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Blocking Only Part Of Smythe’s Game

Posted May 17, 2018

Three months before the 2018 NFL draft, Durham Smythe participated in the Reese’s Senior Bowl and was on the same North team as fellow tight end and fellow future Dolphins draft pick Mike Gesicki.

As fate would have it, Smythe and Gesicki each caught three passes in the postseason all-star game, tying for team-high honors along with a wide receiver by the name of Michael Gallup.

That Gesicki, who the Dolphins ended up taking in the second round, would be a factor in the passing game was expected because of his resume at Penn State. For Smythe, not so much.

Smythe’s reputation at Notre Dame was that of a blocker because, well, that’s what he mostly was asked to do. But Smythe doesn’t necessarily want to be defined as such.

“Throughout my four years at Notre Dame, I tried to be a guy who was what we called a complete tight end,” Smythe said. “We went through a few offenses in my time at Notre Dame. A couple of them were spread it out and a little bit more pass-happy, so I was in the slot a lot those years. These last two years, specifically this last year, we ran the ball a lot. We had an offensive change. It was more of a pro style this last year, so this last year I was more at the point of attack a lot. We had the best offensive line in college football, so that helped.

“So I’ve done a lot of roles throughout my time in college. Ultimately, I’ve just tried to combine all of those to where I can be, what we used to call, a complete tight end.”

The Dolphins doubling down on tight ends in the draft was rather unexpected, considering they had done it only four previous times and three of those came in the 1960s when the draft consisted of 17 rounds and the other was in 1988 when there were 12 rounds.

The selection of Smythe two rounds after they took Gesicki clearly speaks to the high regard in which the Dolphins held the Notre Dame alum.

“The thing with Durham was he’s a really intelligent guy that can play and block at the point of attack and stuff,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “I think that (Gesicki and Smythe) are really good players on their own, but I think together, in the rotation of tight ends, they complement each other very well.”

The Dolphins actually were one of three teams to select two tight ends in the 2018 draft, the others being the Baltimore Ravens and Houston Texans.

“I knew (Gesicki) through the whole pre-draft process,” Smythe said. “We were teammates at the Senior Bowl, so we got to know each other a little bit. We played actually in a couple of two-tight end sets together during the game and practice. He’s a guy I’ve played with before, gotten to know and overall, I was just really excited about it.

“It’s always cool getting to know guys in that process because then you kind of do have that relationship where if (being drafted by the same team) were to happen, I’d have a friend or a guy that I know on the team.”

Whie Gesicki was among the national leaders among tight ends with 57 receptions in 2017, Smythe finished with a modest 15 receptions — which actually was two more than he compiled in his first three seasons at Notre Dame combined.

But Smythe made his college catches count.

As a junior in 2016, he had only nine receptions, but four of them went for touchdowns. Last fall, six of his 15 catches went for 20 yards or more.

“I think a little of that was attributed to our offense,” Smythe said. “We based our offensive scheme around running the ball and grinding it out. When you run the ball and there’s eight people in the box, every now and then someone can slip behind the defense and really, really extend plays. That’s something that we focused on as a tight end group was being a group there that could provide explosive plays to our offense. Whether it’s catching a ball and running after the catch, things of that nature, or breaking a tackle, that’s definitely something that we focused on.”

Smythe’s biggest contribution to the Notre Dame offense, though, was as a blocker. Yes, the Fighting Irish had two offensive linemen — Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey — selected in the first round of the 2018 draft, but Smythe also did his part in helping Notre Dame set a single-season school record for rushing yards.

That Smythe would become a good blocker perhaps shouldn’t be too surprising considering his father, Roy, was an offensive lineman on Baylor’s 1980 Southwest Conference championship team.

Smythe grew up in a small town in Texas, but he ultimately decided to leave the state to go to college. He graduated in May 2017 with a degree in sociology and took some graduate-level classes last fall.

“Football was everything growing up,” said Smythe, who said his best sport actually now might be table tennis. “My dad played at Baylor. That was 30 minutes down the road, so my weekends went Fridays everyone goes to high school games, Saturdays we’d all go to the Baylor game and Sundays obviously we’re watching on TV. I kind of grew up around the sport for as long as I can remember. That was always the ultimate goal. I grew up a big Notre Dame fan. First and foremost, it was my goal to go play there, succeed there and then obviously get to this level. It’s something that I grew up around my entire life and something that I’ve always seen myself doing for as long as I possibly can.”

Smythe mentioned right after he was drafted and again during the rookie minicamp that one of the players after which he has modeled his game is Anthony Fasano, who played for the Dolphins last year in his 12th NFL season.

Fasano ended last season with 299 career catches and he shares the Dolphins record for most touchdown receptions in a season by a tight end with seven, which he did in 2008.

Fasano is the perfect example of a so-called blocking tight end who could make contributions in the passing game, and that’s just what Smythe is looking to do in the NFL.

“Obviously I would watch some of his stuff in the pros but at Notre Dame, he was a guy who wasn’t just a big receiver,” Smythe said of Fasano. “He was a guy who would grind it out, in-line, but then he could split out. He could run on a deep corner or something like that. So (he was) a guy who could do a little bit of everything. Then another one (like that) was Kyle Rudolph, because he’s kind of the same way — a big guy who can play in-line but at the same time can run deep overs and things like that. He doesn’t really have to be a guy who can be taken off the field.”

Ultimately, that’s the goal for Smythe, becoming a complete tight end and staying on the field in all situations.
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