SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- As Notre Dame rolled past Michigan State and Michigan en route to a top-10 ranking, tight end Tyler Eifert's role within the Irish offense was been noticeably small.
Eifert led FBS tight ends with 63 receptions for 803 yards last year, topping Mackey Award winner Dwayne Allen and second-round draft pick Coby Fleener. But the senior and Irish captain has just one catch in Notre Dame's last two games, which coach Brian Kelly brushed off as the result of using Eifert more as a blocker than a pass-catcher.
"You guys seem to think he's going to get 90 balls," Kelly chided after Notre Dame's 13-6 win over Michigan."He's a blocking tight end who has the unique ability at the end of the game to spread out as a wide receiver and catch a pass. The game was such that he was required to be inside blocking and he did a heck of a job.He just continues to open everybody's eyes about his ability to be a wide receiver and a blocking tight end."
Maybe that's just Kelly trying to help Eifert's draft stock, as most questions about his game translating to the NFL regarded his blocking skills. And there is something to Eifert blocking more as Notre Dame's offense has mainly relied on the run in the last few weeks.
Regardless, one catch in two games means something's out of whack. Offensive coordinator Chuck Martin shed some light on what's behind Eifert's drop off in box-score production.
"I don't think it's as much right now a product of Tyler not being involved in the passing game, per se, as much as how efficiently we can throw the ball in certain situations and make good decisions and make good reads and get the ball where it needs to get to," Martin explained. "Trust me, Tyler's been doing awesome and he's been an unbelievable teammate and competitor, but not just for him, for us, we're a better team if the ball gets in 80's direction more. It's certainly not by design that the ball's not going there."
Last year, defenses weren't able to key on Eifert, as they also had Michael Floyd to worry about. This year, though, a developing group of wide receivers haven't posed the same matchup challenges Floyd did, so defenses often are sliding coverages to keep the ball away from Eifert.
At the same time, though, Martin said there have been some missed reads where Eifert could've got the ball, an issue that certainly could speak to Everett Golson's inexperience at quarterback. Eiftert's only reception against Michigan State and Michigan was thrown by Tommy Rees, for what it's worth.
"I think it's a product of both of them trying to maybe spend more attention to him and us maybe not always reading it as clean as we'd like to read it," Martin said, "but we're working on it."