NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame

Niklas could be next great Irish tight end

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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.

 

 

 

Five Irish players sign UFA contracts

Matthias Farley
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Notre Dame had seven players selected in the 2016 NFL Draft, trailing only Ohio State, Clemson and UCLA on the weekend tally. But after the draft finished, the Irish had five more players get their shot at playing on Sundays.

Chris Brown signed with the Dallas Cowboys. Romeo Okwara will begin his career with the New York Giants. Matthias Farley and Amir Carlisle signed contracts with the Arizona Cardinal. Elijah Shumate agreed to a contract with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

After missing two seasons, Ishaq Williams will be at Giants rookie camp next weekend as well, working as a tryout player. Expect Jarrett Grace to receive similar opportunities.

Count me among those that thought both Brown and Okwara would hear their names called. Brown’s senior season, not to mention his intriguing measureables, had some projecting him as early as the fifth round.

Okwara, still 20 years old and fresh off leading Notre Dame in sacks in back-to-back seasons, intrigued a lot of teams with his ability to play both defensive end and outside linebacker. He’ll get a chance to make the Giants—the team didn’t draft a defensive end after selecting just one last year, and they’re in desperate need of pass rushers.

Both Shumate and Farley feel like contenders to earn a spot on rosters, both because of their versatility and special teams skills. Shumate played nickel back as a freshman and improved greatly at safety during 2015. Farley bounced around everywhere and was Notre Dame’s special teams captain.

Carlisle might fit a similar mold. He played running back, receiver and returned kicks and punts throughout his college career. With a 4.4 during Notre Dame’s Pro Day, he likely showed the Cardinals enough to take a shot, and now he’ll join an offense with Michael Floyd and Troy Niklas.

 

Robertson picks Cal over Notre Dame, UGA

Demetris Robertson
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Demetris Robertson‘s decision wasn’t trending in Notre Dame’s direction. But those that expected the Savannah star athlete to pick the in-state Bulldogs were in for a surprise when Robertson chose Cal on Sunday afternoon.

Notre Dame’s pursuit of the five-star athlete, recruited to play outside receiver and hopefully replace Will Fuller, likely ended Sunday afternoon with Robertson making the surprise decision to take his substantial talents to Berkeley. And give credit to Robertson for doing what he said all along—picking a school that’ll give him the chance to earn an exceptional education and likely contribute from Day One.

“I am excited to take my talents to the University of California, Berkeley. The first reason is that the education was a big part of my decision. I wanted to keep that foundation,” Robertson said, per CFT. “When I went there, it felt like home. Me and the coaching staff have a great relationship. That’s where I felt were the best of all things for me.”

Adding one final twist in all of this is that Robertson has no letter-of-intent to sign. Because he’s blown three months through Signing Day, Robertson merely enrolls at a college when the time comes. That means until then, Kirby Smart and the Georgia staff will continue to sell Robertson on staying home and helping the Dawgs rebuild. Smart visited with Robertson Saturday night and had multiple assistant coaches at his track meet this weekend.

Summer school begins in June for Notre Dame. Their freshman receiving class looks complete with early enrollee Kevin Stepherson and soon-to-arrive pass-catchers Javon McKinley and Chase Claypool.

Sheldon Day drafted in 4th round by Jaguars

North Carolina v Notre Dame
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Former Notre Dame captain Sheldon Day didn’t have to wait long on Saturday to hear his name called. The Indianapolis native, All-American, and the Irish’s two-time defensive lineman of the year was pick number 103, the fourth pick of the fourth round on Saturday afternoon.

Day was the seventh Irish player drafted, following first rounders Ronnie Stanley and Will Fuller, second round selections Jaylon Smith and Nick Martin, and third rounders KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise.

Day has a chance to contribute as he joins the 24th-ranked defense in the league. Joining a draft class heavy on defensive players—Jalen Ramsey, Myles Jack and Yannick Ngakoue already picked ahead of him—the front seven will also include last year’s No. 3 overall pick Dante Fowler, who missed the entire season with a knee injury.

Scouted by the Jaguars at the Senior Bowl, Day doesn’t necessarily have the size to be a traditional defensive tackle. But under Gus Bradley’s attacking system (Bradley coordinated the Seahawks defense for four seasons), Day will find a niche and a role in a young defense that’s seen a heavy investment the past two years.

Smith, Martin, Russell and Prosise all drafted Friday night

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 13: William Fuller #7 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish and Nick Martin #72 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrate a touchdown during the game against the Purdue Boilermakers at Lucas Oil Stadium on September 13, 2014 in Indianapolis, Indiana.  (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
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Jaylon Smith, Nick Martin, KeiVarae Russell and C.J. Prosise were all selected on Friday, with four Irish teammates taken on the second night of the NFL Draft. As mentioned, Smith came off the board at pick 34, with the Cowboys gambling on the injured knee of the Butkus Award winner. Nick Martin was selected at pick 50, joining former teammate Will Fuller in Houston.

The third round saw Russell and Prosise come off the board, with Kansas City jumping on the confident cornerback and the Seahawks taking Notre Dame’s breakout running back. It capped off a huge night for the Irish with Sheldon Day, one of the more productive football players in college football, still on the board for teams to pick.

Here’s a smattering of instant reactions from the immediate aftermath.