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Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 80 Cane Berrong, sophomore tight end coming off an ACL injury

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 02 Cincinnati at Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 02: Notre Dame Fighting Irish tight end Cane Berrong (80) looks on during a game against the Cincinnati Bearcats on October 2, 2021 at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend, IN. (Photo by Brandon Sloter/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Listed measurements: 6-foot-3 ½, 235 pounds.2022-23 year, eligibility: A sophomore, Berrong still has all four seasons of eligibility remaining after appearing in only three games as a freshman before an ACL tear ended his debut campaign.Depth Chart: If 100 percent healthy, Berrong could be in the mix to be Notre Dame’s No. 2 or 3 tight end, but as he recovers from the ACL, he is instead most accurately lumped with the pair of incoming freshmen, a bit removed from the leading trio of Michael Mayer, Kevin Bauman and Mitchell Evans.Recruiting: The Irish may not often chase the No. 35 tight end in a recruiting class, but that may not have been indicative of Berrong’s talent coming out of high school. He was, after all, an Under Armour All-American. The Georgia product turned down eight SEC programs, including his homestate power, LSU and Auburn, to choose Notre Dame.

If the only NIL path a player pursues is apparel — and this is not to say if that is all Berrong has lined up — that is still progress compared to the draconian measures insisted upon by the NCAA for so long.

Berrong saw the field against Wisconsin, Cincinnati and Virginia Tech before an ACL tear ended his year. Those three games were notable in that they were higher stakes than the usual four-game flyer protocol, implying Berrong was a bit further ahead physically than realized, even if only on special teams units.

Berrong’s rehab has reportedly gone well, perhaps a bit ahead of schedule since that October injury. If applying an optimistic nine-month timeline to his recovery, that would set him up for possible clearance in July or August. Irish tight ends coach Gerad Parker seemed to hold some of that optimism in mid-April.

“He’s doing everything he’s supposed to do,” Parker said. “The last six weeks, he’s really changed his body back from his rehab. He looks good right now and has got himself in a good position, body-type-wise.

“We’ve been able to get him on the ball machine in pre-practice drills. He has great, soft hands and catches it easy. He’s a great kid. He studies hard and prepares in the meeting room just like he would be coming out to pratcie, which I think tells you a lot about who he is. He’s preparing well and putting himself in position to come back and get healthy in the summer.”

“Mayer will continue to dominate this conversation through 2022, but (George) Takacs is likely elsewhere next season, opening up a chance to impress in Rees’ multiple tight end offense before the need is absolute and prevailing in 2023. For any Notre Dame tight end not already viewed as a first-round NFL talent, ‘down the road’ means 2023 and 2024.

“Berrong (and Evans and Bauman) will get his chance, but he has plenty of time to grow into that role and prove himself in practice before the Irish truly come looking for a contribution.”

First, get healthy. Then, get comfortable on the repaired knee. That latter aspect can often be overlooked in these recovery timetables. Berrong’s knee went out on him in a practice. Trusting it again may not be an overnight task, even for a teenager.

But after that, Berrong’s downfield abilities could provide Notre Dame some needed relief among receivers. Yes, receivers.

No, Berrong is not about to switch positions, but among Bauman, Evans and Berrong, the last of those would look most comfortable lined up detached from the offensive line, a la a receiver. While the Irish have only six or seven healthy receivers heading into preseason practices, some variability will be necessary on the outside.

If Berrong can carve out a role for himself in that vacuum, he would not only be helping himself, but he could be giving Notre Dame’s offense a needed wrinkle.

That may sound like a pipe dream, but it is a distinct need on the Irish roster, so it is more a reality than a dream. The question will be if Berrong is ready for that unique role.

Whether or not he finds some traction in 2022, Berrong will have his chance in 2023. All of Notre Dame’s tight ends will. Mayer will be gone, enjoying a starting role in the NFL. Behind him, presently, no one has proven himself.

Berrong’s unique skill set — unique compared to Evans and Bauman, in particular; less so once put alongside incoming freshman Eli Raridon, also recovering from an ACL tear — should give him an advantage in ending up as one of the top two tight ends, and as long as Tommy Rees is the Irish offensive coordinator, multiple tight ends will be needed in the Notre Dame offense.

From Blake Grupe to Braden Lenzy, the offseason countdown begins anew
No. 99 Blake Grupe, kicker, Arkansas State transfer
No. 99 Rylie Mills, junior defensive lineman, a tackle now playing more at end

No. 98 Tyson Ford, early-enrolled freshman, a defensive tackle recruited as a four-star end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, sophomore defensive tackle, still ‘as wide as a Volkswagen’
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, a junior defensive tackle who tore his ACL in March
No. 91 Josh Bryan, sophomore kicker
No. 91 Aiden Gobaira, early-enrolled freshman defensive end, four-star recruit
No. 90 Alexander Ehrensberger, junior defensive end, a German project nearing completion
No. 89 Eli Raridon, incoming freshman tight end with a torn ACL
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, sophomore tight end
No. 87 Michael Mayer, junior tight end, likely All-American
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, junior tight end
No. 83 Jayden Thomas, sophomore receiver, former four-star recruit

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