Ever since an impressive showing during bowl practice last December, Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe has drawn praise from coach Brian Kelly. Up until Saturday, that praise was largely centered around the Belton, Texas native's pass-catching abilities.
But with spring practice completed Kelly's praise took a different form, one that's far more important to determining the kind of impact the rising sophomore can make in 2014.
"He's an in‑line blocker," Kelly said after Saturday's Blue-Gold game. "I think he's accomplished in the sense that the game comes pretty easy to him and as an in‑line blocker from a technique standpoint, he picks up things very well. Got good hands, body awareness and he's got good size. I really think he's going to be a key contributor for us in the fall."
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Smythe added about seven pounds to his frame between the end of the 2013 season and beginning of spring practice last month, key in aiding his all-important blocking ability. While he's still about 10 pounds lighter than Tyler Eifert was and 20 pounds below Ben Koyack's weight, the indications are he's to the point where he can be an effective blocker.
That's good news for a Notre Dame offense that often operated out of a two tight end set last year, as Koyack joined with Troy Niklas to form a formidable blocking tandem. Notre Dame probably only needed Smythe to get good enough as a blocker to get him on the field, given the pass-catching prowess Kelly has raved about.
While Smythe only caught two passes in Saturday's scrimmage, the body of work he put in during spring practice has fueled some encouragement for what he can do in the fall.
"He’s a guy you’re going to have to pay close attention to going into the fall," offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said. "I think he’s done some real quality things both in blocking and route running. He continues to develop and just like everybody else that’s young, needs to continue to show consistency in his game."