Notre Dame Football: Kyle Rudolph

Irish lunch links

July, 28, 2014
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Well this summer sure flew by, huh?
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Scott Booker and his players take a lot of pride in the tradition of excellence their group has produced. But despite Tight End U facing more uncertainty at the position than in recent memory, Booker, the Notre Dame tight ends coach, does not find himself having to explain the legacy that this relatively young unit is trying to carry on.

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBen Koyack emerged as a receiving option last season, setting himself up for a breakout season as a junior.
"When they come here and they get recruited, it's easy to know about Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Anthony Fasano, Mark Bavaro back in the day," Booker said. "And obviously now recently, Tyler (Eifert), Kyle and Troy (Niklas). That's easy. That's what you do in recruiting, you do your homework.

"And when you do your homework as a tight end, coming out of high school, if you want to be successful, if you want to be on national TV every day and you want to catch a lot of balls and you want to have an opportunity to go to the league, I don't know what place is better. So you don't have to tell them where they're at."

Niklas' surprising early departure to the NFL put the Fighting Irish's tight ends on a learning curve this spring. Ben Koyack was forced into the No. 1 spot, with redshirt freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe behind him. Freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua will arrive this summer.

Koyack has drawn plenty of praise for the way he has carried himself among the youngsters since assuming his new role atop the depth chart.

"I think just the way he's coming every day prepared, ready to go," Booker said. "Watching the film before we watch the film as a unit. Talking to the guys, talking to Mike Heuerman, going out and eating with those guys. And just showing them how to be Notre Dame football players, and specifically Notre Dame tight ends, and the expectations that are put on us on a day-in, day-out basis. In all those facets he's been doing a better job continuing to grow."

Booker didn't want to compare Koyack to anyone before him, but the Oil City, Pa., native spoke with a renewed sense of confidence early in the spring, which can likely be attributed to his strong finish to the 2013 season. As a No. 2 tight end who was relegated to mostly blocking duties for much of last season, Koyack recorded 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, with all of those catches but a 19-yard scoring strike coming during the Irish's final six games.

Notre Dame is hoping that such improvement can have a trickle-down effect throughout the unit. Heuerman, who saw his redshirt all but confirmed early last season after having surgery to repair a hernia, is looking to add more weight, with the 225-pounder saying he sees himself adding 15 more pounds.

"It's all about making plays at the end of the day, and that's what I know I have to do," Heuerman said. "And now that Troy's gone, it kind of opens the door for someone to step in, so I'm excited to be able to be here now competing for that position and be here for summer and going to camp and (at the) end of the season still competing and making plays and doing what I do best, so I look forward to that."

Notre Dame mailblog

March, 14, 2014
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Enjoy the weekend, gang. Any other questions or comments? Tweet 'em or drop 'em in the mailbag.

Dan Maine from Camp LeJeune, N.C., writes: Hey Matt, longtime reader and big time ND fan. Quick question, this year being the last ND vs. Michigan game is there anything special Notre Dame has planned for the game like Michigan did last year?

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame/Michigan
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsThe Irish and Wolverines will face off this season for the last time in the foreseeable future.
Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Dan. Are you referring to Devin Gardner being given the No. 98 legends jersey in honor of Tom Harmon? I'd imagine Notre Dame isn't doing anything like that, neat as that was. But I'm sure the atmosphere and intensity will be charged up just a bit for the last scheduled meeting between these two rivals -- under the lights, no less. (Maybe the Irish will have a retort to the "Chicken Dance" if they win? Or perhaps Troy Niklas can return for the pep rally, rip his shirt off and declare his love of pain, as he did the night before the Michigan game two years ago?)


Mike S. from Chicago writes: Hi Matt, great work as always! My question -- the 2014 schedule. Always a hot topic. One could make an argument that the Irish have only 3 "true" road games upcoming. But wouldn't they be just about the 3 toughest road games imaginable in the country? If not, certainly the toughest 3 road games in a 6-game stretch in the country I'd say. But, as a fan, I'm glad these games are happening in the second half of the season as opposed to the first. From both a ranking opportunity standpoint and from a "giving the team time to gel" standpoint. Agree?

Matt Fortuna: Forget about you, Mike; I'm just glad they're all in good weather! But yes, it's difficult to imagine a tougher game than a visit to Florida State, the likely preseason No. 1 team who may very well be undefeated come Oct. 27. Trips to USC and Arizona State won't be easy, either, though the potential difficulty of both of those games remains to be seen. More to your point, though, yes -- it is not impossible to imagine the Irish taking advantage of the timing and getting off to a 6-0 start. And if a young team can clear the first half of its schedule unscathed, well, it can start to believe anything, which would add a whole 'nother level of intrigue to that date in Tallahassee.


Matt from Pittsburgh writes: Hey Matt love your work covering ND, so I'm visiting ND for the first time for the blue/gold spring game on 4-12. What things would you recommend seeing doing while there? Thanks!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Matt. First and foremost I'd recommend checking out The Grotto, especially if you're with family. I took my mother there on her first visit and she nearly shed a tear. I'd also do a lot of walking around outside the stadium for tailgates and other extra curriculars before and even during the game, as it's the spring game and the game-like atmosphere is much more of the event than the actual game itself (though still considerably toned-down from the fall). Any other suggestions for Matt from Pittsburgh, gang? Drop 'em here and I'll pass them along.


Kurt Weidmann from Sacramento, Calif., writes: Matt, Thanks for your coverage of ND football! Nice work. Yes, as you mention in one of your recent articles, ND has been Tight End U., as of late, Niklas, Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano. But, you really REALLY need to give some love out to the ten year period at Tight End U., from 1974-1984, that included Ken MacAfee (College Football HOF, All-American, 3rd in Heisman voting), Dave Casper (All-American, All-Pro, both College and Pro HOF, Super Bowl Champion) and Mark Bavarro (All-American, All-Pro and Super Bowl Champ). Not bad eh! Thanks in advance!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks, Kurt. No kidding, though that was way before my time. Tough to find a way to include all of those guys in a short article, but something tells me that Ben Koyack does not need to extend his research all that far back to understand just how big the shoes he is filling are.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — The first reaction, like that of most others, was a bit of shock. Then the personal ramifications set in for Ben Koyack.

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBen Koyack will get his chance as Notre Dame's tight end this fall.
Troy Niklas was gone a year earlier than expected, Tight End U. was in need of a new face and, well, who better to step up than a rising senior who saw his production jump down the stretch last season.

"Yeah, I'm the oldest guy in the group, and I'm a guy I feel that the younger guys respect," Koyack said when asked if he felt like a No. 1 tight end. "And that's something I feel like definitely makes me comfortable out there."

Notre Dame will turn to Koyack now to be the next-in-line at its position of strength, following Niklas, Tyler Eifert, Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano. Of Koyack's 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns last season, all but a 19-yard scoring grab came during the Irish's final six games. The primary blocker in two-tight end sets knows he'll be asked to do more now, and he knows the example he sets this season can pay dividends beyond 2014.

"It just meant to me that I really need to step up," Koyack said. "It's no longer just, 'OK, I've got to be good for that role and just know what the No. 1 guy does.' I've got to be able to do it. I've got to be able to do it in my sleep. I've got to be able to show all the younger guys. I've got to be able to draw it up. It was more or less knowing that I have to accept all the responsibilities that could be thrown on me."

He has taken on a stronger leadership role, shooting text messages to redshirt freshman Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe and inviting them to his room to review plays. And while he says he's more focused on doing whatever is required of him in 2014, he is well aware of what he is stepping into: A lineage that, this May, could see a fifth straight Irish starting tight end taken in the NFL draft's first two rounds.

"You don't come here unless you want to do that," Koyack said of being a starter. "Coming here a freshman, every one wants to get out here and be that No. 1 guy, especially with the reputation like we have. That's pretty much the reason I came here, to have that role. It's something I do definitely look forward to."

Ultimate 300: ND's top recruits

January, 30, 2014
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RecruitingNation recently took on the ambitious project of ranking the top 300 prospects since it started evaluating high school players in 2006.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
AP Photo/Joe RaymondManti Te'o ranks No. 7 overall in the Ultimate ESPN 300.
The criteria:
For the Ultimate ESPN 300 ranking, we incorporated both the prospect's grade and projection out of high school with his actual college impact and production. In the interest of objectivity, we also included prospects that were not included in our rankings. However, we did not include players we did not evaluate in high school, so there are notable names left off this list, like Michael Crabtree.

The 2014 class was not included. Freshman prospects from the 2013 class who had significant roles and who project similar production in the years to come were incorporated. And the schools listed are the ones the recruits initially committed to, so be warned, Irish fans, there may just be a name or two here who brings up bad memories.

Notre Dame had 13 commits make the list, including two in the top 50, Manti Te'o and Golden Tate.

7) Manti Te'o, OLB, Class of 2009: 2
RecruitingNation scouting report: Te'o appears to be a man among boys on film, a player whose physical weaknesses are difficult to spot. Plays fast and with great intensity. Fills inside with a good base and shows great power and strength when taking on pulling linemen and fullbacks at the point of attack. Full report
College accolades: Unanimous All-American. Walter Camp national POY. Heisman runner-up. Winner of Nagurski, Bednarik, Butkus, Lott and Lombardi awards. Career statistics (4 years): 437 total tackles, 34 TFL, 8.5 sacks, 7 INTs.

41) Golden Tate, WR, Class of 2007: 11
RecruitingNation scouting report: Tate is one of the best overall athletes in this entire class and could be an impact player at the college level at multiple positions. However, his outstanding blend of speed, quickness, instincts and ball skills will likely have every coach placing him at cornerback or wide receiver. Full report
College accolades: Biletnikoff Award winner. Unanimous All-American. Career statistics (3 years): 157 rec., 2,707 yards, 26 TDs, 3 rush TDs, 1,196 return yards.

As for the rest of the Irish contingent:

54) Michael Floyd, WR, Class of 2008: 29
62) Louis Nix, DT, Class of 2010: 64
101) Tyler Eifert, TE, Class of 2009: NR
111) Jaylon Smith, OLB, Class of 2013: 13
115) Eddie Vanderdoes, DT, Class of 2013: 10
122) Sam Young, OT, Class of 2006: 19
245) Shaquelle Evans, WR, Class of 2009: 40
254) Tarean Folston, ATH, Class of 2013: 66
255) Stephon Tuitt, DE, Class of 2011: 90
265) Jimmy Clausen, QB, Class of 2007: 8
277) Kyle Rudolph, TE, Class of 2008: 105
For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.
At first it looked like 2013 was the curse. Now? It may just be the month of January.

Rip the page out of your calendar and throw it in the dumpster. Never speak of it again in or around South Bend, Ind. The month has been beyond bad to Notre Dame the last two years, and the worst part is that three more weeks remain between now and February.

From the Alabama beatdown to the Brian Kelly/NFL flirtation, from the Manti Te'o fiasco to all of the craziness that followed in the ensuing weeks, last January was one to forget for the Irish. Now comes a trio of underclassmen departures, plus a fresh academic issue surrounding the Irish's top returning receiver, who will miss spring ball.

To be clear, early defections to the NFL happen regularly around big-time programs. And the odds of a talent like Stephon Tuitt returning for one more year always seemed slim to none anyway. The writing was on the wall with George Atkinson III, while the Troy Niklas news was the biggest surprise, mostly because Brian Kelly had a remarkable track record at Notre Dame of re-recruiting players to get their degrees -- Michael Floyd, Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin among them. (Kyle Rudolph, after Year 1 with Kelly, was the only early departure until this offseason.)

Still, throw the three announcements within a five-day span -- during the first official week of the college football offseason, no less -- and it is easy to understand the fan base freakout. Add in DaVaris Daniels' school suspension this spring for an academic issue, and this is really a lot to digest at once.

Daniels is the biggest surprise, though the redshirt sophomore did his best to quell everyone's worst fears by tweeting that he is not joining the early departures in the pros. Still, for a talented wideout whom Kelly always said needed to work on the little things, missing spring ball will hurt.

Especially as he was set to enter as the Irish's leading returning receiver. Especially as there is now no Niklas to fill the void. Especially as QB Everett Golson returns, two seasons after he developed a quick, reliable connection when the two were redshirt freshmen in 2012.

For now, Notre Dame must hope the early wave of harsh news is the only rush between now and national signing day. Kelly, one of last year's mysteries at this time, has no NFL contact that anyone currently knows about. Golson, the biggest headliner of a bad 2013, is already set to return to classes this month after his fall exile.

New coordinators will come -- eventually, we think -- and new players will follow next month.

Until then, as most Irish fans have come to expect in the depths of winter, bundle up. Just don't hibernate, because things should turn around soon.

At this point, they have to, don't they?
What had been expected throughout the past month finally became official on Sunday when Stephon Tuitt declared for the NFL draft.

The move, while not surprising, is a major blow to Notre Dame's defensive line, which also loses nose guard Louis Nix to the pros, where he, like Tuitt, figures to be taken in the first round.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame
AP Photo/Frank Franklin IIStephon Tuitt led Notre Dame in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9) in 2013.
Throw in the early entry of USF junior end Aaron Lynch, and the early parts of the draft could see three different former Irish defensive linemen hear their names called.


Tuitt became just the second player during Brian Kelly's four-year tenure to leave for the NFL before graduating, joining Minnesota Vikings tight end Kyle Rudolph. Before, Kelly's program had successfully re-recruited the likes of Nix, Zack Martin, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert and Michael Floyd.

Kelly had said that Tuitt received a second-round grade from the NFL advisory committee, though ESPN's Scouts Inc. rates Tuitt as the No. 11 overall player for the 2014 draft.

Tuitt had told the Notre Dame student newspaper, The Observer, back in October that he planned to return for his senior season, though he later said that he misspoke. He recently said that he was about a year away from graduating, and his mother had spoken strongly about the importance of his degree. But a rising stock and the departure of defensive coordinator Bob Diaco to UConn were likely too much to overcome in the end.

"I'm ready to take my game to the next level and do what what I love to do -- play football, compete and have fun," Tuitt told ESPN's Joe Schad.

Tight end Troy Niklas and running back George Atkinson III were the other two underclassmen whose paperwork Kelly had sent to the NFL advisory committee. Niklas received between a second- and a fourth-round grade, his father, Don Niklas, told ESPN.com. But Don said that the plan is for Troy to return to Notre Dame for his senior year and receive his degree.

The future of Atkinson remains less clear after he was suspended from the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly said was a violation of team rules. Atkinson tweeted, and quickly deleted, that he was suspended for texting during a team meal. Kelly said after the game that he had not decided what effect the discipline would have on Atkinson's future with the program.

As for Tuitt, the leap to the NFL leaves the Irish thin up front, as they lose a mammoth pass-rusher who started all 13 games in a season that saw the line decimated by injuries. Tuitt battled through those himself, recovering from offseason sports hernia surgery and the added weight that came from that — in addition to an early-season back issue — to lead the team in sacks (7.5) and tackles for loss (9). He added his second career touchdown, too — picking off Michigan quarterback Devin Gardner in the end zone — after returning a fumble 77 yards for a score in the 2012 opener against Navy.

The 6-foot-6, 312-pounder notched 12 sacks in 2012, 1.5 off Justin Tuck's school single-season record, and he leaves Notre Dame with 21.5 career sacks, just three off Tuck's school record.

Underclassmen reserves Isaac Rochell and Jarron Jones saw extended playing time this season because of injuries in front of them, and they gained experience that will serve even more beneficial moving forward -- when they will be asked to do much more in 2014.

Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) meanwhile, are both currently on track to return this fall, adding depth to a unit that sorely needs it. Starting end Sheldon Day returns for his junior year as well and will enter the season as the marquee man up front, this after entering 2013 as the seemingly unknown commodity next to future draft picks Tuitt and Nix.

Irish lunch links

July, 11, 2013
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Ha.

Hope springs at Notre Dame

May, 22, 2013
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We are 99 days away from the beginning of the final college football season that will end with a BCS title game. The College Football Playoff will replace the current system starting in the 2014-15 season. For now, we will look back at the best and the worst of Notre Dame during the past 15 years of the BCS era.

BEST
1. BCS title game appearance: Notre Dame's 2012 season was one for the ages, despite the rout by Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship. It was easily the program's best of the BCS era, and it has the program set up for future success in years to come under Brian Kelly.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTyler Eifert is just the latest tight end in Notre Dame's pipeline to the NFL.
2. Tight end play: Tyler Eifert rewrote the school record book for Notre Dame tight ends and was drafted in the first round. Kyle Rudolph was just named Pro Bowl MVP. NFL players John Carlson and Anthony Fasano each had more than 1,000 career receiving yards in an Irish uniform, too. Notre Dame has distinguished itself as Tight End U. during the BCS era.

3. Conference move: Notre Dame was able to secure partial membership in the ACC moving forward, getting five guaranteed football games per year against that conference's members, gaining much better bowl access and securing a home for all of its other sports.

WORST
1. Bowl performances: The Irish are 0-4 in BCS bowls, losing all four games by double digits, and three by 27 or more points. They are just 2-8 overall in bowl games during the BCS era, losing six of those games by double figures.

2. Key rivalry performances: Notre Dame has winning records against Purdue and Stanford in the BCS era, but it has gone 6-7 against Michigan since 1998, including three consecutive last-minute losses from 2009-11, and will say goodbye to the rivalry after two more meetings. They are 6-9 against Michigan State in the BCS era, and 6-7 against Boston College during that stretch. They have lost to Navy twice, including a triple-overtime 2007 defeat that saw their record 43-game winning streak against the Midshipmen come to an end. And, as iconic as last season's victory at USC was -- clinching a national title game berth on the home field of the preseason No. 1 team and arch-rival, in a year the Irish themselves began the season unranked -- they are just 5-10 against the Trojans since 1998.

3. 2007: Notre Dame opened the season with five consecutive losses, its worst start ever. (All losses were by double digits, and the Irish failed to score 20 points in each.) The Irish finished 3-9, the most losses in a single season in school history.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The expectations for the next-in-line at Tight End U. are as basic as can be for three relatively untested faces. What Alex Welch, Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas have done in two-plus years hardly registers when measured against the legacies Tyler Eifert and others before him have left behind.

So yes, Niklas concedes that, just more than halfway through spring ball, there is still a feeling-out period among Notre Dame's tight ends, a trio that will bear large responsibility in one way or another on an offense that returns upward of seven starters but only two of its top six pass-catchers from last season.

"That's a tough question to answer," Niklas said. "But I would say the expectation for our group is just to block when we need to block, catch passes when we need to catch passes and just be as dynamic and aggressive and open to new things as we can and just be really flexible with what we do."

All is up for grabs at tight end, where Eifert re-wrote the school record books in grabbing 140 passes for 1,840 yards during the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireTroy Niklas counted this touchdown against Boston College among his five catches last season.
There is Niklas, a converted linebacker entering his third season with the Irish and second at tight end after grabbing five passes for 75 yards and a score in 2012. There is the junior Koyack, the most seasoned of the three despite grabbing just four balls the past two years while being limited to mostly blocking. And there is the redshirt junior Welch, who missed all of last season after an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee suffered during fall camp ruined any hopes of becoming Eifert's No. 2 in 2012.

The distinction of succeeding a likely first-round pick in Eifert -- and NFL players Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano before him -- is not lost on this group.

"I wouldn't say it's a pressure, it's kind of like a prestige," Welch said. "You feel good about yourself to be a part of the tight ends at the University of Notre Dame, but at the same time we're not trying to be any of those tight ends; we're going to be ourselves. We lost Tyler Eifert, he's a great tight end. He'll be playing in the NFL. But none of us are trying to replace him. We're just trying to be ourselves and go out there and help the team."

For Welch, that means getting back up to speed after a dream season spent on the sideline. Holding his own in winter workouts was the first big hurdle cleared, and now he is hoping to use the spring to make up for what was lost in a year off the field, with fall camp later serving as the true barometer among his peers.

"You don't really forget, just when you're out there on the field you take for granted certain things," Welch said. "When you get 15 practices under your belt you feel much more comfortable, especially after I got my knee done."

Emerging from the unit as the next future pro is currently off the radar. For now, this spring is simply a start toward filling out one of the offense's biggest holes.

"[Tight ends] coach [Scott] Booker always has high expectations in general," Koyack said, "but I feel like as long as we just do what we're coached to do, we may not be put in the same exact situation as Tyler was put into, but as long as we do well in the situations that we are put into I think that's pretty much the expectations of the group at this point."

Irish Lunch Links

January, 29, 2013
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The last (and only) former Irish player to win Pro Bowl MVP honors before Kyle Rudolph? Joe Theismann in '84, per Brian Hardin.

Irish Lunch Links

January, 28, 2013
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60s Tuesday. 20s Thursday. Makes sense.
Durham Smythe was once committed to Texas. He was considered a Stanford lean. He had a trip to Michigan scheduled for next weekend.

On Sunday, he committed to Notre Dame.

Smythe, a four-star prospect, becomes the Irish's 23rd commitment for the class of 2013 and their third tight end prospect of this class.

The 6-foot-5, 230-pounder gave his word to head coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin near the end of his official visit this weekend, our Max Olson reports , and he will look to become the next in line at Tight End U following the departure of record-setter Tyler Eifert. (Eifert's predecessor, Kyle Rudolph, was voted Pro Bowl MVP on Sunday night.)

“I talked to the staff and they’re stacked with three junior tight ends and then I know they have me and Mike,” Smythe told Olson. “They use a lot of tight ends in a way I’m familiar with, so hopefully we can continue that tradition.”

Notre Dame remains No. 3 in ESPN's class of 2013 recruiting rankings , trailing No. 1 Florida and No. 2 Alabama.

Below, we break down the Irish's 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. The 2013 class features nine ESPN 150 prospects (*), three ESPN300 prospects (**), one five-star commit, 18 four-stars and four three-stars. The class of 2014 consists of four players, all of whom are ESPN Watch List members.

Class of 2013
Class of 2014
  • Watch List OLB Greer Martini (Woodberry Forest, Va./Woodberry Forest)
  • Watch List OT Jay Hayes (Brooklyn, N.Y./Poly Prep)
  • Watch List OT Jimmy Byrne (Cleveland/Saint Ignatius)
  • Watch List WR Justin Brent (Speedway, Ind./Speedway)

Irish Lunch Links

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
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Little lighter on Te'o today ...

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