Notre Dame tight ends may see expanded roles

Durham Smythe emerging, as Alize' Mack hurt

Notre Dame's Durham Smythe (80) makes a 25-yard touchdown reception against North Carolina State's Jarius Morehead (31) during the first half of a game Saturday in South Bend. (By The Associated Press)

A number of Notre Dame football players have received their fair share of attention as the Fighting Irish have climbed from obscurity to the National Playoff picture over the course of six weeks. However, ironically, the tight end position hasn’t been one of them.

The historic “Tight End U” has been relatively quiet in South Bend this season, however, that shouldn’t be the case as Notre Dame chases down one of the four coveted playoff spots.

The initial College Football Playoff poll was released Tuesday evening and Notre Dame was ranked third behind No. 1 Georgia and No. 2 Alabama.

“We talk about awareness,” veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. “You can’t enhance until you’re aware.”

In the case of the Notre Dame tight ends, you remember, the position group that was expected to be so deep that Kelly said he and Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long would utilize five different players? Yeah, aside from Alize’ Mack, who was injured in Saturday’s latest rout (a 35-14 smoking of North Carolina State); the position has barely appeared on the national football consciousness.

Mack is second on the team in receptions, but hasn’t scored a touchdown as of yet, and his status for Saturday is questionable at this point.

He was injured Saturday against the Wolfpack and is in the midst of being assessed in the concussion protocol.

“He’s in the next stage working through the protocol,” Kelly said of Mack Tuesday.

Kelly explained that Mack will have to undergo some tests in which his heart rate is elevated to determine where his health is at this point.

“It’s so much of an individual day-to-day (thing) and how they progress,” Kelly said. “Each guy is different and you really don’t know until they go through the cardio piece.”

Mack exploded for six receptions in a recent road win at North Carolina, but other than that game, he has been non-existent in three of the past four games in terms of receptions. However, as he has faded, senior Durham Smythe has emerged.

“Durham Smythe is playing his best football of his career,” Kelly said. “He is so important to chemistry. He’s such a consistent piece and so assignment correct in everything he does.”

In the first five games of this season, Smythe only managed four receptions and didn’t have any in a couple of those games. However, in the past three games, he’s had six receptions and scored a touchdown Saturday.

“(He’s) Having his best year this year,” Kelly said, “where he’s physically performing at a high level as a blocker (and) then making plays down the field.”

Long and Kelly wanted to utilize a herd of tight ends this season, but Mack and Smythe have been the only two that have made an impact in terms of receptions. But the group has contributed in other ways.

Redshirt junior Nic Weishar has a score, while freshman Brock Wright has been used as a blocker in the Irish run game.

Kelly said in this Saturday’s game with Wake Forest (3:30 p.m., NBC), everyone will get consideration.

“(Freshman) Cole Kmet is ready to go,” Kelly said. “He’s chomping at the bit. He’s ready. He’s prepared. He’ll get activated.”

“Nic Weishar’s role will activate, so you’ll see Nic a little bit more and you’ll see Cole a little bit more. Brock is in a role for us, as well, but we’ll see how things go for Alize’. But we feel good about what our options are for us.”

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