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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.
2019-20 year, eligibility: A junior, Wright has two seasons of eligibility remaining, including 2019.
Depth chart: Wright will be tight end No. 1B this season, behind classmate Cole Kmet. When both are on the field, not a rare occurrence in Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system, Wright will align with the line while Kmet will typically detach into the slot position. Wright has also often served in an H-back role, but that may be in the past as he has progressed up the depth chart.
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 (missing the Citrus Bowl with a shoulder injury addressed in the subsequent offseason), exclusively in a blocking back role. He reprised that duty in 2018 — keep in mind, the tight end depth chart last year included not only Kmet, but also Alizé Mack and Nic Weishar. In 12 games, Wright pulled in two passes on three targets for 12 yards and a touchdown.

Looking at those targets is to stare at a small sample size, but one underlying theme to them does exist: Who threw the passes. When Brandon Wimbush was knocked out of the game momentarily against Vanderbilt, Ian Book was quickly needed to convert a third-and-1. He found Wright for nine yards. Of course, it was a play Long specifically chose because Book was comfortable with it and it fit the third-down need, but that fact alone says a bit.

A week later, in Book’s first 2019 start, his first touchdown pass went to Wright. Aside from a mop-up attempt from Phil Jurkovec later in that blowout of Wake Forest, those two targets were it for Wright last season in the passing game. His fit as Book’s security blanket was not needed once Book got rolling, but that particular aspect stands out, nonetheless.

Even in last month’s Blue-Gold Game, the only pertinent pass toward Wright came from Book, a seven-yard completion.

QUOTE(S)
Nary an offseason weight change occurs without its reasoning resulting in an ideal player. All such assessments should be taken with tablespoons of salt. That said, Wright lost 10-12 pounds this winter, setting him up to become a passing game option rather than simply a backfield blocker.

“Brock is strong as an ox,” Long said at the start of spring practices. “Being 260 and now 248 has been a huge difference for him. The way he’s moving — and it’s year three for him, too. He’s confident in the offense, he’s not having to think what foot do I step. He’s just going. He’s been a surprise right now for us.”

Long’s assessment did not change at the end of spring practices.

“Brock has had a great spring, been steady all 14 practices so far,” he said. “… Just see a confidence in him after three years, getting his body right, being in the offense and knowing how to execute at a high level.”

WHAT WAS PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
“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.”

2019 OUTLOOK
Book’s comfort with Wright stands out, as does Long’s preference to utilize multiple tight ends. Wright will still be second fiddle to Kmet, but that role can produce in Long’s offense, particularly with Book targeting the tight ends.

Last season Kmet and Weishar combined for 18 catches for 172 yards and two touchdowns. Wright could match that output this season, and given the expectations of a high-scoring offense, he should exceed those numbers.

From a more abstract view, doing so would be a strong sign Long’s offense is operating at a high level. Notre Dame has not quite managed the multiple tight end attack Long prefers in his first two seasons with the Irish. While Mack produced a decent amount last year, Kmet’s 15 catches for 162 yards were held back by a balky ankle. In 2017, Durham Smythe’s 15 catches for 244 yards and a score were numbers worthy of a No. 2 tight end, but Mack’s 19 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown were lagging in the leading role.

Wright does not need to star for Long’s system to be clicking, but he does need to be productive. 20 catches for 200 yards and a touchdown or two would suffice.

DOWN THE ROAD
If Kmet stars in 2019, utterly stars, he could ponder jumping to the NFL with a season of eligibility remaining. A strong season, in conjunction with his recruiting profile and measurables, would be enough to justify such a decision. In that case, Wright would be in position to take over the lead role or perhaps split it with current sophomore Tommy Tremble.

In the more likely case of Kmet sticking around through 2020, Wright will remain tight end No. 1B next season, as well.

NOTRE DAME 99-to-2:
Introduction
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 90: Hunter Spears, defensive tackle, early-enrolled consensus four-star