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January 4, 2013

All eyes on Eifert

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. - Where his teammates drew a blank, Alabama cornerback Dee Milliner found a comparison.

On Friday morning a handful of Alabama players were asked if they’ve seen a tight end like Tyler Eifert all season, the 6-foot-6, 251-pound All-American now the most prolific at his position in Notre Dame history. Most said no. Milliner said yes, even if the parallel didn’t exactly run true.

“He’s built a little like the receiver from South Carolina, Alshon Jeffery,” Milliner said. “Just that type of size and height.”

The fact Eifert is actually three inches taller and 35 pounds heavier than the Chicago Bears receiver misses the point. Notre Dame wants to use Eifert like an NFL receiver on Monday night in the BCS National Championship Game, particularly based on how he worked during Friday’s practice.

Notre Dame drilled goal-to-go situations during the opening part of practice, with Eifert split wide left. That’s not uncommon for the Irish offense, but the rest of the set was. The Irish used Troy Niklas and Ben Koyack as attached tight ends, but Koyack lined up at a traditional right tackle position, with Christian Lombard lined up to the left of left tackle Zack Martin. Niklas lined up to the left of Lombard.

Everett Golson worked in an empty backfield with TJ Jones and Theo Riddick split out to the left.

“It’s harder to get to him this year because he’s our go‑to guy. When everybody was doubling (Michael) Floyd, you’ve got some favorable match‑ups with Eifert and now he is Floyd,” said offensive coordinator Chuck Martin. “Why don’t you throw to him more in the red zone? You ever hear of Houdini?

“Try to find one‑on‑one match‑ups in the red zone for Eifert because you design your whole offense, throw to No. 80, then there’s two guys pre‑snap lined up all over him, and you can’t just keep jamming the ball. We try to find some one‑on‑one matches, but it’s been very difficult, no doubt.”

Yet Golson has found Eifert more during the season’s final month, the tight end’s 22 catches in November representing half his season total. He’s made catches of more than 35 yards in each of the past two games.

“You’ve got to have good leverage on him,” said Alabama linebacker Nico Johnson. “If you don’t have any leverage on him like you’re supposed to, inside out or having the right foot up and not crossing over, he can hurt you.”

Martin said there’s no heir apparent to Eifert in the offense despite how much the staff has tried to fast forward the developments of Niklas and Koyack. The pair of sophomores have combined for just eight catches this season. Niklas scored his first career touchdown at Boston College.

Both sophomores are a long way from catching the Mackey Award winner.

“Even yesterday we threw three or four balls that I actually stopped, looked away because I knew they were incomplete passes, and then heard somebody yell, ‘great catch, Tyler.’ I'm like, he caught that one?” Martin said. “His ability to run and catch and his target being so tall is obviously, you’re not going to replace it. “

The challenge for Notre Dame is figuring out how to make sure Alabama can’t stop it.

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