NOTRE DAME — Tyler Eifert knows his role.
In a Notre Dame offense facing a four-way quarterback battle and a cluster of inexperienced receivers, the All-American tight end stands on a tier of his own.
With Michael Floyd’s departure, Eifert is the team’s top returning receiver. If there’s any pressure on the Fort Wayne native to fill in the gap Floyd left behind, he doesn’t feel it.
“I just need to understand the offense and do what I’m asked,” he said. “Coaches will put me in positions to make plays. I don’t really feel pressure.”
He answered most questions reporters asked him after the first day of camp Saturday in a similar vein: Short, concise replies.
He wasn’t loose and spontaneous like his affable teammate Louis Nix, nor was he a jokester like former teammate Jonas Gray.
Eifert’s quiet confidence carries over to the football field, where he stands alongside a new batch of senior leaders. He’s not vocal. He doesn’t yell.
He just leads by example.
“You don’t have to yell to be a leader,” he said. “I’ll pull a guy to the side and give him a tip. You know because you’ve been there and you help out any way you can. You gain a guy’s respect by working hard.”
Head coach Brian Kelly has noticed that hard work and said as much in a Friday press conference.
“You know you’re moving your program along when your best players are your best workers,” he said of Eifert and Manti Te’o. “And our best players had an incredible summer.
“(Eifert’s) just been incredible to work with over the past couple of years, to see his development and his maturity. He’s a leader on our football team.”
There was a time early in his career when Eifert kept his head down. At that point, his silent productivity had not yet translated into leadership.
“As a freshman coming in, you don’t say much and you learn your role and learn to know the guys,” Eifert said. “The worst thing to do as a freshman is to come in and get too comfortable, so you earn the guys’ respect and confidence over time.”
In four years, Eifert has bulked up nearly 40 pounds of muscle and skyrocketed from a statless game against Nevada in 2009 to 63 catches for 803 yards and five touchdowns last season.
His performance last season thrust him into the national spotlight and caught the eye of NFL scouts. By the end of last season, Eifert, like Te’o, had to decide the next step: Enter into the NFL Draft or return for his senior season.
Like Te’o, he chose the latter.
Like Te’o, he has unfinished business.
Both players have fallen short of a coveted BCS bowl bid in their three years with the Irish.
“Winning them all,” Eifert said when asked his definition of success. “Going to a BCS bowl (game). That is success. You’re never really content until you do that.”
Stepping onto the practice field Saturday reenforced Eifert’s decision to come back, and he shed more light on his thought process.
“I’m more comfortable out there,” he said. “I’m enjoying it more, being out there with all of your buddies. I guess in the NFL, they’re your teammates, but they come from all different backgrounds and they’re maybe 10 years older than you.
These are guys I’ve hung out with all summer and made great relationships with.”