Jul 12, 2014, 11:00 AM EDT
After spending 2013 on the sidelines, opportunity comes to Mike Heuerman in 2014. With Troy Niklas a surprise entrant in the NFL Draft and the departure of veteran Alex Welch to Miami (Ohio), Heuerman and fellow sophomore Durham Smythe are the next men in for Brian Kelly and the Irish offense.
At tight end, that usually means a front line player. Since Anthony Fasano arrived in South Bend, Notre Dame’s run of excellence at the position has been nothing short of amazing. But if Heuerman is to be the next great one, it’ll be from a slighty different mold.
Let’s take a closer look at Naples, Florida native.
Sophomore, No. 9
When it comes to elite recruits, Heuerman certainly had the offers to match the profile. With Alabama, Auburn, Florida State, Miami, Ohio State, Michigan and Oregon on his offer list, it was a battle between Ohio State and Notre Dame for Heuerman, whose brother Jeff starts for Urban Meyer.
But the Irish beat out the Buckeyes for Heuerman, who enrolled early and participated in spring practice. He also served as a chief recruiter for the Irish. Here’s what Kelly had to say about Heuerman, who spent most of his senior season in high school as a blocker and mostly wreaked havoc as a defensive end.
“That tight end position as you know, we like to use it in multiple fashions, whether he’s split out as a wide receiver or if he’s in‑line blocking or moving him around, Mike fits that profile,” Kelly said. He was an early commit to us. He was part of the interesting Irish Mob, if you will, this year, which was taking its own life form online and through Twitter and Facebook, and he was one of those guys recruiting other players in this class. And I think that’s a great thing. That says a lot about what he feels about Notre Dame and the kind of kids he wants in the class, and Mike was active in that. But he’s going to be a fine football player for us. He continues to develop at that position. We’ve got an outstanding one.”
Freshman Season (2013): Did not see action.
College coaches at some of the best programs around the country saw something special in Heuerman, who may not have had the elite recruiting ranking of some, but certainly had an impressive cohort when you look at his offers. Heuerman is an intriguing player, an off-profile player that at 6-foot-3.5 and only 225 pounds is essentially Michael Floyd’s size… when he was a freshman.
That alone makes Heuerman look like the niche player of the sophomore tight end duo, with Smythe looking capable of playing attached to the line of scrimmage. But even that might be too limited of a view on his skills, as his struggles keeping on weight belie the fact that he’s sturdy and strong in the weight room.
If the Irish are indeed playing in a new-look offense that utilizes the spread and speed, then Heuerman is the perfect candidate to starting doing some of the things we still haven’t seen in Kelly’s offense. And with the Irish playbook capable of flexing tight ends out wide and utilizing size mismatches, Heuerman seems as good of a candidate as any to find playing time wreaking havoc in the flats, down the field, or working as a still-never-used H-back.
Having just committed a few paragraphs to ways the Irish offense could use Heuerman, I’m still skeptical that we’ll see that many new wrinkles in Kelly and Mike Denbrock’s system. And while I don’t think Heuerman’s lack of prototypical size is going to be a death blow, I still think he’s a work in progress that will need to prove he can block before he gets the opportunity to catch the football.
One place I think Heuerman will help immediately is special teams. With the Irish struggling to cover kicks in 2013, Heuerman is the perfect combination of power and speed that can run down the field and make a tackle.
The depth chart at the position certainly works in Heuerman’s favor… for now. Ben Koyack will most likely have every down duties. Smythe has drawn some rave reviews this summer and Kelly spoke highly of him during bowl prep as well. But before freshmen Tyler Luatua (another undersized blocker) and Nic Weishar (still a string bean) begin competing, Heuerman will have a chance to establish a niche in the offense.
So for a redshirt freshman will four years of competition remaining, 2014 could be an important year.