ND's search for Eifert's replacement begins to come into focus

ND's search for Eifert's replacement begins to come into focus
March 25, 2013, 9:00 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Tyler Eifert is not walking through that door.

Notre Dame's go-to tight end is off to the pros, with a pit stop in South Bend on Tuesday a month before he's selected early on in the NFL Draft. Gone, too, is running back Theo Riddick, whose experience at wide receiver helped create mismatches in Notre Dame's passing game last season.

The Irish don't have a concrete idea as to who will replace the production of both players, although there are plenty of names from which to choose. T.J. Jones caught as many passes as Eifert last year, had as many touchdown receptions as the tight end and had 36 fewer receiving yards. 

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DaVaris Daniels missed Notre Dame's final two games but caught 31 passes for 490 yards. Chris Brown, Davonte' Neal and Troy Niklas can all expect increased roles in 2013. Amir Carlisle -- who broke his collarbone in a recent practice, according to Irish Illustrated -- worked on his route-running with Daniels in the offseason and could be a pass-catching threat out of Notre Dame's backfield.

"When you show up and Eifert's not there, well you realize I could be the best guy here, or Theo's not here -- it just gives you confidence because they're not here that, okay, it's my time," offensive coordinator Chuck Martin said. "Last year, it was like, if I don't do really good they're gonna probably throw it to Eifert. They gotta throw it to somebody."

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Jones will be tabbed to lead a young group, one in which he and Daniel Smith are the only seniors with much experience (senior tight end Alex Welch appears healthy, although he only has one reception with Notre Dame).  

There are plenty of players with high ceilings in the group, guys who easily could have breakout seasons as the Irish look to return to the BCS Championship. 

"That’s what we talk about in the meeting room, everyone stepping up their responsibilities, doing what they need to do to play a bigger role -- if that role is being the go-to guy, then it’s being the go-to guy," Jones said. "If not, then it’s picking up your role in general."

Daniels showed flashes of his talent in 2012, although struggled with consistency and a late-season injury. In the BCS Championship, he caught six passes for 115 yards, looking every bit like Everett Golson's favorite target. The pair are very familiar with each other dating back to their days as redshirt freshmen in 2011, and that's a relationship Notre Dame hopes will continue to bear fruit in 2013.

"It’s real smooth," Daniels said. "We had all season to get that kind of groove for each other, and it just carried over. Things are really clicking right now."

Daniels admitted he tried to do too much last year -- "you don’t want to make a mistake, you want to do everything perfect and you kinda overthink things," he said -- but with a year of experience under his belt, he's expecting more consistency in 2013. 

Notre Dame has about five months to identify who its go-to pass-catchers will be in 2013. How successful that process is will go a long way toward determining whether the team gets back in the BCS Championship hunt or not.