Strong Tight End Play At Notre Dame Should Continue

Bryan Driskell

Notre Dame had one of the best tight end depth charts in the entire country in 2019, and despite the loss of star Cole Kmet there’s a chance that will continue in 2020.

The 2019 tight ends had arguably the best overall Notre Dame production of any tight end group of the last decade. Notre Dame’s tight ends hauled in 63 passes for 755 yards and 11 touchdowns. Those numbers ranked second (2011), third (2011, 2012) and first among tight end units in the Brian Kelly era.

Notre Dame will now have to go forward without Kmet, who was the No. 43 overall pick of the 2020 NFL Draft. Kmet was the only tight end taken in the first 90 picks of the draft. Despite not having the ultra-talented Kmet on the roster, Notre Dame still returns a deep and talented group of players.

DEPTH CHART (By grade)

Screen Shot 2020-05-23 at 7.12.58 PM

Notre Dame returns 20 catches, 240 yards and five touchdowns from the 2019 tight end depth chart.

LAST CHANCE FOR WRIGHT

Senior tight end Brock Wright came to Notre Dame with incredibly high expectations. Wright and Kmet signed with Notre Dame in the same class, but Wright was the higher ranked recruit.

Neither young tight end got much action during their freshman season, and Kmet surpassed Wright on the depth chart in 2018. Wright played a combined 89 snaps during his first two seasons, and he was unable to take advantage of Kmet’s absence from the lineup at the start of the 2019 season to force himself into more acton.

Wright played 70 snaps in the two games without Kmet, but he played just 78 snaps in the final 11 games. The Cypress, Texas native gets one final shot to make his mark.

Wright is a bit of a throwback tight end, possessing the size and athletic skills to be do work over the middle of the field, on option routes and in the intermediate zones. The issue for Wright, however, has been that he has not shown the blocking prowess in college he did in high school.

If Wright is going to be a regular in the offense he must become a far more effective blocker. Should Wright make those strides and become a force in the run game, his snaps will increase and that will lead to him being more of a factor in the pass game.

BREAKOUT COMING FOR TREMBLE?

One tight end did take advantage of Kmet being out, and when the veteran returned it was Tremble that stepped into the number two tight end role. Now Tremble will look to repeat the sophomore-to-junior leap that Kmet made. Remember, Tremble had better numbers (16 catches, 183 yards, 4 TDs) as a true sophomore than did Kmet (15 catches, 160 yards, 1 TD).

A native of Johns Creek, Ga., Tremble came to Notre Dame with the reputation of being a potential impact player in the pass game, and that flashed in 2019. Tremble has the speed to create matchup problems for linebackers and safeties, possessing the traits to stretch the field vertically and to do damage after the catch.

Tremble still has plenty of room for improvement from a route running standpoint, and he must continue to get stronger at the catch point. 

If he’s willing to put the work in to refine the finer points of the position he has the God-given ability to be a difference maker. If that happens, Tremble gives the Notre Dame staff the kind of long athlete that can be used to create mismatches against linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks in different settings.

What surprised me the most about Tremble’s 2019 performance was how good he was in the run game. Yes, he needs to shore up his footwork, hand placement, play with better angles and be more assignment sound, but his strength, toughness and raw power made him effective at the point of attack.

Tremble is a wild card in the Notre Dame offense. If he makes normal strides you’ll see him become a key part of the pass game and a quality edge player in the run game.

But if Tremble seizes the opportunity in front of him, matures on and off the field and makes the kind of sophomore-to-junior leap that Kmet made, he could emerge as the kind of force in the Irish offense that makes everyone around him better.

TAKACS WILL GET HIS CHANCE

Barring a set back or injury, Tremble will be a key part of the tight end rotation in 2020. Who joins him is the question at this point, and Wright isn’t the only tight end with an opportunity in front of him. Junior George Takacs is a unique player that has a throwback tight end’s body, but the pass catching potential of a player like Kmet.

The question is can Takacs develop the necessary strength to be a regular, and can he turn his potential into production? During the spring of 2019 he had moments where it looked like he was ready to take the next step but couldn't follow that up. He'll get another chance in fall camp.

Wright will enter fall camp with the first crack at earning one of the top two spots in the tight end rotation, but if Takacs can tap into his potential he’ll give the veteran all he can handle.

If both Wright and Takacs have strong fall camps, Notre Dame will be absolutely loaded at the position. Takacs would give Notre Dame a strong red zone weapon, and if his blocking improves another big body to use in different run game looks.

FRESHMAN IMPACT

Notre Dame is bringing in arguably the best haul of freshmen tight end in the entire country. If they don’t play in 2020 it will likely mean the veterans are playing to their full ability, which will mean quarterback Ian Book will have the nation’s best group of tight ends by his side.

First-year player Michael Mayer was arguably the best tight end in the country last season. Mayer has a unique combination of size (6-5, 234) and athleticism. He’s a strong route runner for his age, has the speed to stretch the field and his hands are outstanding. Mayer is also a competitive blocker, and keeping him off the field will be a challenge.

Classmate Kevin Bauman would likely have been a player that cracks the rotation in some capacity in year one, but the depth at the position will make it much harder for him to get on the field much. Bauman, however, is another talented player with a bright future.

McNULTY IMPACT

One aspect that I’m curious to see play out in 2020 is what kind of impact will new position coach John McNulty have on the production of the tight ends. 

Former coordinator Chip Long built his coaching reputation as a strong tight ends coach, but he was split between duties at Notre Dame, and I’m of the opinion that it factored into the inconsistency we saw from the group in the run game the last couple of seasons.

McNulty comes to Notre Dame with the reputation as an outstanding position coach, and all of his attention will be on that group. 

If McNulty can have the kind of impact on the position I believe he can, it will go a long way towards getting this talented, but so far unproven group of tight ends to max out their potential and become one of the nation’s best units.

KEY QUESTIONS

1. Will Tommy Tremble have a breakout season?

2. Does Brock Wright finally show off the top recruit traits?

3. What will Notre Dame get from George Takacs?

4. Will the veterans be good enough to keep Michael Mayer off the field?

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