drawn some rave reviews this summer and Kelly spoke highly of him during bowl prep as well. But before freshmen Tyler Luatua (another undersized blocker) and Nic Weishar (still a string bean) begin competing, Heuerman will have a chance to establish a niche in the offense.
So for a redshirt freshman will four years of competition remaining, 2014 could be an important year.
It’s not necessarily a good sign when your number gets handed over to a freshman. And Heuerman will be wearing No. 84 moving forward, with freshman slot receiver CJ Sanders donning No. 9.
(Of course, numbers aren’t official until the season—and Sanders isn’t guaranteed that jersey, just ask Cole Luke.)
But finding a place for Heuerman in this offense is difficult, even as it likely undergoes some changes as Mike Denbrock, Mike Sanford and Brian Kelly retool things for Malik Zaire. Spring practice came and went, with Heuerman mostly anonymous. And the tight end depth chart will welcome in Alizé Jones, a stretch tight end who already looks like a supersized Heuerman as an incoming freshman.
Not playing in his first two seasons isn’t necessarily a death blow, but Heuerman’s inability to gain weight or stay healthy are two major ingredients when you’re trying to project the football future of a tight end. Heuerman is a very good athlete who has hands and an ability to run well. But so does the rest of Scott Booker’s depth chart.
I won’t be the first one to suggest that Notre Dame’s staff should kick the tires on Heuerman the defensive end, a position he was dominant at as a senior in high school. Without too many natural pass rushers on the roster, a 230-pounder coming flying off the edge could be a complimentary part of the Irish defense—something that’s hard to see if Heuerman stays at either tight end or jumbo receiver.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL
Amir Carlisle, RB
Nick Coleman, DB
Te’von Coney, LB
Shaun Crawford, DB
Scott Daly, LS
Sheldon Day, DL
Michael Deeb, LB
Micah Dew-Treadway, DL
Steve Elmer, RG
Matthias Farley, DB
Nicco Fertitta, DB
Tarean Folston, RB
Will Fuller, WR
Jarrett Grace, LB
Jalen Guyton, WR
Mark Harrell, OL
Jay Hayes, DL