SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Tight end Troy Niklas doesn't know what he doesn't know, which for now means that he is expecting to return to Notre Dame for his senior season, unless something unforeseen changes before the Jan. 15 deadline for early entry into the draft.
"I mean, there's always the possibility," Niklas said, giving himself some room. "I can't really say — I'm pretty sure I'm coming back."
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly submitted pro evaluations for three underclassmen: Niklas, Stephon Tuitt and George Atkinson III. Niklas figures to be the only of the trio with a serious decision to make about his future, given the likelihood that Tuitt gets picked in the first round.
The 6-foot-7, 270-pound Niklas was one of eight semifinalists for the John Mackey Award this season, as he caught 28 passes for 422 yards with five touchdowns as the former linebacker continued to evolve into a complete tight end.
"He does so much for us," Kelly said. "Eight sacks this year, and he's a big reason why. If you're looking at all the jobs he does for us during the game, if he's not catching the ball, he's extremely effective for us in other areas."
Niklas hopes the process of hearing back from the NFL can point him in the right direction on what he needs to work on for next season, though he's admittedly unfamiliar with the process.
"I have no idea. I'll be learning a lot," Niklas said. "We'll probably go over it after the bowl game, most likely, and then I'll be able to tell you what goes on and stuff like that. For now, I don't really know anything."
Notes: Kelly, a Boston native, was thrilled about the Irish playing Boston College at Fenway Park in 2015, a game that was announced Friday. "You guys were all kind of talking about my contract last year — the reason that wasn't signed was the Fenway game. It was being negotiated. They're hard negotiators in Boston. We were finally able to get my family Green Monster seats, so then I signed the contract." … There are no new injuries to report since bowl practices began. As for the already injured, Chase Hounshell (shoulder) is practicing with the scout team, Nicky Baratti (shoulder) will be held out of contact until the spring and Tony Springmann (ACL, then infection) might not return until next fall. … Kelly half-kiddingly said the first and second-team offensive lines are essentially working as one, with Conor Hanratty ready to move to center if necessary, and with Mark Harrell behind him at guard. Walk-on Kevin Carr is available as well.