Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly and his offensive assistants often talk about the vast untapped pages of the playbook he has built during his two decades as a head coach. It reportedly is more offense than they could ever need. This spring, returning All-American Tyler Eifert is flipping through a few more chapters than most.
Irish tight end Tyler Eifert will play all four receiver positions in 2012.
Most veteran players use spring practice as a time to sharpen the finer points of their game and pass along some sage knowledge to their understudies. That’s not the case for Eifert, who will be Notre Dame’s Swiss Army knife next fall. He is learning all four receiver positions this month, and could potentially land anywhere on the field during games. His new coach, first-year assistant Scott Booker, said Eifert’s retention rate allows him to speed read as he adds to his knowledge base.
“Tyler is a low rep guy, meaning that we go over it in the classroom and then he’s able to do it right there on the field,” Booker said “He’s going to be able to get all of those four positions down. He’s going to be a good asset for us this year.”
Eifert is also spending practice time with former tight ends coach Mike Denbrock, now working with the outside wide receivers, trying to master all the nuances of playing further away from the football. Booker worked with wide receivers the two previous years as an intern under Tony Alford, who is now in charge of the running backs.
Booker said it’s easier for all the offensive assistants to chime in and help many of the multi-purpose Irish skill players because they have all worked with multiple position groups. For Eifert, that means he constantly gets tips on how to turn himself into a cornerback’s worst nightmare.
“There are a lot of techniques that once he’s detached and out there on a corner or as a No. 1 receiver then, sure, he becomes a 245-pound, 6-6 wide receiver,” said Booker, who couldn’t keep from smiling when thinking about that possibility. “It’s a great matchup.”
Minor though they may be, that kind of size doesn’t come without some drawbacks. Eifert’s chest presents twice the target for a defensive back trying to jam him at the line of scrimmage. He’s been working on keeping his pad level low this spring to try to reduce his exposure there. He is also learning how to stalk block defensive backs in open space on run plays, while improving his in-line blocking when he lines up as a traditional tight end.
Booker said Eifert’s embrace of his leadership role has impressed him more than the work in progress on the field. With first-round draft pick Michael Floyd out of the picture, Eifert recognized that the offense needed a new player to set the tone.
“He’s the leader of that room,” Booker said. “He understands it. He understands the sense of urgency, and we have a sense of urgency. He understands this it’s his last year, and he wants to have as successful a year as a team as possible.”
The rest of Notre Dame’s tight end corps will have their chance to make some noise behind Eifert this season as well. The Irish will likely run double tight ends sets frequently in 2012. The four other scholarships tight ends on the roster — Ben Koyack, Troy Niklas, Alex Welch and Jake Golic — are more likely to take on specific roles eventually rather than try to learn everything Eifert will do.
For now, Booker says he’s just trying to evaluate and develop each guy to learn where they might be able to help in the spring.
“We’re not going to pigeon hole anybody,” Booker said when asked who might play where next fall. “That’s something that we’ll probably broach as a staff as we get into fall camp.”