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Niklas could be next great Irish tight end

Apr 8, 2013, 6:00 AM EST

NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame AP

It’s been a nice run at tight end for Notre Dame over the past decade. The Irish have produced more than their share of early-round NFL tight ends, with Anthony Fasano, John Carlson, and Kyle Rudolph soon to be joined by Tyler Eifert. After learning the position on the fly last season after playing his freshman season at linebacker, Troy Niklas has the potential to join that group.

“He can be as good as he wants to be,” tight ends coach Scott Booker said.

One look at Niklas and it’s easy to understand why. At 6-foot-7, he’s bigger than all his impressive predecessors. With a physique that looks sculpted from granite, he’s also the most physically imposing of the group. And while he might not have the receiver skills of a Eifert, or be as rugged and versatile as Fasano yet, Niklas has a diversity of skills you just don’t see in a guy that a ton of people expected to grow into a left tackle.

As the Irish offense evolves with the departure of Eifert, the team’s main pass catching option last season, the tight end position will continue to change. With Niklas the leader at the position, and veteran depth provided by Alex Welch and Ben Koyack, that likely means a return to a more traditional use of the position, taking advantage of the depth chart’s improved physicality.

“We’re just looking to progress the offense in every aspect,” Booker said, when asked about playing without their Mackey Award winner. “At tight end specifically we’re looking to progress the offense by being able to block in-line, but also being able to be a receiving threat down the field. However we can do that we’re able to do that.”

Those duty seem a custom fit for the Southern California native, who has come a long way since flip-flopping the five and eight on his jersey after an impressive rookie season. With a preseason injury to Alex Welch, Niklas was given a baptism under fire last season, learning on the fly the intricacies of a pretty demanding position.

“Tight end means being able to block and receive and do all the things you guys see us doing,” Booker said. “If you would see the Troy in the Michigan game and the Troy in the USC game it’s really not the same guy.

“Then just to see the progress again from the end of last season to now spring.  I enjoy those guys really maturing, getting confidence in their abilities and getting better with technique.”

With the depth chart clear in front of Niklas, the opportunity is there for him to thrive, especially in an offense where touches will likely be distributed a little bit more evenly by returning starter Everett Golson.

He may not be the pass catching machine that Eifert was the past few season, but Niklas’ ability to play big along the line of scrimmage or release and wreak havoc in the pass game as a big body mismatch could help turn him into the next great Irish tight end.

 

 

 

  1. bernhtp - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:00 AM

    Eifert’s receiving records are safe for a very long time despite leaving with another year of eligibility remaining. His athleticism set him apart, having a high vertical and the wiggly ability to catch the ball in an unusually large area.

    Niklas will be an interesting replacement. While I don’t see Troy having Eifert’s soft hands and extra-large receiving radius, he brings an extra level of size, strength and brute physicality. He’s already come a long way since the Stanford game where his blocking skills were shown to require development. I expect the progression to continue and for him to become an important team asset, albeit one of a different flavor than Eifert.

    Here’s a good video on Eifert:

    http://video.nbcsports.msnbc.com/nbc-sports/51340470#51340470

  2. yaketyyacc - Apr 8, 2013 at 9:29 AM

    another good reason to feel that the Irish will bode well in 2o13. NIKLAS. Coach Booler: he(Niklas) can go as far as he wants to. from his past performance, far up seems to be the direction. thanks Keith for a sobering evaluation of this future Irish star.

  3. 1historian - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:15 AM

    I don’t think we’re going to miss either Teo or Eifert this season. Pre-season talk will naturally center around them to some extent but Grace will do fine and so will Niklas.

    • bernhtp - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:52 AM

      To say we won’t miss Te’o and Eifert – both likely first-round picks and team captains – is plain silly. While I love Niklas’ potential – and I do think he will be very good – there is still a significant gap between very good and record-setting great. Ditto for Grace and his fill-in for Te’o.

      • 1historian - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:10 PM

        Once they’re gone they’re gone. I don’t think Kelly or Diaco or anyone is losing sleep wondering “how can we rep[lace these guys?” Next guy in. You build the offense around the talent you have, same with the defense.

        Notre Dame’s program is at the point where you say – “You don’t replace – you reload.”

        To sum up: We’ll see.

        I stand by what I said.

      • bernhtp - Apr 8, 2013 at 4:31 PM

        When you define “miss someone” in such a way, you make the term completely meaningless because then you don’t ever miss anyone.

        Te’o and Eifert were stellar performers who likely won’t be matched in impact for a very long time to come. I will miss them, what they did for the program, and the difference they made. Their performance won’t be replaced next year, at least not by singular efforts.

  4. 1historian - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:16 AM

    Remember that this team is 7/8 Kelly recruits and 1/8 Weis recruits

  5. 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:20 AM

    Just wait for the naysayers to chime in with “oh, niklas is no eifert!” and “he’s not fast enough and can’t jump high enough…” To these criticisms I will offer the following; TN’s height, weight and strength really make him more of a offensive tackle than a tight end, but still an offensive tackle that can get off the line, get downfield and has nice hands. The result will be that BK will not have the “Eifert jumpball” to bail out EG and the offense, but with an improved EG and improved receiving corps, BK and offense shouldn’t need this option as much as last year. The other side is that with a relatively inexperienced backfield and less experienced offensive line than last year, having a third offensive tackle who is a threat to also catch passes will be a tremendous attribute and serve to mask some early growing pains. Niklas may not be the next Eifert, but mark my words, Niklas will make sportscenter’s top ten by driving his man back 10 yards then burying him into the ground multiple times each game.

    • rayguy14 - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:13 PM

      The fact that we don’t have the “Eifert jumpball,” might do this offense some good. As we saw in the BCS game, sometimes that security blanket tended to hamstring our offense. Eifert’s departure should allow for the offense to continue to develop.

      • 1historian - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:22 PM

        You seem to assume that Nicklas won’t be able to do the same thing.
        The dude is 6’7 – one inch taller than Eifert – and weighs about 10 lbs. more.
        What’s to say he can’t do the same?

        144 and a wakeup!

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:29 PM

        I couldn’t agree more. It was the same way with leaning too heavily on Michael Floyd to bail out a struggling offense. That drove me nuts too.

  6. shaunodame - Apr 8, 2013 at 10:44 AM

    Did anyone else know that Troy Niklas is Clay Matthews nephew?

    Would love to be part of that Thanksgiving backyard Turkey Bowl!

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 8, 2013 at 11:30 AM

      i bet they sweep the teeth up off the floor after that game.

  7. alsatiannd - Apr 8, 2013 at 11:33 AM

    I’m probably reading too much into it, but it’s a red flag when a coach says, “He can be as good as he wants to be.” In other words, the coach has tried everything he can think, but the player is still under performing. At best it’s a risky psy-op way to motivate a player: maybe the player takes up the challenge and flourishes, maybe the player nosedives into the tank.

    • dudeacow - Apr 8, 2013 at 11:51 AM

      Kelly has given multiple reports that Niklas is stepping up this spring and really performing well, so I wouldn’t worry.

    • bernhtp - Apr 8, 2013 at 11:52 AM

      It basically means that there is enormous potential, but much of it has yet to be realized. It’s coach speak for “he’ll be really, really good if he puts in the work.”

    • nudeman - Apr 8, 2013 at 12:19 PM

      alsatiannd
      Funny … that was exactly my reaction. “He can be as good as he wants to be” is usually smokescreen for “guy has a lot of ability; just wish he’d work harder”; or “guy has a lot of ability; but not sure he’s ever really going to blossom on my watch”; or ” this kid is driving me NUTS”.

      He was totally exposed as a blocker against Stanford last year, whiffing so badly on one block that Golson was almost decapitated.
      At 6’7″ he’s not ever going to have great lateral movement.
      And now we’re supposed to believe that everything is cool? He’s totally figured it out? Definitely a possibility. But I doubt it.

      I wonder if we’ve all gotten intoxicated with this Hercules bullshit. Hey, maybe I’m wrong and he really will be great.
      And maybe he’ll catch 11 passes this year for 93 yards.

      I tend to think the latter is closer to the mark.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:16 PM

        I was trying to ignore that comment by BK because I didn’t like thinking that it sounded like sort of a cheap shot. It sounds along the lines of the remark BK made about Kendall Moore, that Moore has awesome ability and is a big hitter, he just needs to hit the right guys (~doesn’t have the position mastered mentally).

        Sure compliments are nice, even backhanded ones I suppose, and I understand coaches sending messages to players in the press is commonplace in all sports at all levels (and it gives us something to dissect and argue over), the whole practice of it rubs me the wrong way. It seems gossipy and immature. If TN or Moore or EG needs to pick it up, does it really help the process that their coach is making snide remarks about them to the press? I can’t believe that this is how 18-22 yr. olds get motivated to lift weights, watch film, etc. Also, if coaches feel like they need external sources of motivation, like the press, to light a fire under their kids’ a$$es and inspire them, what does that say about the coach and the staff?

      • nudeman - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:41 PM

        We don’t know much that’s gone on with guys like Niklas or Moore or Ishaq, another guy who I think drives them crazy. Maybe they’ve tried absolutely every form of support, positive feedback, mature coaching, prodding, begging, more positive reinforcement … and it hasn’t worked.

        Although Kelly has a problem with being too cocky, I don’t think I’d characterize what he said about Moore as “snide”. Just a little poke in the ribs.

        Here’s a fact: Not all ANY team’s players love the game and are 150% committed in the film room, weight room, practice, etc. Some are just there because God blessed them with a lot of ability, they were stars in HS without working hard, and football is what they’ve always done. They’re not consumed by it, contrary to what we’d like to believe. I sense Ishaq is that type of guy. Niklas on the other hand seems committed, but I’m not sure how much of what he can do on the field is hype vs. real. Tired of the Hercules stuff. Learn to block and catch some passes.

        Point is, every team is FULL of guys like that, and the enduring coaching challenge is how to break through with them. If it takes a comment in the press, I’m fine with that as long as it’s not outright insulting or derogatory.

  8. fnc111 - Apr 8, 2013 at 12:14 PM

    Niklas is a stud. My worry isn’t him. It’s the lack of a QB that will hurt him and his progression going forward. The times the ball was thrown at him on the money he made the catch last year. He has very good hands. Just watch the Purdue game from 2012 when he hauled in that 30 yard pass. Golson can’t throw a fade route to save his life though.

    • rayguy14 - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:16 PM

      Oklahoma…Chris Brown…watch more football.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:37 PM

        Stanford—Eifert TD was also one our friend missed.

    • papadec - Apr 8, 2013 at 2:06 PM

      IMO – Golson will be better than last year. Niklas @ his size will be a threat across the middle (to start the season) – like it seems other teams took advantage of the ND LBs, last year. As the season progresses & TN improves – they’ll throw him passes further down field. He will be hard to stop across the middle.

    • andy44teg - Apr 8, 2013 at 5:28 PM

      fnc111

      I’m getting sick (congratulations) of you posting nothing but asinine, negative, and down-right stupid comments on here without even trying to explain or defend your comments when you come under fire. What’s the point, other than to piss people off???….What a sad, pathetic, sorry life you must lead.

      • mtflsmitty - Apr 9, 2013 at 12:08 AM

        Andy – Open mouth
        Fnc – Insert hook

        REPEAT

      • andy44teg - Apr 9, 2013 at 1:11 AM

        Hey..I told him congrats…I just couldn’t contain myself any longer

  9. 1historian - Apr 8, 2013 at 1:19 PM

    IMO Te’o was very good but not all-time. Last year the hype that started with the death of his grandfather and his (imaginary) girl friend just got worse and worse (or better and better) with every undefeated week.

    ND’s publicity department takes 2nd place to NONE and rare is the writer with the cojones to point that out w/o being accused of being a ‘hater’. .

    If he is chosen in the 1st round on April 25 I’ll show up with one word – whoops.

    Eifert in the 1st round, Te’o in the 2nd.

    Best of luck to both of them.

  10. 25kgold - Apr 8, 2013 at 5:20 PM

    Practice??? We talk’en bout practice, man!! Not a game….Practice! http://youtu.be/GQFgqvoJf3o

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