Spring Preview: Tight End
Stop me if you’ve heard this before … Notre Dame must replace a tight end that is about to be drafted by the NFL.
Once Cole Kmet gets picked in the April NFL Draft - possibly in the first round - Notre Dame’s streak of starting tight ends being selected in the draft will extend to 17 seasons. Replacing Kmet won’t be easy, but Notre Dame has recruited the position extremely well in recent seasons and there will be plenty of talent to choose from.
Notre Dame will have three scholarship tight ends on the roster in the spring, and two more talented tight ends will arrive this summer when freshmen Michael Mayer and Kevin Bauman show up.
There is a great opportunity for the veterans to battle it out. With just three tight ends on the roster they will each get a high volume of reps, and each will likely get plenty of opportunities to make their case for a spot in the rotation.
Of course, the way Notre Dame has used tight ends in the past, if all three of the veterans prove capable of helping the team win we could see all three getting real snaps next season if they can have strong springs and then build on it in fall camp.
LAST CHANCE FOR BROCK WRIGHT
ESPN ranked Brock Wright the No. 29 overall player in the 2017 class, a ranking that no other tight end signee of the Brian Kelly era can top. Rivals ranked him as the No. 44 overall player in the class, and both services ranked him as the No. 1 tight end in the nation. That was in a class that also contained Kmet.
Wright has caught just four passes for 57 yards and one touchdown in his career, and the veteran tight end has yet to play more than 148 snaps in a season. More of a throwback tight end, Wright never fit what former offensive coordinator/tight ends coach Chip Long wanted at the position.
For his part, Wright never developed the necessary consistency or force as a blocker, which limited his effectiveness. With Kmet out the first two games of the 2019 season, it was sophomore Tommy Tremble that stepped up in the pass game, and Wright was inconsistent as a blocker during that stretch.
When you watch Wright it’s clear the talent is still there, and this will be his last chance to finally seize hold of the starting role at tight end. At the very least, a strong spring can put him and Tremble at 1A/1B at the position. Either way, Notre Dame will be better if Wright can finally step up and start producing in the run game and pass game.
For Wright, the first key this spring will be to show his blocking chops. Wright is not a player you want to move all around the field as a pass catcher. He needs to play more attached football, working the middle of the field and matching up against linebackers. The issue, however, is that he hasn’t blocked as well as you need an attached tight end to block.
If he can sure up his blocking then he’ll have a much bigger role. At that point, Wright can use his strong ball skills and ability to work himself open over the middle and on underneath routes to do damage as a pass catcher. He could be a reliable chain mover, but Wright also shows solid vertical speed. With some minor adjustments as a route runner he could cap his career off with a significant jump in production.
JUNIORS READY TO TAKE OVER
The 2018 class started to make its presence felt in 2019, and this spring will give that pair a chance to take over the position.
Tommy Tremble emerged as a rotation player last season and finished with 16 catches for 183 yards and four touchdowns. He showed off vertical speed and the ability to work across the field. At times his focus in the pass game wasn’t there, and he’ll need to work as a route runner, but the tools are there for him to eventually be a dominant player.
The talented tight end needs to show a bit more maturity and focus this season, and if he does he could have a breakout season. Tremble has special speed for a tight end, but last season it was more about flashes. We just didn’t see Tremble turn it on all the time, which isn’t unusual for a young player that spent the previous season as a redshirt.
Tremble runs like a big wide receiver, and with improved route running he’ll be a matchup nightmare, whether working inside against linebackers and safeties, or outside against cornerbacks. This is an area where John McNulty could really be an asset due to his experience coaching wide receivers in the NFL. If McNulty can get Tremble to clean up his game and be more focused, watch out.
Where I was most surprised with Tremble last season was how well he blocked. Despite being just 235 pounds, Tremble got after it in the run game. In fact, I graded him out as Notre Dame’s best blocker last season. The young tight end is physical as both an attached tight end and when playing in more of an H-Back role.
Tremble will need to clean up assignment mistakes and finish better, but he has the tools to be an outstanding all-around player.
George Takacs is an intriguing player. Last spring he had some moments that reminded me why I graded him as a four-star recruit, but consistency was a major, major issue for him. Takacs struggled to put good practices back to back. That’s not abnormal for a young player, but when the depth chart is as talented as Notre Dame’s was last season you’ll get buried on the depth chart.
Now a junior, it’s time for Takacs to start being a more consistent player. If he can tap into his immense potential the tight ends for Notre Dame next season will be outstanding. Takacs might look like a traditional tight end, but he’s athletic for a 6-6, 247-pound player. He can stretch the field with his size/speed combination, and at times he shows acrobatic ball skills. Takacs also has a tremendous catch radius, which he showed on his touchdown catch against Duke.
He has good route running skills, but like Tremble he’ll need to clean some things up. Takacs has the size to work the middle of the field, but he runs well enough to be used on vertical routes and down-the-field routes.
Takacs needs to be a lot more consistent as a blocker, and this spring he must be able to bring a more consistent mental focus. If he can do that he’ll get a lot of attention and force himself into the 2020 rotation.
1. Will Brock Wright finally emerge as an every-down player? If he does that, will he show off the tools that made him a Top 100 recruit?
2. How much maturity will Tommy Tremble show going into his junior season, and is he ready for a breakout season?
3. Can George Takacs be more consistent and force himself into the rotation?
4. How much distance can the veterans put between themselves and the incoming freshmen?
5. How will new offensive coordinator Tommy Rees use the tight ends in his offense?
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