Where Notre Dame was & is: Tight Ends
Perhaps the only way 2020 would have been more abnormal is if Notre Dame did not have a dominant tight end. In the last 15 years, the Irish have sent eight tight ends into the NFL draft, including six taken in the first or second rounds. After Cole Kmet jumped into the 2020 NFL draft after a stellar junior season, the question was not if someone would step into his place, but who.
WHERE NOTRE DAME WAS
In hindsight, it is too simple to say the Irish knew what Michael Mayer would do as a freshman. Assuming reliable and prolific production from a freshman is always a risk when building up to a season. But Notre Dame was far from worried about the position, even if Mayer was more a likelihood than a certainty.
The Irish had confidence in Tommy Tremble to fill Kmet’s void, and with George Takacs flashing solid hands in a few 2019 moments, the pair could create a two-tight end package for offensive coordinator Tommy Rees to enjoy.
Tremble delivered with 19 catches for 218 yards, while his run blocking turned him into a possible mid-round prospect.
With Tremble bulldozing as a dual-threat tight end, and Mayer breaking out with a team-high 42 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns, Rees made the two-tight end package Notre Dame’s default.
WHERE NOTRE DAME IS
Whether Tremble ends up a fourth-round pick, a seventh-round pick or an undrafted free agent, his physical style made heading to the NFL right away the prudent decision. There is no reason to risk wrecking an ankle for free when a paycheck awaits with certainty.
Without him, two things should be expected from the Irish tight ends. The first is obvious, more Mayer. And then some more. Frankly, in 2021 and 2022, Notre Dame cannot indulge in too much Mayer.
The underneath crossing route should be a third-down and red-zone staple.
And once safeties are accustomed to crashing down on that route and linebackers are turning into the crossing pattern before Mayer is, he can use his underappreciated speed to cut up the seam, a la a broader Tyler Eifert. Rees loved that route in his playing days, so it will make sense for that to be part of Mayer’s eventual All-American campaign.
Introducing that begins this spring, as does finding Mayer’s tag-team partner. Takacs’ massive frame makes him an enticing option, especially to bookend an offensive line replacing four starters. He will presumably get the first crack at the chance, but rising sophomore Kevin Bauman should not be overlooked. If he matches the quiet rumblings around him, Takacs could remain a package player while Bauman joins his classmate in creating a two-year tandem.
WHERE NOTRE DAME WILL BE
Early-enrolled Cane Berrong and incoming freshman Mitchell Evans