SOUTH BEND – Troy Niklas move from linebacker to tight end has Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly thinking of another successful offensive pair.
Kelly said pairing Niklas with former Bishop Dwenger star Tyler Eifert gives the Irish a chance to replicate the success Aaron Hernandez and Rob Gronkowski had for the New England Patriots last season.
We see Tyler more as a Hernandez kind of player, Kelly said after Notre Dame began spring practice Wednesday. I think we know what the Patriots did, they had (Hernandez) in the backfield running plays. Tyler Eifert has that ability to be moved all over the field. It just gives us more flexibility.
The 6-foot-7, 252-pound Niklas was thinking about the possible switch even after recording 20 tackles in 12 games with one start at linebacker as a freshman.
I really like this position. Im pretty happy about it, said Niklas, who was recruited as a tight end by Stanford. You see a lot of other guys with my body type in that position. I think my athleticism, height, weight, fit that position really well.
Niklas said he last played tight end as a junior in high school.
But before Notre Dame focuses on Niklas as a weapon in the passing game, Kelly wants the new tight end to be a factor in the running game.
Niklas is Notre Dames biggest tight end. Eifert is 6-6, 251 pounds; Jake Golic is 6-4, 245; Ben Koyak is 6-5, 253; and Alex Welch is 6-4, 250.
Troys got to be able to be a very good piece of that blocking up front for us, Kelly said. We didnt just put him in there because he is 6-7 and you can get a good matchup. Thats part of it, but weve got an athletic tight end in Tyler Eifert.
What we were looking for was a bigger body guy that can be a great in-line blocker but also give us that size element.
Niklas said the first spring practice went well Wednesday, even though he is still figuring out his new position.
I went out there a little confused, Niklas said. Im pretty good at learning on the run, so I felt pretty good at practice.