Niklas is the ultimate wild card

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There are plenty of variables at play for the 2012 Fighting Irish. The largest is at the quarterback position. Who will lead the Irish not just when they head to Dublin, but when they continue into the teeth of one of the country’s hardest schedules? Who will fill the sizable void Michael Floyd left after going to the Arizona Cardinals in the first round of the NFL Draft? How will the Irish defense replace their most talented pass-rusher, the mercurial Aaron Lynch, who walked away from Notre Dame to play closer to his home at South Florida?

At this time of year, there always seems to be more questions than answers. Yet one of the bigger questions of the offseason — and at roughly 6-foot-7, 255-pounds, Troy Niklas certainly qualifies as a big question —  might have been cleared up in the past few weeks with the return of the converted tight end to campus.

While the news never was officially announced, Niklas suffered a concussion during spring drills that had some people worried about his future in football. With head injuries taking center stage in football, Niklas, who reportedly suffered concussions during his prep career as well, was keep under tight watch as he recovered from the injury.

With messageboard fodder escalating Niklas’ status to a potentially career-threatening problem, head coach Brian Kelly cleared up any current concerns for Niklas, who has been going full tilt with his teammate.

Here’s the latest, thanks to an exchange between Eric Hansen of the South Bend Tribune and Brian Kelly on Niklas’ health status:

“He feels great,” Kelly said. “He’s cleared for all football activities, but I think any time there is a concussion, certain players are going to react differently.

“Now there’s a protocol that everybody has to go through. I think Troy wanted to look at some other things, and we were happy to get him to some other people — like biofeedback. And he feels really good about it.”

Niklas went through the biofeedback process in his native California in early June, delaying his arrival for summer school by a week.

“At the end of the day, when it comes to those things, I think you have to examine everything that’s out there,” Kelly said, “so a young man goes, ‘Hey I’m good to go. I feel great.’ And that’s where Troy is at this point.”

The move of Niklas to the offensive side of the ball was one of the most radical of the spring, and early returns had the rising sophomore immediately making his presence felt in the depth chart. With All-American Tyler Eifert the Irish’s best aerial weapon, new offensive coordinator Chuck Martin has already let it be known that the ball was going to be headed Eifert’s way early and often, and many times in places where a traditional tight end doesn’t line up.

Yet adding an elite athlete like Niklas into the fold allows the Irish to add another tight end to the field, only this time using him in a more traditional fashion. With the ability to attach in-line as a blocker, while also possessing elite athleticism to run down the field and make a catch, Niklas joins Ben Koyack and Alex Welch as impressive offensive options.

Of course, moving sides of the ball won’t matter if Niklas can’t stay healthy. It’s dangerous to speculate on the future of injuries like concussions, but credit Niklas, his family, and the Irish staff for taking an extra-close look this summer, just to be safe.

If his work in the Loftus center weight room is any indication, Niklas looks healthy and ready to go.

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