Finding someone to take on the graduated Michael Floyd’s role is not as much an issue on the 2012 Notre Dame team that one might think. The real issue might be finding someone who can replicate what Tyler Eifert contributed to the 2011 offense.
Last year, Floyd and Eifert had record-breaking seasons for the Irish, with Floyd’s 100 receptions setting a new single season standard at Notre Dame and Eifert’s 63 for 805 yards (a team high 12.7 yards per catch) breaking three-time All-America Ken MacAfee’s 34-year single season record for Irish tight ends.
Floyd became a first-round pick, while Eifert bypassed becoming a high draft selection after his junior season to return one more year — just like Floyd did last season.
“To be out there with all your buddies, I guess in the NFL they’re your teammates but they are coming from all over, all different backgrounds, and maybe they’re 10 years older than you,” reflected Eifert after the first day of practice on Aug. 4. “These are guys I’ve hung out for the whole summer and made great relationships with.”
In 2012, Eifert is designated to be the aircraft carrier in the passing offense the way Floyd was last season. Around him, other derivatives of the offense can open up … and that is where someone else, or a committee of players, might need to be as potent and reliable as Eifert was in 2011 and serve as a complement.
In five of his last six games, the rangy 6-6 Eifert averaged at least 15 yards per reception, a notable figure for a wideout but especially remarkable for a tight end. That’s why it comes as no surprise that he will line up on occasion at Floyd’s W receiving spot, or on the shorter, boundary side of the field. Like Floyd, though, he will be shifted around to numerous areas to potentially create matchup problems and not allow opposing defenses to pigeonhole him at one spot.
“Being a receiver most of my life, it makes it easier to play W,” Eifert said.
At a Kelly Cares golf function this summer, Eifert stunned on-lookers when he used a 7 iron to drive a ball 195 yards. A wisp 225 pounds when he enrolled, Eifert is now a robust 260 pounds, yet athletic as ever. Needing 39 receptions and 605 yards to break MacAfee’s school career records at tight end, Eifert breaks down his 2012 role in simple terms.
“Understand where I’m supposed to be, when to be there, and make the plays when my number is called,” he said. “I don’t really feel the pressure to do that as long as I understand the offense. The coaches have put me in position to make plays.”
Eifert also has put himself in the position to rank among college football’s elite with a stream of four-letter words — namely work, earn and team — he constantly uses.
Said Irish head coach Brian Kelly of his two All-Americans, Eifert and inside linebacker Manti Te’o: “Here’s what I loved about Tyler Eifert: You know you’re moving your program along when your best players are your best workers, and our best players had an incredible summer.
“To see his development and his maturity … when I first got here, he was in the back row … now he’s up front. That’s exciting when one of your best players has that kind of desire to be the best.”
The laconic three-star recruit from Fort Wayne, Ind., has never been one to toot his own horn. He draws attention by his performance and work ethic.
“As a freshman you come in and don’t say much,” said Eifert. “You learn your role, get to know the guys. The worst thing you can do as a freshman is come in and be too comfortable. You earn the guys’ respect, their confidence, over time.
“People say you lead by example, which I do. Just come to work on a consistent basis, the same effort every day. But then also you don’t have to be yelling to be a leader. Pull a guy to the side and give him a tip. You’ve been there, help out any way you can.
“That’s just the way I know how to do things — come and work hard. It’s really not whether you’re the best or worst player, it’s just the standard I’ve set for myself.”