This article is a part of our 2012 Player Projections series. During the summer months Blue & Gold Illustrated will be evaluating each player on Notre Dame’s projected two-deep depth chart — reviewing their careers to this point and discussing expectations for the year to come.
Senior Tyler Eifert had six catches for 90 yards in Notre Dame's loss at the Champs Sports Bowl.
Tyler Eifert - TE
Height: 6-foot-6 Weight: 251
Experience: 25 appearances, 20 starts
Stats: 90 receptions, 1,155 receiving yards, 7 TDs
The Irish braced for a major loss when Kyle Rudolph tore muscles in his leg two seasons ago in Kelly’s first year. Rudolph was one of the top tight end prospect in college football that season and had already caught 28 balls for 328 yards. Eifert, coming off of a year shortened by back surgery, started the final seven games of the season and maintained the tight end position’s prominence in Notre Dame’s offense.
His 6-foot-6 height and respectable speed make him a deep threat as well as a reliable pass catcher who can take a hit in the middle of the field. He followed up the 2010 season with an All-American year, carrying the Irish at times in close games. He finished the season with 63 catches, 803 yards and five touchdowns.
The pleasant surprise continued this winter when after several weeks of deliberating Eifert decided he would return to Notre Dame for senior season. New offensive coordinator Chuck Martin visited Eifert at his home in Fort Wayne in January to try to re-recruit the standout tight end.
Martin’s pitch to Eifert included how he would fit in as the centerpiece of the new Irish offense. The loss of Michael Floyd left Notre Dame with a serious void at wide receiver. While replacing Notre Dame’s all-time leading pass catcher will take a group effort, the Irish coaches expect a god portion of that effort to come from Eifert.
“Obviously he’s a guy that has to replace the production loss of Michael Floyd,” Kelly said following the Blue-Gold game. “To do that we’ve got to be able to get him into some favorable positions. Obviously, he’s not going to lock down just at the tight end position. He’s a guy that can play as a wide receiver. Heck, he could play running back if we needed him to. He’s an incredible athlete. He’s a versatile player, so we’re going to take advantage of that skill.”
Eifert’s expanded role will be one of the most closely watched stories of the fall for the Irish. As Kelly made clear early in spring practice, Notre Dame intends to use their All-American tight end as much as possible during his senior season.
He has the speed to create problems for linebackers in coverage in the middle of the field, and his 6-foot-6 height allows him to tower over cornerbacks when he splits out wide. He caught two passes for 56 yards and a touchdown during the spring game, both of which came when he was lined up as the outside receiver.
“We’ve been running it all spring so I’m somewhat familiar with it now,” he said after the scrimmage. “It was fun to move around a little bit.”
The new responsibilities mean Eifert has a lot to learn this offseason with new routes and techniques for getting off the line of scrimmage. In-line blocking was a weak spot in his game last year, but that will be at the bottom of his list of duties in the fall. So far, Irish tight ends coach Scott Booker reports that Eifert has had no problem picking up on everything thrown at him.
“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.”
What’s a Good Season?
Eifert’s ability to fly under the radar disappeared midway through his All-American season a year ago. He’ll attract even more attention this season since Notre Dame doesn’t have many other intimidating receivers on the roster. If Eifert shows he can remain as productive when defenses are game planning against him as he was in the past, he’ll cement his spot as the top tight end in the 2013 NFL Draft. As long as he doesn’t take a step backward he’ll be in line for several end-of-the year awards.