After arriving at Notre Dame as the top tight end in the country in 2015, Alize Mack has routinely shown flashes that justified such a lofty billing in his three years in South Bend.
At nearly 6-foot-5 and 244 pounds, Mack is too good of an athlete for your average linebacker and too big for your average defensive back. He’s a modern tight end who can be utilized to create mismatches all across the field.
However, he’s also created headaches for the Notre Dame staff, and that has held him to 32 receptions in his career for the Irish despite having what we all assume to be Mackey Award-level talent.
Mack missed the entire 2016 season because he was academically ineligible. Then in 2017, he was suspended for the Citrus Bowl against LSU for an undisclosed violation of team rules.
This spring, he’s back (while four others who missed the bowl game for various reasons were dismissed) and figures to be an even larger part of the offense. But can Notre Dame trust him to stay on the field and produce?
The Irish have stacked the depth chart in a manner that protects the program if Mack does slip up again. Senior Nic Weishar provides comfortability as the No. 2 or 3 tight end, sophomores Brock Wright and Cole Kmet have big-time talent and could overtake Mack, and freshmen George Takacs and Tommy Tremble also provide upside.
Still, the Irish offense is better with Mack. Otherwise, the team wouldn’t have put up with all the grief to begin with.
Notre Dame’s offense has been at its best under Brian Kelly with a productive tight end. Tyler Eifert was essential to their National Championship Game appearance in the 2012 season and Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack both had 30 or more catches in their final seasons at Notre Dame before moving on to the NFL.
Mack has as much ability as any of those players, including Eifert, who became a 2015 Pro Bowl selection but has had more than his share of injuries in his first five pro seasons. And with uncertainty for Notre Dame at quarterback, having a reliable outlet at tight end that can be used to create the opportunity for easy, confidence-building throws will be critical.
That’s why Mack has been afforded so many chances. He’s good and he plays a position the Irish value.
However, as far as trusting him, the way they’ve recruited the position says they’re not quite there yet. The fact that he’s still on the roster at all says they’ll be quick to forgive as long as he produces without making further off-field mistakes.