Irish coach Brian Kelly discusses use of tight ends in 2015

IRISH STEW

Mike Vorel
South Bend Tribune

On Thursday night in South Bend, Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly saw what looked like an endangered species striding up to the plate:

A fullback.

In reality, it was Justin Chigbogu — a 6-foot-1, 240-pound first baseman for the Great Lakes Loons. Kelly was seated in the booth at Four Winds Field, home of the South Bend Cubs, having thrown out the first pitch roughly an hour earlier.

Cubs radio play-by-play announcer Darin Pritchett pointed out, “This guy is 6-1, 240. He probably would have made a good fullback back in the day.”

Kelly chuckled, then joked, “Yeah, yeah. What is a fullback, by the way?”

On the subject of fullbacks, Pritchett asked Notre Dame's sixth-year head coach if he had ever employed that position throughout his coaching career, or if he planned to in the future.

Kelly's response was telling.

“Actually, I think they’re a useful tool today," he said. "Your tight ends now have to have that ability to line up in the backfield, and we’ll actually have that piece as part of our offense this year.”

Kelly might as well have been specifically referencing Tyler Luatua.

Luatua — a 6-2, 250-pound sophomore from Paramount, Calif. — showed off his prowess as a blocker in 2014, specifically in the Irish's 31-28 Music City Bowl victory over LSU. The hulking tight end repeatedly lined up in the backfield as a lead blocker, drilling open holes that yielded 263 Irish rushing yards and three touchdowns in the win.

Luatua failed to catch a pass in his freshman season, so it's unclear how frequently he'll be used in that capacity. But at the very least, the hulking tight end can be expected to appear alongside junior Durham Smythe and freshman Alize Jones in multiple tight end sets. Don't be surprised if he continues to line up in the backfield, teaming up with perhaps Notre Dame's best offensive line in years to fuel what could be a prolific running game.

Watch Luatua (No. 13) help block during several of Notre Dame's touchdown runs in the victory over LSU in the highlight below.

Freshman tight end Tyler Luatua could provide a boost to the Notre Dame run game with his blocking. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)