Notre Dame 99-to-0: No. 80 Cane Berrong, early-enrolled freshman tight end

Cane Berrong
Notre Dame Athletics
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Listed measurements: 6-foot-3 ½, 235 pounds.
2021-22 year, eligibility: The early-enrolled freshman obviously has four seasons of eligibility remaining and will preserve all four if he appears in four or fewer games in 2021.
Depth Chart: Given sophomore Michael Mayer will rarely come off the field and senior George Takacs may fill the primary supplementary tight end role, Berrong is competing for the third tight end gig, along with sophomore Kevin Bauman and fellow early-enrolled freshman Mitchell Evans, and that may be a competition for only spot and situational work.
Recruiting: The Under Armour All-American and consensus three-star was pursued by much of the SEC, logical given his impressive work in the talent-rich state of Georgia. Auburn, Florida and Georgia all sought the No. 35 tight end in the class of 2021, per rivals.com.

NAME, IMAGE, LIKENESS

QUOTE
Largely due to Mayer’s all-around dominance, Notre Dame’s reserve tight ends are more long-term pieces than ever. Looking at Berrong through that lens, it is clear the Irish see him as a possible downfield threat in years to come, a la Cole Kmet to some degree.

“If you look at what [Berrong] does best, it’s getting him in the slot, into some move situations, to really be a receiving tight end,” offensive coordinator Tommy Rees said late in spring practices. “The group is exciting and we’re going to continue to build it in a good direction. It’s led by Mike, but we have a strong group there again.”

WHAT WAS SAID WHEN BERRONG SIGNED
“Simply put, Notre Dame will hardly need a third tight end next season, aside from the jumbo packages Rees trots out near the goal line to bring joy to niche corners of college football fandom. … Mayer will remain the starring tight end through 2022, but Tremble very well may jump to the NFL following [this] season, opening up the exact role it seems Berrong is being brought onto the roster for.”

2021 OUTLOOK
Notre Dame will rest Mayer when it has the chance, just to avoid wearing him out before a particular pair of October primetime matchups. That will mean the Nos. 3 and 4 tight ends will get their chances, even if only in mop-up duty.

Berrong should benefit from that. It will also open up his usage on special teams; presuming the Irish try to play him in only four games, those games will be mapped out ahead of time and Berrong’s usage in them maximized. Speculating through the season, and not to knock any opponents, those four games are most likely to be Toledo (Sept. 11), at Virginia Tech (Oct. 9), vs. Georgia Tech (Nov. 20) and at Stanford (Nov. 27).

That timeline would also allow Notre Dame to give Berrong a chance to prove himself as the No. 3 tight end, over Bauman, and then play in more than four games. Letting that develop organically, rather than forcing a season-long decision before Labor Day, would best serve both the Irish and Berrong.

DOWN THE ROAD
Mayer will continue to dominate this conversation through 2022, but Takacs is likely elsewhere next season, opening up a chance to impress in Rees’ multiple tight end offense before the need is absolute and prevailing in 2023. For any Notre Dame tight end not already viewed as a first-round NFL talent, “down the road” means 2023 and 2024.

Berrong (and Evans and Bauman) will get his chance, but he has plenty of time to grow into that role and prove himself in practice before the Irish truly come looking for a contribution.

NOTRE DAME 99-TO-0
Let’s try this again
No. 99 Rylie Mills, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 98 Alexander Ehrensberger, sophomore defensive end
No. 97 Gabriel Rubio, early-enrolled freshman defensive tackle the size of a Volkswagen
No. 95 Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, fifth-year defensive tackle-turned-end
No. 92 Aidan Keanaaina, sophomore defensive tackle
No. 88 Mitchell Evans, early-enrolled freshman tight end, a former high school quarterback
No. 87 Michael Mayer, star sophomore tight end and lead offensive weapon
No. 85 George Takacs, senior tight end, ‘152 years old’
No. 84 Kevin Bauman, sophomore tight end
No. 82 Xavier Watts, sophomore receiver
No. 81 Jay Brunelle, speedy sophomore receiver