FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. – It is hard to fathom not finding Tyler Eifert on a football field. The Notre Dame senior tight end has become an All-American by standing out from the rest with his height, athleticism and skill.
NFL scouts always notice him.
Notre Dame fans can't bring themselves to think about his not being in South Bend next fall.
But for first-year quarterback Everett Golson, it was hard enough early this season to simply call the right play prior to the snap, let alone worry about finding a specific player.
That is among the several reasons why there were stretches this season where Eifert was as absent in the Fighting Irish offensive attack as ESPN columnist Rick Reilly at a Friday pep rally.
The two will help top-ranked Notre Dame (12-0) battle No. 2-ranked Alabama (12-1) in the BCS National Championship Game Monday in Miami (ESPN, 8:30 p.m.).
“I think that it grew with each and every game,” Eifert said of his on-the-field chemistry with his new quarterback. “Becoming more comfortable with each other (and) understanding the offense.”
Well, it didn't come with “each and every game” exactly. In fact, early on, it trended downward.
After catching an average of nearly five passes per game a year ago, Eifert began this season with Golson doing pretty much what was expected. He had four receptions in Notre Dame's opening two games, but then something startling – at least for Fighting Irish fans – occurred. Eifert didn't have a single catch in a victory at Michigan State.
“We had to get used to each other,” Eifert said. “It was something new to us.”
Eifert's “0-for” snapped a string of 22 straight games that he had caught a pass, dating back to October 2010 when he sat out a series of games due to injury.
The situation was exacerbated by the seeming reliance on Eifert as soon as back-up quarterback Tommy Rees would be inserted into games, which, early on, he was often.
“I had to get used to the way that Everett plays the game,” Eifert said. “He's a different quarterback than Tommy. He had to know where I was going to be and just being on the same page really.”
Eifert had just three catches total over the next two games following the Michigan State game, but against Stanford in mid-October, he caught four passes and hasn't had a game of three receptions or less ever since.
As the season – and Golson – progressed, Eifert has even seen some positive aspects of playing with Golson.
“Everett throws the ball a little bit later, because he can,” Eifert said. “He's got a much stronger arm.”
Golson can also extend plays with his feet. Whereas, Rees has limited mobility and each play is either a pass to the intended target, quickly, or it's thrown out of bounds, quickly; with Golson, who knows how long he'll be able to keep the play alive with his scrambling ability?
“When he's running around, the play is never over,” Eifert said. “You've got to keep trying to get open because he's always still trying to throw the ball, even when he's running around.”