Notre Dame TE Troy Niklas, a former linebacker, excited about chance to replace Eifert
BY LAMOND POPE Sun-Times Media August 13, 2013 9:41PM
USC v Notre Dame
Updated: August 13, 2013 11:14PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Troy Niklas looked at 2012 almost as a second freshman year.
Niklas made the move that spring from outside linebacker to tight end. And with it came the challenges associated with going from one side of the ball to the other.
‘‘I was on defense [as a freshman in 2011]; you get yelled at like a freshman,’’ Niklas said Monday. ‘‘And then you switch over, it was like learning a new language. You’re like a freshman again.’’
Now Niklas is preparing for a new test, helping the Irish move forward without Tyler Eifert.
‘‘I was real excited coming into camp just knowing there’s a big hole to fill and that I can potentially fill it,’’ Niklas said, ‘‘or at least fill part of it.’’
Eifert earned All-America honors in 2012. He also was the winner of the Mackey Award, given annually to the nation’s top tight end, after catching 50 passes for 685 yards and four touchdowns.
Niklas, Ben Koyack and Alex Welch are among the tight ends on this year’s roster.
Last year, Niklas had five catches for 75 yards and one touchdown.
‘‘You have to be skilled in the pass game and catch the football,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘And you have to be really, not dominating but a really accomplished
in-line blocker. I’d say in both of those areas, [Niklas] was OK last year. In other words, his size and physical frame were up here, and his accomplishments were here. I want to see his accomplishments meet his size and stature.’’
Kelly has seen signs of improvement from the 6-6, 270-pound Niklas.
‘‘Just the other day in the red zone, he used his body and his size, and he complemented it with his pass-catching,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘He used his body to box out. He didn’t have that feel last year. He was a big-body guy running around there. He’s getting there. He’s learning. He’s
understanding those things. And the same thing with the run game. We’re seeing an improvement in this big young man at tight end every day, and it’s pretty exciting.
‘‘I’m really pleased with Ben and Alex, too. They both can be really important parts of our offense, as well.’’
Koyack had three catches for 39 yards as a sophomore in 2012. Welch, a senior, missed the season because of a knee injury.
‘‘We have a lot of talent in our group,’’ Niklas said. ‘‘We all bring a little bit something different to the table. I think you’re going to see a lot of us on the field and a lot of us making plays.’’