NCAA Football: Purdue at Notre Dame

Niklas could be next great Irish tight end


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.




Irish add commitment from CB Donte Vaughn

Donte Vaughn

Notre Dame’s recruiting class grew on Monday. And in adding 6-foot-3 Memphis cornerback Donte Vaughn, it grew considerably.

The Irish added another jumbo-sized skill player in Vaughn, beating out a slew of SEC offers for the intriguing cover man. Vaughn picked Notre Dame over offers from Auburn, LSU, Miami, Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Tennessee and Texas A&M among others.

He made the announcement on Monday, his 18th birthday:

It remains to be seen if Vaughn can run like a true cornerback. But his length certainly gives him a skill-set that doesn’t currently exist on the Notre Dame roster.

Interestingly enough, Vaughn’s commitment comes a cycle after Brian VanGorder made news by going after out-of-profile coverman Shaun Crawford, immediately offering the 5-foot-9 cornerback after taking over for Bob Diaco, who passed because of Crawford’s size. An ACL injury cut short Crawford’s freshman season before it got started, but not before Crawford already proved he’ll be a valuable piece of the Irish secondary for years to come.

Vaughn is another freaky athlete in a class that already features British Columbia’s Chase Claypool. With a safety depth chart that’s likely turning over quite a bit in the next two seasons, Vaughn can clearly shift over if that’s needed, though Notre Dame adding length like Vaughn clearly points to some of the shifting trends after Richard Sherman went from an average wide receiver to one of the best cornerbacks in football, and Vaughn will be asked to play on the outside.

Vaughn is the 15th member of Notre Dame’s 2016 signing class. He is the fifth defensive back, joining safeties D.J. Morgan, Jalen Elliott and Spencer Perry along with cornerback Julian Love. The Irish project to take one more.

With Notre Dame expecting another huge recruiting weekend with USC coming to town, it’ll be very interesting to see how the Irish staff close out this recruiting class.




Days before facing Notre Dame, USC coach Steve Sarkisian to take leave of absence


When Notre Dame takes on rival USC on Saturday, they’ll be facing a Trojans team without a head coach. USC athletic director Pat Haden announced today that effective immediately, head coach Steve Sarkisian will be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Offensive coordinator Clay Helton will be interim head coach.

While the details are still coming into focus, multiple reports point to another incident with alcohol. Haden himself said that he made the decision after speaking with Sarkisian.

“I called Steve and talked to him. It was very clear to me that he is not healthy. I asked him to take an indefinite leave of absence,” Haden said, according to multiple Los Angeles media reports.

Sarkisian’s decision-making and alcohol use came into the spotlight this August when the head coach made inappropriate statements at a large booster event. Sarkisian addressed the media after the incident, acknowledged mixing medication with alcohol, and vowed to seek help and not to make the same mistake again.

Today’s incident appears to be a relapse, and one that requires immediate attention. Helton ran the team’s practice today and steps back into an interim head coaching role, a job he handled after the Trojans fired Lane Kiffin and Ed Orgeron left after not being awarded the permanent job.

“Fortunately or unfortunately, I have been in this situation before,” Helton said. “Once again, I’m very fortunate to have a group of first-class kids that are extremely talented and want to do something special here.”

This is the second major sports persona to leave his season to seek treatment in recent weeks. New York Yankees pitcher CC Sabathia left the team to seek treatment for alcohol issues. The Trojans are coming off an upset loss to Washington on Thursday night, losing 17-12 as a 17-point favorite.