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Tight ends like Eifert continue to catch on

When Notre Dame tight end Tyler Eifert interviewed with the Houston Texans at the NFL Scouting Combine, the line of questioning didn't surprise him.

"Their main thing was, 'Can I block?' " Eifert said. "I understand that's a concern for most teams."

Eifert understands because it's also a concern for him - one that he's hit head-on.

"I don't want to just be labeled as a pass-catching tight end," Eifert said. "I've spent a lot of time working on my blocking with coaches, working on the technique things, the little things, the footwork, hand placement - little things that make a big difference.

"I've made a conscious effort to improve, and I think I have."

Pass-catching tight ends are all the rage these days, but NFL teams want the option of exploiting the mismatches that athletic tight ends can create on every down. That requires a complete tight end, the likes of which the Panthers possess with Greg Olsen.

Eifert, a potential first-round draft pick, could fit the bill as well.

Eifert's blocking ability is being questioned mainly because it's the only area of his game even somewhat questionable. The sure-handed prospect caught 113 passes for 1,488 yards and nine touchdowns over his final two seasons for the Fighting Irish.

"I'm lucky to be coming in at a time where the type of tight end that I am is being used quite a bit," Eifert said. "In the passing game, yes, but also as a guy that can stay in the game on every down throughout the game and can also block.

"Guys like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Kyle Rudolph - those are guys I like to watch and see myself as being similar to."

While Graham and Gronkowski have rewritten the record books for tight ends the last couple of seasons, Rudolph served notice at the end of last season by winning MVP honors at the Pro Bowl.

A Notre Dame product, Rudolph scored nine touchdowns in 2012 for the Minnesota Vikings, who also have former Fighting Irish tight end John Carlson on the roster. Veteran tight end Anthony Fasano, another Notre Dame product, recently signed as an unrestricted free agent with Kansas City after a productive stint with the Miami Dolphins.

"I communicate with Rudolph a lot. And Carlson and Fasano, I've talked to all three of those guys before," Eifert said. "They offer football advice but also just about life in the NFL - what it's like, how to adjust to it and things like that.

"They told me just to enjoy it, just enjoy it while you're here."

Eifert certainly has enjoyed the ride to this point. Lightly recruited outside of his home state of Indiana, he redshirted as a freshman and then caught 27 balls in his first college season backing up Rudolph.

He capped his career with six catches in the BCS National Championship Game, even while garnering so much respect from Alabama that the Crimson Tide lined up All-American cornerback Dee Milliner opposite him when he split wide.

Now Eifert is poised to hear his name perhaps called along with Milliner's in the first round of the NFL Draft.

"My goal is to be the best," Eifert said. "I'm a competitor."


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