SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Weighing nearly 270 pounds, Tyler Luatua is Notre Dame's biggest tight end. It just so happens he's a freshman, too.
While Notre Dame redshirted freshmen tight ends Durham Smythe and Mike Heuerman a year ago in the hopes they'd concentrate on bulking up, Luatua doesn't appear to be going down the same path. Instead, the Paramount, Calif., native looks like he'll play a few different roles in Notre Dame's offense.
During practice Saturday, Luatua lined up in the backfield next to Everett Golson and a running back and served as a lead blocker on running plays. And while Ben Koyack and Smythe appear set as Notre Dame's top two tight ends, Luatua's size and strength could make him an attractive option in short-yardage situations.
"He's going to play," coach Brian Kelly said. "We're going to feature some backfield sets that will allow him to really use his size. He's a load. He's close to 270 pounds, and when he brings it he's a heavy load."
Luatua can be deployed as a fullback/H-back in Notre Dame's spread offense, paving the way for Tarean Folston/Greg Bryant/Cam McDaniel on critical third-down plays. There aren't many openings for freshmen on Notre Dame's offense, but Luatua appears to have carved out a niche early on that'll get him on the field.
"We haven't had that kind of downhill physicality that changes the pace," Kelly said. "We can still play fast and then play downhill, and it gives us some really good flexibility."