SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe knows his hold on the starter’s job is tenuous heading into Saturday night’s season-opener against Texas and some old friends.
The 6-4, 245-pound junior is the most experienced tight end on the roster for the 11th-ranked Fighting Irish, playing in all 13 games last season after sitting out as a freshman. His one career catch is one more than the four other tight ends on the depth chart, which coach Brian Kelly acknowledges could be changing all season.
”I think you’re going to see them all play,” Kelly said. ”I think they will all get an opportunity to contribute in some fashion and some may play a little bit more than others. But they are all going to get a chance to be in the rotation and play. I think Saturdays will largely determine how that is doled out.”
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Smythe expects to be competing for playing time all season.
”It goes to the depth we have at this position. A lot of guys can do a lot of good things,” he said.
Smythe knew that there would be good competition when he committed to Notre Dame, whose past six starting tight ends have been NFL draft picks. The list includes Tyler Eifert, a first-round draft pick by Cincinnati in 2013, and three second-round draft picks. Smythe said his decision to decommit from Texas, 60 miles from his Belton, Texas, home, after attending all the home games his junior season of high school had nothing to do with the Longhorns’ struggles.
”What it really came down to was discovering that I wanted to do something else. I wanted to get away for a little bit,” he said. ”Then when I came here and realized I felt like this about this place, it was all said and done.”
Smythe, who has a ”Beat Texas” screen on his cellphone, said he is still friends with some Longhorn players.
”It will be good to see them,” Smythe said.
Smythe said Notre Dame’s reputation as a school that rolls out standout tight ends was a factor in his decision.
”Having that rich tradition to follow up, to live up to, to learn from the people in front of me, that definitely adds something to the mix,” he said.
Smythe has impressed Irish coaches as the most versatile tight end, improving as a blocker during the offseason and putting on weight. Sophomore Tyler Luatua also has gained weight and strength, but is still developing as a receiver. Sophomore Nic Weishar, more of a receiver, is working on his blocking technique. Graduate student Chase Hounshell, a converted defensive lineman, is purely a blocking tight end.
Smythe’s stiffest competition might come from freshman Alize Jones, who has the speed to line up at wide receiver.
Kelly said the depth will allow the Irish to use multiple tight ends, causing matchup problems for opponents.
”I think we can use three,” Kelly said.
Smythe said the Irish could use five.
”We could just put one of us at quarterback,” he joked.
Smythe said he doesn’t feel any added pressure trying to be the next great Irish tight end.
”It adds responsibility,” he said. ”I look at it as it is our responsibility as a whole and individually, for each and every one of us, to continue on this legacy that’s been built over the last 10 years.”