Catching the football seemed more of Tyler Eifert's forte than blocking during his first three seasons with Notre Dame.
But the coveted red-zone target made sure he shored up that aspect of his game, thus raising his NFL draft stock to become a potential first-round selection.
The 6-6, 251-pound Bishop Dwenger High School (Ind.) alum came into college more as a hybrid wide receiver who needed to grow more into his body.
Notre Dame WR coach and former TE coach Mike Denbrock said the young Eifert was slowed down by nagging injuries.
A back injury ended his 2009 season after one game, and a left shoulder injury in ‘10 prevented Eifert from gaining the muscle needed to take "his blocking to the next level," Denbrock said, adding productive weightlifting is extremely difficult with those areas hurt.
In 2012, that all changed when Eifert was 100 percent healthy.
"It was another year in the system and understanding the offense, having another year putting emphasis on blocking to get better at it," said Eifert, a team captain and Mackey Award winner. "It was trying to get better at the little technique things like where your hands go, what steps to take."
When asked if he wanted to be a complete tight end like the Steelers' Heath Miller, Eifert quickly stated "that's the goal,” adding that he is proud of the hard work he did to overhaul his blocking technique.
Eifert's blocking opened up Notre Dame's offense during its BCS National Championship run, as his increased physicality helped pace the running game for NFL RB prospects, Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick.
What’s more, the Indiana native had to adjust midseason from Tommy Rees to Everett Golson as his quarterback.
"I didn't really have to change much of what I did," said Eifert, who became Golson's go-to receiver after rebounding from a slow start. "We ran the same plays. The quarterbacks had the same reads and ran the same routes. Sometimes, you have to get used to Everett extending the plays and realizing you could make a big play because he's looking downfield. He always has his eyes down the field."
The past two seasons, Eifert grabbed 113 catches for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns. The AP second-team All-American holds the Notre Dame TE record for career completions and receiving yards.
Denbrock, who also coached Vikings TE Kyle Rudolph, said he hasn't trained anybody with Eifert's unique skill set.
"He's incredibly competitive as a person," Denbrock said. "It's important for him to do well. He gets a lot of pride in his effort and the way he plays the game. For a guy who's 6-6, 250 pounds, he runs extremely well. He's got great athletic ability as far as being able to get in and out of breaks as a route runner.
"When the ball is in the air, I haven't been around anyone who is better at going and getting it than he is. He's got this mentality when you throw the ball in his direction, he's going to find a way to catch it."
Looking up to the likes of Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham, Eifert was able to frequently split wide at receiver his entire senior season. He said it was the coaches' faith in him to give the Fighting Irish a top receiving threat after Michael Floyd left for the NFL.
"I'm very comfortable (splitting out)," Eifert said. "I played receiver in high school and kind of converted to tight end in college. I'm comfortable out there and making plays."
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Early in his career, Eifert backed up the former All-American Rudolph, saying he learned "a lot from him" about football being a business and how to handle himself on and off the field. Eifert still keeps in contact with Rudolph, who told him life is very different when you enter the NFL.
"He told me to enjoy the process," Eifert said. "It's going to be over before you know it."
Eifert, who played basketball in high school, explained that the hardwood prepares tight ends to use their bodies to get positioning on defensive backs and helps make their footwork more efficient.
A good showing at the Scouting Combine could propel Eifert to be picked ahead of Stanford's Zach Ertz and San Diego State's Gavin Escobar.
"(Tyler) is going to play for a number of years in the NFL and be a huge contributor to whoever wants him on their franchise," Denbrock said.
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