Freshman Focus: Durham Smythe

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It’s not often Notre Dame gets in late on a recruit committed to Texas and ends up getting him to sign with the Irish. But that’s exactly what happened with tight end Durham Smythe, with the Texas native walking away from his commitment to Mack Brown and the Longhorns in favor of Brian Kelly’s tight end friendly scheme.

With the Irish already having Mike Heuerman in the recruiting class, Smythe, who committed to Texas back in March but decommitted in December, looks more like a perk of an undefeated regular season than a must have. But with the depth chart veteran heavy and the Irish offense constantly evolving, accepting the commitment of a lifelong Irish fan — and an excellent pass catching tight end — made too much sense.

Let’s take a closer look at Durham Smythe.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

There’s some variance between recruiting services, with Rivals viewing Smythe as a three-star prospect while 247 has him in their top 250. But with a (one-time) Texas commitment, and offers from Florida, Georgia, Michigan, Miami, Oregon and Stanford, it’s hard to see the 6-foot-5, 240-pound tight end as anything but an elite prospect.

Kelly talked about what made Smythe such an attractive prospect.

“He hasn’t even tapped his potential at 6’5″, 230, and he’s 230 right now,” Kelly said on Signing Day. “He’s going to be obviously a big, physical player for us but has the soft hands and the ability to get out and run routes. We’re excited about Durham coming in later in the process, but getting a chance to meet his family and spending time, it’s a great fit.”

After stepping away from his commitment to Texas in December, Smythe took an official visit in early January to Stanford before visiting South Bend less than two weeks before Signing Day. He left campus committed to the Irish.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

Irish fans didn’t have months to explore Smythe and what he brings to the Irish offense. But looking at the depth chart, moving ahead of three veterans — Alex Welch, Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack, might be too much to ask of a freshman.

That said, there’s a multiplicity to the Irish offense, and nobody on the current depth chart has shown themselves to be an every down lock like Tyler Eifert or Kyle Rudolph had. Both Heuerman and Smythe need to do some growing into their frames, but each seem to be a capable receiver first, with the ability to battle in the trenches coming after some time in the weight room.

Still, saving a year of eligibility wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, especially with Welch, Koyack and Niklas all potentially exiting in the same year.

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Again, without a long look at Smythe, we won’t truly know what the Irish have until we’ve seen him work with the team. But there’s every reason to be excited about a kid with elite recruiting offers and size and hands you just can’t teach.

As we look at the way the depth chart plays out, many expect Alex Welch to come back strong after a knee injury ended his 2012 during the preseason. The staff hasn’t lost any belief in Ben Koyack after an up and down sophomore season, and Troy Niklas looks like he’ll be a standout player in his final two seasons of eligibility.

That said, there’s room for everyone in this offense, with last season showing the multiple ways tight ends can be used. During spring, we saw the Z (slot) receiver position manned by a tight end, and there’s reason to believe that two and three tight ends could be on the field at the same time, making for some difficult run-pass conflicts for opposing defenses.

The staff loves Smythe’s ability to catch the football, and with the size he walks onto campus with, there’s every reason to believe he’ll find a way into this offense. When is the big question.