Skip to content

Spring Solutions: Tight Ends

Mar 17, 2013, 1:05 AM EDT

NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame AP

No pressure, guys.

For Troy Niklas, Alex Welch, Ben Koyack and Mike Heuerman, there’s got to be a little bit extra on their shoulders this spring, as they watch another Notre Dame All-American tight end prepare to go early in the NFL Draft. It’s beginning to become one of the sports’ most consistent position groups, with Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph and now Tyler Eifert all top draft picks and productive pros in the NFL. (Heck, even transfer Will Yeatman has spent two seasons in the NFL, Konrad Reuland is on the Jets roster and UCLA’s Joe Fauria looks poised to have a nice career on Sundays as well.)

The four Irish tight ends (five including walk-on Joey Brooks) that’ll be working with young tight ends coach Scott Booker have plenty of slack to pick up, with Eifert leaving a gigantic hole with his productivity as both a pass catcher and blocker. And for the first time in a long while, there’s no hint that the players on the roster will be ready to step in and reload, as has happened the past several seasons. The closest thing to that might be Niklas, who is bringing back a whopping five catches and 75 yards in his first season at the position after playing his freshman year as a swiss-army like defender.

Yet there’s plenty of talent at a position of major importance for Brian Kelly and Chuck Martin. Let’s take a look at the spring depth chart and walk through some expectations.

TIGHT END DEPTH CHART

1. Troy Niklas, Jr.
2. Alex Welch, Sr.
3. Ben Koyack, Soph.
4. Mike Heuerman, Fr.
5. Joey Brooks, Sr.

SPRING OBJECTIVES

Troy Niklas: We’ll get a better idea of what Troy Niklas can be as a tight end in the next 15 practices. From a talent and physical perspective, there’s every reason to think he can join the group above as a high level NFL Draft pick. Finding someone with Niklas’ elite size and athleticism, at 6-foot-7, 260-pounds, is rare.

With a learn-on-the-fly 2012 behind him, Niklas will now see if he’s got what it takes to be a full-time starter. After spending most of last season as an attached blocker — not all that easy for a guy that shed blocks the season before — Niklas’ growth throughout the season was readily apparent. Now he’ll need to show some savvy as a receiver and offensive threat, making use of the hands and surprising speed that teammates and coaches rave about.

Alex Welch: The 2012 was a tough one for Welch, who tore his ACL in the first days of fall camp. Welch was set to see significant playing time in two tight end formations, snaps that ended up going to Niklas with Welch down for the season.

Welch isn’t the physical presence that Niklas is, but he is a versatile guy and should embrace being finally able to get his chance. Yet we’ll need to see if the knee that robbed him of his junior season is ready to go, with only seven months past since surgery. If Welch is able to get a feel for the offense, while staying healthy, this spring should be considered a success.

Ben Koyack: Last season got off on the wrong foot for Koyack and it seemed to stay that way. A couple of early drops against Navy seemed to set the tone for the season, and Koyack — who had a promising debut as a freshman — took a step back as a sophomore.

This spring should be a fresh start for the Oil City, Pennsylvania native, who has an intriguing set of skills and quite a bit of physical prowess himself. At 6-foot-5, 255-pounds, Koyack’s got the heft and athleticism needed to be a big time player, he just needs to get his mojo back after a difficult 2012.

Mike Heuerman: Coming in early is a great situation for Heuerman, who needs to spend the semester enjoying training table and putting in extra time with Paul Longo. What Notre Dame will get out of Heuerman is a great wild card. As a senior in high school, he was largely held out of the stat sheet after his high school switched to a Wing-T offense. Now he’s going to an offense that’s among the most tight end friendly in the country.

It’ll be interesting to see the Irish’s spring roster, if only to see where the young freshman slots in on the program. If he’s close to the 6-foot-4, 225-pounds he was listed at on Signing Day, he’s got a long way to go before this staff will feel comfortable letting him bang in the trenches.

Joey Brooks: Perhaps it says something about the positional depth chart that the Irish coaching staff would take a flier on a basketball reserve that struggled to break into Mike Brey’s playing rotation. Yet Brooks’ tangible traits — namely his size and athleticism– are hard to ignore, even if Brooks couldn’t dominate on the hardwood.

Brooks will participate in his first football practice this week and be one of the true experiments of spring practice. Chances like this have a way of working out until they don’t. It’s easy to point to Kelly’s flips of offensive players Bennett Jackson, Matthias Farley and KeiVarae Russell to plug and play defenders in the secondary, but Lane Clelland’s work as a defensive end was a success until it wasn’t.

Perhaps Brooks signifies a new step in Notre Dame’s evolution. With a solid base of scholarship players, Kelly and his staff will look to unusual methods to add unique pieces to the roster. That could be the basketball team or adding several recruited walk-ons to supplement the kicking and punting competition.

Brooks’ spring session will be a success if he finds himself with the football team this summer and fall. If he can make it through the heavy dose of learning and let his athletic traits shine, it might be another success story for the Irish.

Latest Posts
  1. Notre Dame’s post-spring depth chart: Defense

    Apr 18, 2014, 12:36 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder

    Brian VanGorder’s new defense turned spring practice into a reboot of the defense. Replacing key members of the front seven and changing schemes made for an important 15 practices. Let’s take a look at the post-spring practice depth chart.

  2. Notre Dame’s post-spring depth chart: Offense

    Apr 17, 2014, 1:08 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    The Blue-Gold game is done and spring’s 15 practices are complete. With Easter break around the corner and summer workouts still a few months away, let’s take a look at the moves and shakes on the Irish offensive depth chart.

  3. Core of Irish defense beginning to emerge

    Apr 15, 2014, 1:40 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder Brian Kelly,Brian Van Gorder

    Making an impact during a spring game is always a good thing. But sometimes, the not making one is a good thing, too. The core of the Irish defense didn’t play a lot in the Blue-Gold game.

  4. The good, the bad, the ugly: 85th Blue-Gold game

    Apr 14, 2014, 2:59 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    Spring football is done, with the Blue-Gold game already in the rearview mirror. Let’s recap Saturday’s festivities with a look at the good, the bad and the ugly from the offense’s 63-58 win.

  5. FieldTurf announcement comes at the right time

    Apr 13, 2014, 7:15 PM EDT

    Last Grass

    During the first half of the Blue-Gold game, athletic director Jack Swarbrick joined Alex Flanagan on television to break the game’s biggest news. After years of struggling to maintain the natural grass surface inside Notre Dame Stadium, the university will be installing a synthetic surface inside the stadium.

  6. Five things we learned: 85th annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 3:41 PM EDT

    Malik Zaire Malik Zaire

    A new quarterback depth chart. A new surface coming to Notre Dame Stadium. Unseen weapons making their presence felt all afternoon. There are plenty of takeaways from the 85th annual Blue-Gold game.

  7. Live Blog — 85th Annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 12:07 PM EDT

    Getty Images - Jonathan Daniel Getty Images

    It feels like forever since we gathered in late December to watch the Irish finish the season in rather painful fashion against Rutgers in the House that Steinbrenner built. But we’re back for the 85th annual Blue-Gold game, and another live blog of the festivities.

  8. WATCH LIVE: Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold game

    Apr 12, 2014, 12:59 AM EDT

    Brian Kelly - vs. Michigan Getty Images

    It’s the final practice for the Irish until they return to the field for fall camp in August. With kickoff scheduled for 12:30 p.m. EDT, you can watch the game on NBCSN or via the steaming link below.

  9. Pregame Six Pack: 85th annual Blue-Gold game

    Apr 11, 2014, 1:07 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    Spring is here. Football is in Notre Dame Stadium. As the Irish get ready to do battle in the 85th annual Blue-Gold game, here’s a pregame six pack to get your ready for the action.

  10. Finding Five: Shuffling offensive line pieces still possible

    Apr 10, 2014, 4:57 PM EDT

    USA Today Sports USA Today Sports

    As Notre Dame tries to replace long-time starters Zack Martin and Chris Watt, Brian Kelly and Harry Hiestand are still tinkering with finding their five best offensive linemen.

  11. Blue-Gold game: Ten Irish players to watch

    Apr 9, 2014, 2:31 AM EDT

    Elmer AP

    With Notre Dame’s Blue-Gold game scheduled for this Saturday, we’re taking a closer look at 10 players you need to watch.

  12. Notre Dame-Georgia series in the future?

    Apr 8, 2014, 1:53 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly podium

    After finalizing an ACC scheduling pact that begins in 2014, a CBS Sports report has Notre Dame and Georgia on the verge of agreeing to a home-and-home series that begins in 2018.

  13. Blue-Gold game an important progress report for Golson

    Apr 7, 2014, 4:10 PM EDT

    Everett Golson

    Nobody will confuse Saturday’s Blue-Gold game with a real football game. But for the first time since that fateful January night against Alabama, Everett Golson will be taking snaps that count.

    Sort of.

  14. Defensive back Nicco Fertitta commits to the Irish

    Apr 5, 2014, 10:15 PM EDT

    Fertitta

    Notre Dame received their sixth recruiting commitment of the 2015 class on Saturday, with Las Vegas safety Nicco Fertitta pledging to the Irish. He’s the third recruit to pick Notre Dame in the last week.

  15. Spring Practice: Practice 11 breakdown

    Apr 4, 2014, 8:32 PM EDT

    Notre Dame v Air Force Getty Images

    After two practices outside, the Irish head back inside Loftus, for another practice in their friendly indoor facility. Here’s your overly in-depth look at the latest (and final) UND.com practice video from April 4.

  16. Rashad Kinlaw dismissed from Notre Dame football program

    Apr 4, 2014, 12:04 PM EDT

    Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated Matt Cashore / Irish Illustrated

    Brian Kelly announced Friday that rising sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw has been dismissed from the Irish football program.

  17. Spring brings new challenges to Elston and defensive line

    Apr 3, 2014, 1:44 PM EDT

    Mike Elston

    Tasked with installing a new system and replacing potential first round draft picks Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, Mike Elston has a lot on his plate this spring. Made available to the media on Wednesday, Elston gave us a progress report.

  18. Next generation on offensive line is ready to contribute

    Apr 2, 2014, 8:28 PM EDT

    Elmer AP

    Notre Dame’s offensive line has been anchored by Zack Martin and a stable of veterans since Brian Kelly arrived. But with Martin and Chris Watt gone, a new generation is picking up the slack. And anchored by Ronnie Stanley, Steve Elmer and Mike McGlinchey, the future looks bright.

  19. Spring Practice: Skill position breakdown

    Apr 1, 2014, 1:18 PM EDT

    Steffon Batts, Corey Robinson AP

    With Notre Dame halfway through their spring practices leading up to the Blue-Gold game, it’s time to over-analyze another UND.com practice report video.

  20. Remembering Rockne, 83 years later

    Mar 31, 2014, 5:48 PM EDT

    Knute Rockne

    On this day 83 years ago, college football’s most iconic coach died in a plane crash.