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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 89 Brock Wright, tight end

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-4 ½, 250 pounds
2018-19 year, eligibility: Sophomore with three seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2018.
Depth chart: Wright will serve as the primary backfield blocking tight end again this season while remaining behind senior Alizé Mack, sophomore Cole Kmet and fifth-year Nic Weishar when it comes to incorporating tight ends into the passing game.
Recruiting: A consensus four-star recruit, Wright was the top-ranked tight end in the country per rivals.com.

CAREER TO DATE
Wright appeared in 11 games as a freshman, almost solely as a blocking back. A shoulder injury kept him out of the New Year’s Day Citrus Bowl, but he fully recovered by the end of spring practice, making two catches for 21 yards in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21 while being targeted three times.

ON HIS HEALTH
Wright credited the Notre Dame medical staff for readying him for full contact before the end of spring practice.

“The medical staff and our coaches have been awesome in working with me to get back,” he said in mid-April. “After the doctors cleared me a couple weeks ago, I knew it was just time to get my strength back and get back in there. The confidence part just comes with getting back out there and playing again.”

Some of that confidence had to do with taking a hit after a catch and holding onto the ball. At first, that was an issue in some spring practices for Wright. Coming off a shoulder injury, that certainly makes some logical sense.

“He’s done a really good job of coming back in after a shoulder injury and not feeling like I can’t get back right in there,” Irish head coach Brian Kelly said last month. “He got banged pretty good today on a little boot and he bounces right back up.

“What he’s done is he’s put himself back in the position to be a solid player for us after shoulder surgery. I say that because that doesn’t happen easily. Guys come back, they’re hesitant. They’re not fully-engaged in it. He’s picked up and I think put himself back into a position where we didn’t even know he had surgery.”

QUOTE(S)
Wright’s physical play combined with his solid hands makes him a unique asset for Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“The bar moves from one year to the next,” Kelly said. “Is he going to be Alizé Mack in terms of the physical [tools]? Or a Cole Kmet? Probably not, but he doesn’t need to be.

“We didn’t recruit him for that. We wanted a great point of attack blocker. A guy that could catch the ball off of our boot game, our play-action game. A guy that we could use with his size in the red zone. I think he’s going to be that and more.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“Wright’s early enrollment sets him on a fast track to playing time in 2017, even if behind both [former Irish tight end Durham] Smythe and Mack. It does not seem to be putting the cart before the horse to think Wright has already passed [Tyler] Luatua and Weishar in the general offensive plan. Perhaps those two seniors could be utilized in more run-specific situations, but Wright should fit well into Long’s scheme.

“This is where remembering Long’s history using tight ends is quite pertinent.”

2018 OUTLOOK
Amid a crowded position group, Wright has no unrealistic expectations of what he can contribute.

“Just helping out in any way I can,” he said. “Coach mentioned earlier, point of attack blocking, red zone, naked [bootlegs], stuff like that. Getting out to the flats. Anything I can do to help out in those types of scenarios.”

As a freshman, Wright was both physically and mentally ready to handle blocking duties, something players multiple years his elder oftentimes struggle with. That role did not often include Wright slipping out on pass routes, but both his expectations and Blue-Gold Game performance indicate that wrinkle will be available this fall.

If that is indeed the case, establishing it as a proven possibility early in the season would keep defenses on their heels the rest of the year. Even if Wright catches just half a dozen passes for a total of 30-40 yards, every time he lines up as an H-back and slips into the flat, opposing defensive coordinators will have to devote a linebacker to him. Especially against an offense led by a dangerous runner like senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush, forcing a second-level defender to make that commitment could greatly hamper a defense.

DOWN THE ROAD
Shoulder injuries remain tricky. Any long-term projections about Wright have to include the disclaimer of that health concern.

With Weishar out of eligibility after this season and Mack entertaining NFL possibilities, Wright will quickly become even more of a focal point. While the freshman duo of George Takacs (early-enrolled) and Tommy Tremble (incoming) will keep the depth chart stocked both in quantity and quality, Wright’s physical stature should keep him ahead of them for some time to come.

Frankly, the duo of Kmet and Wright could give the Notre Dame offense a multitude of looks for a few years to come.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
No. 99 Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle, senior
No. 97 Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle, senior
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 94 Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle, sophomore
No. 93 (theoretically) Ja’Mion Franklin, defensive tackle, incoming freshman
No. 91 Ade Ogundeji, defensive end, junior
No. 90 (theoretically) Tommy Tremble, tight end, incoming freshman

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