Notre Dame lost two players from its three-man tight end rotation last season, including third-round NFL Draft pick Tommy Tremble. There are questions that must be answered, but despite those losses Notre Dame should once again have one of the nation's tight end groups.
RETURNING PRODUCTION (Career)
Michael Mayer - 42 catches, 450 yards, 10.7 YPC, 2 TD
George Takacs - 5 catches, 42 yards, 8.4 YPC, 1 TD
Kevin Bauman - 1 catch, 5 yards, 5.0 YPC, 0 TD
MICHAEL MAYER IS JUST GETTING STARTED
Mayer had a strong first season, hauling in 42 passes for 450 yards. The freshman standout was a weapon on third down and his ability to make defenders miss is unique for a player with his size.
Heading into his sophomore season the talented Irish tight end still has room to improve his game, and he'll need to do just that. Mayer was a complementary player in 2020 but now he is expected to become a primary weapon, if not the primary weapon in the pass game. Mayer must also become more of a complete tight end this season.
For Mayer that means continuing to clean up his route running, getting stronger and improving his blocking technique. Mayer gave the effort needed to be an effective blocker last season but the nuances weren't where you want them to be, which is expected from a true freshman.
I expect Mayer to do all those things, but him reaching his full potential is also dependent upon the Notre Dame coaching staff expanding his role in the pass game. Notre Dame used Mayer mostly on short to intermediate routes last season and he wasn't asked to stretch the field much. Considering he was a true freshman it makes total sense why the staff didn't put too much on his shoulders, which allowed Mayer to master what he was asked to do.
Now that he has a year under his belt I expect Mayer to have an expanded role. Notre Dame needs to allow him to attack the seams with greater frequency, to attack down the field more (he was only targeted twice beyond 20+ yards last season) and to design more concepts that get him in isolations on both vertical and horizontal concepts.
If that happens, and I anticipate it will, Mayer is going to be a force to be reckoned with.
GEORGE TAKACS GETS HIS CHANCE
When your tight end depth chart is as deep as Notre Dame's has been there will be some players that get buried, and for the last two seasons that has been the case with George Takacs.
At times Takacs has struggled with his confidence, but when he's been locked in the 6-6, 245-pound tight end has been impressive. Takacs has shown well in limited game opportunities, but in past seasons he's been a player that showed off an impressive blend of size, ball skills and athleticism.
The key for Takacs will be developing some consistency. He'll need to be consistent with his daily approach, consistent with his production in fall camp and consistently show confidence as a player.
If Takacs does that he'll lock down the No. 2 tight end role, and in an offense like Notre Dame's that's a very important player. Takacs can stretch the field and he has legit middle-of-the-field skills. We got a glimpse of that in the Blue-Gold Game when Takacs hauled in three passes for 32 yards.
Takacs can play attached and out wide, which means both he and Mayer can be used all over the field, which gives OC Tommy Rees a lot of options out of his 12 personnel.
WHAT CAN WE EXPECT FROM THE YOUNG TE'S?
Takacs has only caught five passes in his career and he hasn't played a ton of snaps but he is a senior, so he's been in the program for awhile. The rest of the tight end depth chart has far, far less time in the system.
Sophomore Kevin Bauman had a rough first year, much of which wasn't his fault. The young tight end and the rest of his freshman teammates lost much-needed development time due to the wacky nature of the season due to Covid-19. Bauman battled injuries during the spring, which allowed freshmen Cane Berrong and Mitchell Evans to get a lot more work.
Bauman is a quality athlete that was a strong blocker in high school, and his lack of length compared to Mayer and Takacs gives him a chance to serve the H-Back/Fullback role that Tremble often played in 2020. He's a quality pass catcher as well, but Bauman will need to stay healthy and perform well to hold off the freshmen.
Berrong is very similar to Bauman in size and he was an even better blocker in high school. He too fits very well into that H-Back/Fullback role that Tremble played last season, so he'll be pushing hard this season for playing time in that role.
What I like about Berrong is that not only is he a strong blocker but he's strong and he showed a lot of growth as a route runner over the last year. He could end up being very hard to keep off the field this season.
Evans still needs to get a lot stronger but he has really good size, he's a better athlete than I expected and according to sources he had a quality spring.
WHAT CHANGES WILL WE SEE WITH TE USAGE
One of the things I'm looking forward to seeing is how Rees and tight ends coach John McNulty use the tight ends this season. You can expect the 12 and 13 personnel groups to still be a part of the offense, but Takacs has a different skillset than the second and third tight ends last season.
How will the staff use the size of Mayer and Takacs together? Will they use that length at times with smaller receivers? In those looks could we actually see them outside with the backs and wideouts in the slot at times? How will the tight ends play in the slot? Will Notre Dame use them to attack vertically with greater frequency, or will they still be short to intermediate players?
We won't know any of those answers until the season starts, but it's certainly going to have a big role in how much this unit produces in 2021.
KEY TIGHT END QUESTIONS
There are five tight end questions I’m looking forward to seeing answered this summer and into the fall.
1. Can Mayer be the alpha? — When talking about the receivers there seems to be concern about who is the alpha, the go-to player this season, but if Mayer makes the jump he's capable of he could in fact be that alpha. Mayer is extremely talented and advanced, and I wouldn't be surprised if he does emerge as "the guy" for Notre Dame this season, but he still has to show it.
2. Can Takacs take advantage? — Takacs is going to get every chance in fall camp to force his way into a regular role, but he has to seize upon that opportunity in fall camp. Takacs finally tapping into his potential could give Notre Dame an even more impactful pass game duo than we saw last season. His size, athleticism, ball skills combination is outstanding, and if Takacs does step up he will help take a lot of pressure off Mayer.
3. Will the multiple tight end sets still dominate? — If Takacs steps up we'll see the multiple tight end sets still get a lot of use, but what if he struggles? Will the young players perform well enough to keep the 13 personnel a big part of the offense? We'll find out over the next month.
4. Will the tight ends be used to attack downfield? — The tight ends were not used to attack downfield last season and that must change. I'm not saying the tight ends need to run nothing but deep routes, but we need to see more diversity in their usage. The personnel better suits that this season than it did last season, so I expect to see it, but right now that's more of a guess than anything else.
5. What will the young players do? — As discussed in question number three, the young players are a big unknown. Notre Dame isn't going to force 13 personnel (three tight ends) simply for the sake of using it. The young players have to earn that right and force the staff to keep using it. Which young player(s) will do that? We'll find out soon.
The tight end depth chart will play to its potential if ….
Michael Mayer becomes a more complete player and is used as more of a downfield weapon, which then makes him even more effective on the routes we saw him use last season .... Oh, and Mayer becomes the top pass game weapon for the Irish this season .... George Takacs finally breaks out and becomes a force in the pass game, giving the Irish a dynamic one-two punch .... Either Cane Berrong or Kevin Bauman has a strong spring and forces his way onto the field and we still see plenty of 13 personnel.
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