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April 11, 2012

A man for all positions

Tyler Eifert isn't being rewarded for knowing Notre Dame's offense.

At least not yet.

Before the All-American decided to return for his senior year, incoming offensive coordinator Chuck Martin made a re-recruiting visit to Fort Wayne, pitching Eifert on playing every receiver spot. Eifert wouldn't be a classic tight end if he returned as much as he'd be Notre Dame's next go-to receiver.

The Irish staff has kept up its end of the bargain this spring. Eifert is scrambling to do the same, challenged to become football fluent at four positions.

Eifert will have an expanded role in the Irish offense this season.

"I know what he can do when he learns it," Martin said. "He hasn't learned it yet."

There's little doubt Eifert will, even if the syllabus takes him through August. While other seniors coast through spring ball, using the 15 practices for polishing purposes, Eifert has been working overtime as practices demand imitations of Michael Floyd, Theo Riddick, TJ Jones and Kyle Rudolph all within a two-hour window.

Notre Dame hopes all the work will lead to plenty of play this fall.

"It's been everything (the coaches) said they'd do, move me around and stuff like that," Eifert said. "All last year I knew what I was doing pretty much every play. I knew what most of the guys are doing. It's been a little challenging to learn. It's the first time I've had to learn some stuff in quite a while."

Eifert nearly jumped into the NFL draft after his record-setting junior season of 63 receptions for 803 yards. Both figures led all FBS tight ends and set single-season school records for his position. The marks made Eifert a finalist for the Mackey Award alongside Dwayne Allen (Clemson) and Orson Charles (Georgia).

Both went pro, but neither projects as a first round pick. The top tight end in this draft class appears to be Stanford's Coby Fleener, who's shown up in most mock drafts as a late first round pick.

Eifert admitted he's watched the draft buildup, just without any anxiety about where he could have fit into it.

"I've watched the combine, hopefully I'll be there someday," Eifert said. "There's nothing I can do now, so why bother there?"

Eifert has enough on his plate without looking back at what could have been or looking too far forward about what should be after this season. Maybe that's a hidden upside in the expanded role as Eifert figures to surpass his record catch total of last season.

The All-American doesn't have time to think about much more than his next practice.

"If he wants to get on the field and catch as many balls as we expect him to, he's going to learn it," said tight ends coach Scott Booker. "Tyler, he's a low-rep guy ... meaning we go over it in the classroom and he's able to do it out on the field.

"I have no doubt Tyler's going to get it."

And that might give Notre Dame its replacement for Floyd, one soon-to-be first-rounder followed by potentially another. Even if the most prolific receiver in school history doesn't have much in common with a tight end almost passed on in recruiting, their senior statures within the Irish offense could be similar.

"If we get him to different spots on the field and throw the ball where we need to throw the ball, we know he's going to catch it," Martin said. "He's open a lot of times ... because of his ability with his size and length, but then also his athletic ability to run and move and catch balls like he did at Boston College that I thought it was leaving the stadium and then all of a sudden we've got a huge play."

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