The tight end position was a significant strength for the Notre Dame offense in 2020, but the Fighting Irish will have to replace two of its top three players at the position in 2021.
We continue our replace and reload series by looking at what was lost and what's next at tight end.
WHAT WAS LOST
Junior Tommy Tremble declared for the NFL Draft and senior Brock Wright is headed to the league as well.
The loss of Tremble is a big one for Notre Dame. He caught 19 passes for 218 yards, which came a year after he hauled in 16 passes for 183 yards and four scores in 2019.
Tremble was an elite blocker for the Irish this season, and there isn't another tight end on the roster that brought anywhere close to the value he brought in the run game. Tremble was rarely targeted in the pass game, but when he was he was effective. He has a unique combination of power, athleticism and speed.
The story with Tremble was more about what he could have been if used properly, and now Notre Dame won't get a chance to see what it could have done with him in the pass game.
Wright was Notre Dame's third tight end this season, but he was used quite a bit. The senior played 345 snaps for the Irish this season, catching just three passes for 21 yards.
Notre Dame's top pass catching tight end this past season was Michael Mayer, who was the nation's top true freshman tight end in 2020. Mayer tied for the team lead with 42 receptions and was second with 450 receiving yards to go with two touchdowns.
Mayer was a chain-moving machine for the Irish this season, with 32 of his 42 catches going for first downs (Pro Football Focus). His route running improved throughout the year, and Mayer was surprisingly good after the catch, using his strength and athleticism to pick up several third downs despite catching the ball short of the sticks.
In 2021, Mayer will need to improve his blocking and continue to enhance his route running, but the foundation he's starting with is outstanding. He's physically advanced for a player his age, and he competed in the run game as a freshman. With improved footwork, a better understanding of angles in the run game and an offseason in the strength program his blocking should make a jump.
Junior George Takacs played just 67 snaps this season, but he made a strong impression when he was on the field. Takacs caught three passes for 30 yards, including a third-down conversion of 10 yards in the Rose Bowl loss to Alabama.
Takacs has very good size and he's a willing blocker. When his technique is sound he shows good force at the point of attack, and at the very least he should be able to fill Wright's role. If he has a strong offseason and catches the ball more consistently, Takacs could easily slide into Tremble's No. 2 tight end spot.
Overshadowed by Mayer and Tremble, Takacs has the tools to be a breakout player for the Irish next season, assuming he has a strong offseason.
With Takacs (6-6, 245) and Mayer (6-5, 235) on the field together, Notre Dame would have two players that are more traditional in style, and the offense would certainly have more size at tight end.
Rising sophomore Kevin Bauman is a player to watch this spring. Bauman was a four-star recruit and a talented first-year player in his own right, but he was overshadowed by the presence of Mayer.
With Tremble and Mayer gone, Bauman slides into the leading spot for the No. 3 tight end role. He has the tools to at the very least give the staff comfort going with a three-man rotation at tight end and continue using three tight end alignments.
Bauman is closer to Tremble in size (6-4, 240), and he brings positional flexibility to the roster. He could fill the fullback/h-back role that Tremble played much of last season.
Both of Notre Dame's 2021 tight end signees are early enrollees, which means the staff will have plenty of bodies at the position in the spring.
Freshman Cane Berrong is very similar in style to Tremble. He's not the biggest tight end, but he's strong and an outstanding prep blocker. Berrong has impressive straight line speed and top-notch ball skills.
Earning playing time as a freshman with the quality of veterans in front of him could be challenging, but Berrong has the tools to at the very least push the returners for playing time.
Classmate Mitchell Evans is a traditional tight end from a size standpoint (6-7, 240), but he played quarterback as a senior in high school.
1. Can Mayer take the next step as a player - Mayer was outstanding as a freshman, and it won't take much improvement for him to become one of the nation's best tight ends in 2021. I'm curious to see what kind of strength gains he makes next season, how his route running develops and if he can improve his blocking.
If those things happen he'll emerge as one of the nation's best tight ends in 2021.
2. Who replace Tremble in the lineup - Notre Dame doesn't need someone to step in and play the game exactly how Tremble did, but the Irish coaches will likely want to continue using multiple tight end sets. Can Takacs make strides, will Bauman make a charge up the depth chart? We'll start to see those answers in the spring.
3. Will Notre Dame continue emphasize two and three tight end sets - How question two gets answered will likely have a big impact on whether or not the Irish continue to emphasize multiple tight end alignments next season.
4. What kind of splash will Berrong make - I'm curious to see how big Berrong is when he arrives, and how quickly he picks up the system. If he adjusts question and is as big as I'm told he'll be, I wouldn't be shocked if Berrong makes life uncomfortable for Takacs and Bauman.
Past Replace and Reload Features
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