Notre Dame football: Can Golson help Eifert 'tower' at tight end?

By Tom O'Toole

When we got here, he was pretty shy…but every single year he stepped up, stepped up, stepped up and now he’s a great player, a great leader and he’s going to be a freaking first round draft pick. —Notre Dame Fighting Irish receiver John Goodman, on his Notre Dame and Bishop Dwenger High School teammate, Tyler Eifert

They made the announcement that I’m the starter for Navy. That doesn’t solidify that I’m the starter all season. I’m going to keep my foot on the gas. –Notre Dame (starting) quarterback Everett Golson

Now that head coach Brian Kelly has made it official that shifty sophomore Everett “go go” Golson will be his starting quarterback–at least for the first half of the Navy game, I’ve been thinking of scenarios on how Mr. Golson can keep his job not only for the second half of the contest with the Midshipmen, but through and including the final game of the Irish’s daunting 2012 season against their archrival the USC Trojans, and the two terms I kept coming up with were “Tyler Eifert” and “touchdowns,” not necessarily in that order, but definitely connected…

If inexperience at key positions on offense (is QB key enough for you?) and defense (like Golson, none of the Notre Dame cornerbacks have any game day experience either) is reason to give the nervous Irish fan pause (if not panic) the return of potential high NFL picks Manti Te’o and Eifert for their senior seasons at Notre Dame is enough to give the Notre Dame faithful hope. But if Te’o’s tremendous contributions toward solidifying the defense are a given, here’s why I believe Eifert’s star in a Golson-led, Chuck Martin (Notre Dame’s new offensive coordinator) designed offense could reach the sky.

At a position fast becoming almost as famous for producing high profile players at Notre Dame (Ken MacAfee, Tony Hunter, John Carlson, Kyle Rudolph to name a few) as quarterback, the quiet Eifert has a chance to become the greatest Irish tight end of them all. “You know you’re moving your program along when your best players are your best workers,” said Kelly of his tight end with the perfect disposition (and initials!) for the position, while Martin has provided another reason T.E. will excel at TE. Instead of sticking him in the traditional spot, Martin has promised to move Eifert around, sometimes lining him up tight, other times wide, perhaps even in the backfield. While this is nothing new for a wideout (Michael Floyd lined up everywhere for the Irish last season) it is somewhat novel for a tight end, and is indeed intriguing for someone with Eifert’s skillsets. For example, will an opponent risk covering Eifert one-on-one when he’s out wide, gambling the quarterback won’t have enough time to hit the All-American deep based on his Eifert’s 4.72 40 speed, great for tight ends but slow for wide receivers? In the Irish’s case Golson’s ability to scramble could negate this, leaving Eifert or (if they choose to double cover him) the middle of the field open. Still, the place on the field where a roving Eifert and a grooving Golson could make the biggest impact for the Irish is the goal line.

In a sport where a good team will almost make “red zone” and “end zone” rhyme, the 2011 Fighting Irish did not produce nearly enough poetry in the passing game, making almost as many turnovers as touchdowns in these crucial scoring opportunities. Although Eifert’s 63 catches for 803 yards last season set a record for Notre Dame tight ends, his touchdown total of five will have to double for Notre Dame to pass last season’s 8-5 record, and maybe triple for the Irish to reach the BCS. But consider the possibilities; if you split the big man out wide on the goal line, you risk one small corner covering Eifert on the fade, or single coverage on inside slants for Notre Dame wide receivers Theo Riddick or T.J. Jones if you double Eifert, not to mention the elusive Golson running it in on a designed or undesigned quarterback draw. Plus, the fact that Golson threw for 151 touchdowns at Myrtle Beach High in Florida (the sixth most in high school history) proved he could move the team into the end zone with both his arm and his feet. Thus, with Martin’s innovations of Eifert and company’s positions, Golson’s improvisations should (with a little O-line protection) produce the same glory in South Bend as they did in South Florida.

But if other teams need the “X” factor to succeed, the Fighting Irish often need the “D” factor (as in the “Dame” on the “Dome”) to dominate. Fortunately, Eifert seems to have that base covered too. As it turns out, Eifert was born on September the eighth–the same day the Church celebrates the birth of Our Lady, AKA Notre Dame. Can you think of a better player to spark the re-birth of Notre Dame football than one who shares the birth of its Namesake? But just in case the Midshipmen haven’t gotten this Marian memo, Mr. Golson has promised to keep his foot on the gas.

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