Irish A-to-Z: Mike Heuerman


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.


6’3.5″ 225-lbs.
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.

Evaluating VanGorder’s scheme against the option

ANNAPOLIS, MD - SEPTEMBER 19:  Keenan Reynolds #19 of the Navy Midshipmen rushes for his fifth touchdown in the fourth quarter against the East Carolina Pirates during their 45-21 win on September 19, 2015 in Annapolis, Maryland.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)

Notre Dame’s ability to slow down Georgia Tech’s vaunted option attack served as one of the high points to the Irish’s early season success. After spending a considerable amount of offseason energy towards attacking the option and learning more, watching the Irish hold the Yellow Jackets in check was a huge victory for Brian VanGorder, Bob Elliott and the rest of Notre Dame’s staff.

But it was only half the battle.

This weekend, Keenan Reynolds and Navy’s veteran offense come to town looking to wreak some havoc on a defense that’s struggled to slow it down. And after getting a look at some of the new tricks the Irish had in store for Paul Johnson, Ken Niumatalolo and his offensive coaches have likely started plotting their counterpunches days in advance.

How did Notre Dame’s defense slow down Georgia Tech? Brian Kelly credited an aggressive game plan and continually changing looks. So while some were quick to wonder whether Notre Dame’s scheme changes were the biggest piece of the puzzle, it’s interesting to see how the Irish’s strategic decisions looked from the perspective of an option expert.

Over at “The Birddog” blog, Michael James utilizes his spread option expertise and takes a look at how the Irish defended Georgia Tech. His conclusion:

Did the Irish finally figure out the magic formula that will kill this gimmick high school offense for good?

Not exactly.

The Irish played a fairly standard 4-3 for a large chunk of the game. James thought Notre Dame’s move to a 3-5-3 was unique, though certainly not the first time anybody’s used that alignment.

But what stood out wasn’t necessarily the Xs and Os, but rather how much better Notre Dame’s personnel reacted to what they were facing.

Again, from the Birddog Blog:

The real story here, and what stood out to me when watching Notre Dame play Georgia Tech, was how much faster the Irish played compared to past years. I don’t mean that they are more athletic, although this is considered to be the best Notre Dame team in years. I mean that they reacted far more quickly to what they saw compared to what they’ve done in the past.

Usually, when a team plays a spread option offense, one of the biggest challenges that defensive coordinators talk about is replicating the offense’s speed and precision. It’s common to hear them say that it takes a series or two to adjust. That was most certainly not the case here.

James referenced our Media Day observations and seemed impressed by the decision to bring in walk-on Rob Regan to captain what’s now known as the SWAG team. And while VanGorder’s reputation as a mad scientist had many Irish fans wondering if the veteran coordinator cooked something up that hadn’t been seen, it was more a trait usually associated with Kelly that seems to have made the biggest difference.

“It wasn’t that the game plan was so amazing (although it was admittedly more complex and aggressive than we’ve seen out of other Notre Dame teams),” James wrote. “It was plain ol’ coachin’ ’em up.

“Notre Dame’s players were individually more prepared for what they’d see. Notre Dame is already extremely talented, but talented and prepared? You can’t adjust for that. That’s more challenging for Navy than any game plan.”

Irish prepared to take on the best Navy team in years


Brian Kelly opens every Tuesday press conference with compliments for an opponent. But this week, it was easy to see that his kind words for Navy were hardly lip service.

Ken Niumatalolo will bring his most veteran—and probably his most talented—group of Midshipmen into Notre Dame Stadium, looking to hand the Irish their first loss in the series since Kelly’s debut season in South Bend.

“Ken Niumatalolo has done an incredible job in developing his program and currently carrying an eight-game winning streak,” Kelly said. “I voted for them in USA Today Top 25 as a top-25 team. I think they’ve earned that. But their defense as well has developed. It’s played the kind of defense that I think a top 25 team plays.”

With nine months of option preparation, Notre Dame needs to feel confident about their efforts against Georgia Tech. Then again, the Midshipmen saw that game plan and likely have a few tricks in store.

As much as the Irish have focused their efforts on stopping Keenan Reynolds and the triple-option, Navy’s much-improved defense is still looking for a way to slow down a team that’s averaged a shade over 48 points a game against them the last four seasons.

Niumatalolo talked about that when asked about slowing down Will Fuller and Notre Dame’s skill players, an offense that’s averaged over 48 points a game during this four-game win streak.

“We’ve got to try our best to keep [Fuller] in front of us, that’s easier said than done,” Niumatalolo said. “We’ve got to play as close as we can without their guys running past us. I’ve been here a long time and we’re still trying to figure out how to do that.”


Navy heads to South Bend unbeaten, defeating former Irish defensive coordinator Bob Diaco‘s team just two Saturdays ago. And while Diaco raised a few eyebrows when he said Navy would be the team’s toughest test of the year (they already played a ranked Missouri team), the head of the UConn program couldn’t have been more effusive in his praise.

“I have been competing against Navy for some time and this is the best Navy team I have seen for, let’s say the last half-dozen years,” UConn coach Bob Diaco told the New Haven Register. “I could click on footage from three years ago and see a lion’s share of players who are playing right now in the game as freshmen and sophomores. They have a veteran group, a strong group, a talented group and they look like the stiffest competition among our first four opponents.”

As usual, there will be those who look at this game as the breather between Clemson and USC. That won’t be anybody inside The Gug. So as the Irish try to get back to their winning ways in front of a home crowd, a complete team effort is needed.

“I’ll take a win by one,” Kelly said Tuesday. “That would be fine with me.”