Former Notre Dame TE Durham Smythe hopes 'versatility' sets him apart

Tyler James
South Bend Tribune

Durham Smythe knows his strength, but he’s out to prove it’s not his only one.

The former Notre Dame tight end was more than just an ancillary part of college football’s best offensive line last season. As a result, he’s developed a reputation as a blocking tight end.

When pressed if blocking is his biggest strength as a player, he concedes while also pushing back.

“I like to say it's more of a versatility thing,” Smythe said on Friday at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Under two systems at Notre Dame, we threw the ball a lot at the beginning of my college career. Threw it around a lot, spread it out a lot. This last season, we kind of changed that mentality with our offensive line and the talent we had in the backfield and ran the ball a lot.

“I spent a lot of time this last year run blocking and pass blocking in certain situations. That is a strength that I'll take forward. I like to say overall it's versatility.”

The 6-foot-5, 257-pound Smythe can’t hide his numbers. In 2017, he caught only 15 passes for 244 yards and one touchdowns. He finished his Irish career with 28 receptions for 381 yards and six touchdowns in 41 games.

Some of the top tight end prospects in this year’s draft were more prolific pass catchers last season than Smythe was in his entire career. Oklahoma’s Mark Andrews caught 62 passes for 958 yards and eight touchdowns in 2017. Penn State’s Mike Gesicki (57 receptions) and South Carolina’s Hayden Hurst (44) were well ahead of Smythe.

Smythe, who caught three passes for 48 yards and one touchdown at the Senior Bowl in January, hoped to use the combine to prove he's capable in the receiving department too.

“Above all else, one thing I'm trying to focus on is there was a little bit of a lack of production and volume in terms of receiving this past season,” Smythe said. “I want to come out here and just show I can do that on a consistent basis, catch the ball well, run good routes, things of that nature, so I can put all that away."

Smythe worked out at EXOS in San Diego alongside former teammates Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson in preparation for the combine. That training brought mixed results when compared to other tight ends in Indianapolis.

Only two of the 13 tight ends who went through combine workouts recorded better times than Smythe in the 20-yard shuttle (4.23 seconds) and 60-yard shuttle (11.86), and his 18 reps on the bench press put him behind only four tight ends. But his broad jump (110 inches), vertical jump (31) and 40-yard dash (4.81) were at or near the bottom of the group.

One year ago, the NFL Combine felt a long ways away for Smythe. He chose to return to Notre Dame for a fifth season with the Irish by investing himself in the new strength and conditioning program introduced by Matt Balis and the new offense installed by offensive coordinator Chip Long.

“I was definitely not ready in any way to come out — physically, in terms of knowledge of the game,” Smythe said. “Being around different perspectives with some new people coming in — coach Long, a new perspective; coach Balis, a new perspective — I made great strides under that.”

Now Smythe has a chance to be selected as early as the middle rounds of the NFL Draft. Scott Wright on draftcountdown.com ranks him as the No. 10 tight end in the draft. NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projects Smythe as a fourth- or fifth-round pick.

Smythe said his knowledge for the game was his biggest improvement in his final season at Notre Dame.

“Learning how to break down film in a different manner helped me a lot, slowed the game down a lot,” Smythe said. “When I got to the point where I felt like I knew what everyone on the field was doing on offense, not just me, that helped me tremendously. When I could see recognition of tendencies of the defense, it's almost like I could see what was happening a little bit before it happened.”

Just like Smythe has anticipated his blocking being the topic of many conversations.

When Smythe formally met with the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team that typically relies on its tight ends to do a lot of blocking, his physicality at the position was mentioned. As much as he’d like to, Smythe can’t run — nor catch — away from it.

tjames@ndinsider.com

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Twitter: @TJamesNDI

Former Notre Dame tight end Durham Smythe attempts to catch a ball at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis, Saturday, March 3, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)