Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s Tight Ends
This series, obviously, focuses on the spring, but those 15 practices, beginning March 5, will not include the one tight end expected to carry Notre Dame’s “TE U” banner into the future. Thus, please understand the following words do not focus on Michael Mayer.
His time will come, especially thanks to Cole Kmet’s jump to the NFL, but before Mayer can vault from recruiting hype to realized headline, a couple other Irish tight ends will jockey for the starting role heading into the preseason.
Spring roster, in order of eligibility remaining:
— Rising senior Brock Wright, in his final year.— Rising junior Tommy Tremble, with three seasons of eligibility remaining.— Rising junior George Takacs.
Every discussion of Notre Dame’s tight ends this spring will include a subtle, often even unspoken, acknowledgment of a particular absence. The theory of Mayer’s potential has gained enough weight, many may consider anything short of a contributing role this season a disappointment. Mayer has the size, speed and hands needed to replace Kmet, although the proverbial freshman wall typically strikes twice, and the first of those pauses usually comes at the end of preseason practices. While Mayer will likely play more than four games, his role might be minimal in the first couple weeks of the year.
Fellow consensus four-star Kevin Bauman is too talented to be overlooked, but being the fifth of five tight ends sets him up to spend the year on the sidelines. That is a result of both the quantity and the quality of tight end Notre Dame tends to have on the roster.
Depth Chart Possibilities:
Tremble shined in 2019, though his stats may seem meager for such a verb. Turning his first career catch into a touchdown certainly helped the impression. Tremble has more speed than the average tight end, more than Wright, and more than most linebackers and some safeties. He creates a mismatch against most defenses, immediately making Tremble the frontrunner to start at tight end. More often than not, that will likely be in a detached role, a fourth receiver as much as a tight end.
At some point this spring, however, Wright should finally flex his receiving muscles. Between Kmet’s talent and possible clashes with a particular former position coach, Wright has never found an on-field role beyond that of an H-back. Wright has been an asset when blocking — a Braden Lenzy jet sweep down the sideline jumps to mind — but there is the possibility of more. He caught 30 passes for 492 yards and four touchdowns as a senior in high school, and while his skillset will not dominate against the Irish schedule as it did then, it is still an applicable one.
If that version of Wright never becomes a reality, then Takacs could loom, not to mention Mayer, of course.
2019 statistically speaking:
Cole Kmet: 43 catches for 515 yards and six touchdownsTommy Tremble: 16 catches for 183 yards and four touchdownsBrock Wright: Two catches for 45 yardsGeorge Takacs: Two catches for 12 yards and one touchdown
Whether Kmet is the first tight end selected in April or the third, whether he hears his name in the first round of the draft or the third day, his choice to head to the NFL was the right one. Kmet was utterly impressive in 2019, particularly in his first game back from a broken collarbone. Notre Dame targeted Kmet on three of the first four plays at Georgia, and he delivered, not only catching those three passes for 33 yards but also finishing with nine receptions for 108 yards and a touchdown between the hedges. Having proven his abilities against one of the country’s best defenses, the next hurdle for Kmet is proving them at the next level.
If Kmet falls past the first half of the second round — which would be a surprise, but only a mild one — some will criticize his choice to forgo one more year of college. That misses all he will still have to gain in the NFL: A paycheck, a year’s head start toward a second contract and the test all football players ache to take.
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