Chicago Colleges: Kyle Rudolph

Irish confident in young tight ends

April, 24, 2014
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Scott Booker and his players take a lot of pride in the tradition of excellence their group has produced. But despite Tight End U facing more uncertainty at the position than in recent memory, Booker, the Notre Dame tight ends coach, does not find himself having to explain the legacy that this relatively young unit is trying to carry on.

[+] EnlargeBen Koyack
Jeff Zelevansky/Getty ImagesBen Koyack emerged as a receiving option last season, setting himself up for a breakout season as a junior.
"When they come here and they get recruited, it's easy to know about Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson, Anthony Fasano, Mark Bavaro back in the day," Booker said. "And obviously now recently, Tyler (Eifert), Kyle and Troy (Niklas). That's easy. That's what you do in recruiting, you do your homework.

"And when you do your homework as a tight end, coming out of high school, if you want to be successful, if you want to be on national TV every day and you want to catch a lot of balls and you want to have an opportunity to go to the league, I don't know what place is better. So you don't have to tell them where they're at."

Niklas' surprising early departure to the NFL put the Fighting Irish's tight ends on a learning curve this spring. Ben Koyack was forced into the No. 1 spot, with redshirt freshmen Mike Heuerman and Durham Smythe behind him. Freshmen Nic Weishar and Tyler Luatua will arrive this summer.

Koyack has drawn plenty of praise for the way he has carried himself among the youngsters since assuming his new role atop the depth chart.

"I think just the way he's coming every day prepared, ready to go," Booker said. "Watching the film before we watch the film as a unit. Talking to the guys, talking to Mike Heuerman, going out and eating with those guys. And just showing them how to be Notre Dame football players, and specifically Notre Dame tight ends, and the expectations that are put on us on a day-in, day-out basis. In all those facets he's been doing a better job continuing to grow."

Booker didn't want to compare Koyack to anyone before him, but the Oil City, Pa., native spoke with a renewed sense of confidence early in the spring, which can likely be attributed to his strong finish to the 2013 season. As a No. 2 tight end who was relegated to mostly blocking duties for much of last season, Koyack recorded 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, with all of those catches but a 19-yard scoring strike coming during the Irish's final six games.

Notre Dame is hoping that such improvement can have a trickle-down effect throughout the unit. Heuerman, who saw his redshirt all but confirmed early last season after having surgery to repair a hernia, is looking to add more weight, with the 225-pounder saying he sees himself adding 15 more pounds.

"It's all about making plays at the end of the day, and that's what I know I have to do," Heuerman said. "And now that Troy's gone, it kind of opens the door for someone to step in, so I'm excited to be able to be here now competing for that position and be here for summer and going to camp and (at the) end of the season still competing and making plays and doing what I do best, so I look forward to that."

ND players leaving early and replacements

January, 22, 2014
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For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.

Hope springs at Notre Dame

May, 22, 2013
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We are 99 days away from the beginning of the final college football season that will end with a BCS title game. The College Football Playoff will replace the current system starting in the 2014-15 season. For now, we will look back at the best and the worst of Notre Dame during the past 15 years of the BCS era.

BEST
1. BCS title game appearance: Notre Dame's 2012 season was one for the ages, despite the rout by Alabama in the Discover BCS National Championship. It was easily the program's best of the BCS era, and it has the program set up for future success in years to come under Brian Kelly.

[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTyler Eifert is just the latest tight end in Notre Dame's pipeline to the NFL.
2. Tight end play: Tyler Eifert rewrote the school record book for Notre Dame tight ends and was drafted in the first round. Kyle Rudolph was just named Pro Bowl MVP. NFL players John Carlson and Anthony Fasano each had more than 1,000 career receiving yards in an Irish uniform, too. Notre Dame has distinguished itself as Tight End U. during the BCS era.

3. Conference move: Notre Dame was able to secure partial membership in the ACC moving forward, getting five guaranteed football games per year against that conference's members, gaining much better bowl access and securing a home for all of its other sports.

WORST
1. Bowl performances: The Irish are 0-4 in BCS bowls, losing all four games by double digits, and three by 27 or more points. They are just 2-8 overall in bowl games during the BCS era, losing six of those games by double figures.

2. Key rivalry performances: Notre Dame has winning records against Purdue and Stanford in the BCS era, but it has gone 6-7 against Michigan since 1998, including three consecutive last-minute losses from 2009-11, and will say goodbye to the rivalry after two more meetings. They are 6-9 against Michigan State in the BCS era, and 6-7 against Boston College during that stretch. They have lost to Navy twice, including a triple-overtime 2007 defeat that saw their record 43-game winning streak against the Midshipmen come to an end. And, as iconic as last season's victory at USC was -- clinching a national title game berth on the home field of the preseason No. 1 team and arch-rival, in a year the Irish themselves began the season unranked -- they are just 5-10 against the Trojans since 1998.

3. 2007: Notre Dame opened the season with five consecutive losses, its worst start ever. (All losses were by double digits, and the Irish failed to score 20 points in each.) The Irish finished 3-9, the most losses in a single season in school history.

Eifert gone, Tight End U. seeks next answer

April, 10, 2013
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The expectations for the next-in-line at Tight End U. are as basic as can be for three relatively untested faces. What Alex Welch, Ben Koyack and Troy Niklas have done in two-plus years hardly registers when measured against the legacies Tyler Eifert and others before him have left behind.

So yes, Niklas concedes that, just more than halfway through spring ball, there is still a feeling-out period among Notre Dame's tight ends, a trio that will bear large responsibility in one way or another on an offense that returns upward of seven starters but only two of its top six pass-catchers from last season.

"That's a tough question to answer," Niklas said. "But I would say the expectation for our group is just to block when we need to block, catch passes when we need to catch passes and just be as dynamic and aggressive and open to new things as we can and just be really flexible with what we do."

All is up for grabs at tight end, where Eifert re-wrote the school record books in grabbing 140 passes for 1,840 yards during the past three seasons.

[+] EnlargeTroy Niklas
Mark L. Baer/US PresswireTroy Niklas counted this touchdown against Boston College among his five catches last season.
There is Niklas, a converted linebacker entering his third season with the Irish and second at tight end after grabbing five passes for 75 yards and a score in 2012. There is the junior Koyack, the most seasoned of the three despite grabbing just four balls the past two years while being limited to mostly blocking. And there is the redshirt junior Welch, who missed all of last season after an anterior cruciate ligament tear in his right knee suffered during fall camp ruined any hopes of becoming Eifert's No. 2 in 2012.

The distinction of succeeding a likely first-round pick in Eifert -- and NFL players Kyle Rudolph, John Carlson and Anthony Fasano before him -- is not lost on this group.

"I wouldn't say it's a pressure, it's kind of like a prestige," Welch said. "You feel good about yourself to be a part of the tight ends at the University of Notre Dame, but at the same time we're not trying to be any of those tight ends; we're going to be ourselves. We lost Tyler Eifert, he's a great tight end. He'll be playing in the NFL. But none of us are trying to replace him. We're just trying to be ourselves and go out there and help the team."

For Welch, that means getting back up to speed after a dream season spent on the sideline. Holding his own in winter workouts was the first big hurdle cleared, and now he is hoping to use the spring to make up for what was lost in a year off the field, with fall camp later serving as the true barometer among his peers.

"You don't really forget, just when you're out there on the field you take for granted certain things," Welch said. "When you get 15 practices under your belt you feel much more comfortable, especially after I got my knee done."

Emerging from the unit as the next future pro is currently off the radar. For now, this spring is simply a start toward filling out one of the offense's biggest holes.

"[Tight ends] coach [Scott] Booker always has high expectations in general," Koyack said, "but I feel like as long as we just do what we're coached to do, we may not be put in the same exact situation as Tyler was put into, but as long as we do well in the situations that we are put into I think that's pretty much the expectations of the group at this point."

Irish's Kyle Rudolph drafted by Vikings

April, 29, 2011
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Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph was selected at No. 43 overall by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round of the NFL draft on Friday.

Read the entire story.

Report: Kyle Rudolph will enter draft

January, 4, 2011
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Notre Dame junior tight end Kyle Rudolph will declare for the 2011 NFL Draft, according to a report on IrishIllustrated.com.

Read the entire story.

Rudolph's replacements show well

October, 17, 2010
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[+] EnlargeTyler Eifert
Matt Cashore/US PresswireTyler Eifert was solid in his first game as starting TE.
Accepting the reality that star tight end Kyle Rudolph is lost for the season, and possibly done for good at Notre Dame (4-3), was easier for Irish fans Saturday after watching his two-headed replacement.

Tyler Eifert caught four passes for 72 yards and a touchdown in a 44-20 victory over Western Michigan. Mike Ragone added one reception for 12 yards and helped clear rushing lanes for the Irish, who had 149 net yards on the ground.

"There's no question that Tyler [Eifert] and Mike Ragone did some very good things," ND coach Brian Kelly said during his Sunday teleconference. "Both those guys together give you a very good combination at tight end. Obviously you get a lot in the pass game with Tyler and you get a little bit more in the running game with Mike. That's why we think they're a great combination."

Here are more questions Kelly answered as he closed the door on the Broncos and looked ahead to Navy:

How familiar are you with Navy's triple option?

"I played Army when I was at Central Michigan, but they were not a triple-option team as they are [now]. For me, it was a long time ago, going against teams that ran the triple option. (Defensive coordinator Bob Diaco) is very familiar with it. That's why we've prepared for it during the year. Our offense can't even give them that look because of the way offensive linemen play."

How is Michael Floyd's hamstring?

"Floyd, he was a little sore today, he played through a Grade 1 hamstring (pull). So we're getting further testing done on him today to see there he is."

Who else is hobbled?

"Theo [Riddick] was in a boot today. He's going to have to probably get an MRI. The X-ray was clean and the MRI would tell us if there's any further damage there. We'll do that today. ... [Danny] Spond is improving, he's out again this week. ... [Jamoris] Slaughter, we're going to do another MRI, because he's not improving to the level we need him to. He tweaked his ankle versus Pittsburgh and as you saw he was very limited [Saturday]."

Who will start at slot receiver for Riddick if he can't play?

"That's a good question. TJ Jones would probably be the guy who would move in there. (John) Goodman would then go to X. I've always tried to put the top four guys on the field. (Robby) Toma would back up the Z, Bennett Jackson would back up the X."

What will the week be like with students on fall break?

"The one thing in particular is we can adjust our clocks a little bit. It allows us to practice around noon time to get ready for noon time start. For our players, the adjustment will be pretty beneficial, but we won't go overboard with practicing. ... It comes at a pretty good time, obviously, we play this week and one more game and we're on a bye. Two out of the next three weeks they have a lighter schedule relative to academics and athletics. As I said earlier, we won't do much more. Just because the 20-hour rule is not in effect, we're not going to be too far from that. We'll try to practice earlier and give them evenings off so they're fresh coming into Saturday."




Irish coach Brian Kelly talks about losing star tight end Kyle Rudolph to injury.

Rudolph's future with Irish unknown

October, 12, 2010
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- There’s already plenty of buzz about whether Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph will return for his senior season now that his junior campaign has been cut in half.

Rudolph, arguably the nation’s best at his position, learned Tuesday morning that his season was over because of a hamstring injury and said his goal now is to return to action as soon as possible. But will that be at Notre Dame, or in the NFL.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pounder said he hasn’t made a decision about his future.

“No, not really,” Rudolph said. “For me, all my thoughts have been dedicated to figuring out when I’m going to have surgery and where I’m going to have surgery -- just getting that done as soon as possible so I can start rehabbing and get ready to get back on the field.”

[+] EnlargeKyle Rudolph
Robin Alam/Icon SMIAfter battling an injured hamstring for months, Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph will have surgery and is out for the year.
The preseason All-America candidate suffered through pain all season before doing severe damage in last Saturday’s victory against Pittsburgh. According to Irish coach Brian Kelly, Rudolph experienced an avulsion, where two tendons were separated from the bone.

He had 28 receptions for 328 yards and three touchdowns this season, as his production dropped significantly in the last three weeks. Rudolph was somewhat limited in the spring after recovering from an injury to his shoulder that sidelined the Mackey Award semifinalist for most of Notre Dame’s final three contests in 2009 and required offseason surgery.

He’s optimistic about the timetable for his return, which he expects to be six months.

“Yeah, it’s something that, the way it’s been explained to me, the actual procedure is a real quick procedure,” Rudolph said. “It’s not [knee] surgery or like my shoulder surgery. It’s not something complex like that … the part that is intense is the rehab after it. It’s something that you really have to stay on top of and work through.”

A considerable load now falls on the injured shoulder of Tyler Eifert (sophomore) and stagnate senior Mike Ragone as the Irish prepare for a visit by Western Michigan Saturday and another five contests sans Rudolph.

Eifert missed all but the season opener last fall with a back injury and is nursing sprained ligaments in his shoulder. Ragone was hospitalized twice during fall camp with different illnesses and has been playing catch-up ever since. The two have combined for 28 yards on two receptions.

“It’s sad to see one of our best players be out for the season,” Eifert said. “It’s just part of the game and I’m going to have to make the most of my opportunity and do my job to help this football team win. You don’t really fill his shoes, I don’t think. I mean, there’s only one Kyle Rudolph. I’ll just do what I do best and take care of my responsibilities and execute when I’m in there.”

Rudolph remained upbeat, realizing he still has something to offer the rest of the way.

“I understand my role and what I have to do to help these guys,” Rudolph said. “I’m going to get back out here as soon as I can after my surgery and just try and be around Mike and Tyler and try to help them as much as I can on a weekly basis. They’ve taken the reps in practice. That’s not going to be a problem for them; they’re ready for that.”

Here’s a look at some of the topics Kelly addressed earlier in the day:

On keeping his team focused with an easier stretch ahead, starting with WMU: “Well, I told them yesterday we are not that good to think about anybody else but our next opponent. We can't roll the ball out and expect to win football games. Western Michigan, in particular, is going to play their very, very best. I'm not that concerned about the focus of our football team. They understand what's expected of them at the University of Notre Dame. We are going to demand that their focus and attention is on Western Michigan in practice. And they are going to get it from their head coach, as well, and all of the position coaches that they had better be on top of their game.”

On what he’s getting from safety Harrison Smith: “Leadership. He is one of our one of the brighter players that we have coached on the defensive side of the ball. He is our communicator. He makes sure that we give him the right looks. Without his leadership back there, we would not be where we are, from a defensive standpoint. He is the glue back there for us. Not only has he been more productive relative to playing the game in pass deflections and interceptions; he's also been the leader in that back end.

On the development of DE Kapron Lewis-Moore: “Well, he's clearly a young man that has had to develop physically. Came on campus, 215, 220 pounds in that range; he's up there upwards of 280 pounds. He's getting used to his body, he really is. He's carrying a lot of cargo, if you will, and he's really becoming a lot more comfortable with that. So that growth and development is really changing a physique from what it was to where it is today, because he possesses a lot of athletic ability, and we are seeing that each and every week. I think for Kap, it's anchoring in there, and being consistent in his techniques each and every week. He has a tendency to want to do too much sometimes, because he is really gifted as an athlete. So I would say that we are rating his progress as moving in a very good direction. He provides a lot of athletic ability, but I still think he's getting used to the size that he's playing at right now.

On what makes a successful season after a 3-3 start: “Success for us is winning football games. There's no two ways about it. As I see it through my eyes, that's success. And winning games is how we are going to talk about success as a football team. There are also other things that I'm looking for which I said from the very beginning is that I want to be a better football team in November than I was in September. So those will be pretty clear to you, to everybody in this room and to myself, because they are going to keep track of the wins and you are going to keep watching our football team. I think we are all going to be able to say, this is a successful year based upon, this is a better football team in November, and, they have won some football games.”

Irish's Kelly still disagrees with officials

October, 10, 2010
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Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly is usually pretty clever in voicing his displeasure with the officiating without getting himself into financial trouble. But a day after a 23-17 victory over Pittsburgh, which bumped the Fighting Irish back up to .500, Kelly was clearly bothered by a number of calls.

Late in the fourth quarter, a Michael Floyd touchdown catch, which would have prevented another frantic finish for the Irish, was called back when receiver Theo Riddick was flagged for offensive interference.

"Just disagree fundamentally with the call," Kelly said during Sunday's teleconference. "I've watched it a number of times. We'll have a conversation with the [Big East] supervisor of referees. I've been running that play a long time. We've never had it called, because we run it the right way. That'll be a conversation we have to have and straighten that out."

With 1:37 left to play, the Panthers began their final drive at their own 7-yard line. Feeling heavy pressure from nose guard Ian Williams, Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri threw a dart into the ground for what appeared to be an obvious intentional grounding penalty. Kelly could only challenge in hopes that officials would find something else during the play in his favor.

"Incomplete pass," Kelly said. "I challenged. I was [looking] for a way to have a conversation about the call. But we got some information that it had possibly hit a lineman, which would be an illegal touch in end zone. But it was simply a call he made, a judgment call. We were looking at it a lot differently."

[+] EnlargeKyle Rudolph
Robin Alam/Icon SMI Notre Dame's Kyle Rudolph has been slowed by an injured hamstring all season.
Tight end troubles

Notre Dame's offense might have quite a different look this Saturday at home against Western Michigan.

Junior tight end Kyle Rudolph continues to be limited by a hamstring injury that's slowed him since fall camp. Reserve Tyler Eifert is bothered by a shoulder injury and third-stringer Mike Ragone dropped a pass from Dayne Crist in the closing minutes that could have been a first down to slam the door shut on the Panthers.

"I think we all know [Rudolph's] struggling out there," Kelly said. "He's trying to play and help the football team and he's not 100 percent. He's a tough kid that wants to help in any way he can. Obviously, we want to see him get better, and if that means we have to shut him down, we'll shut him down."

Rudolph has caught just seven passes for 41 yards in the last three games, leaving the field twice at home to get treatment.

"We haven't made that decision yet," Kelly said about sitting Rudolph against Western Michigan. "That's something we'll decide during the week. He's clearly not at 100 percent."

Kelly, who doesn't appear to have much faith in Ragone, said Eifert must find a way to overcome pain this week.

"[Ragone] hasn't played a lot and it showed," Kelly said. "[Eifert's] been struggling with the shoulder. We gotta get him ready this week. It's one of those things where he's got to manage it a little better. Now, going into seven weeks, nobody is 100 percent. We have to get him out there."

Kelly on the BCS

The first BCS standings come out on Monday and Kelly cast his vote for the new No. 1 team. He gave the nod to Ohio State, followed by Oregon and Boise State.

"If Boise continues to win and Ohio State and Oregon win out, then Boise State could be in trouble there because of their schedule," Kelly said. "If somebody slips up and [Boise State’s] undefeated, they should play for the national championship."

Rudolph, Crist a dynamic duo for Irish

September, 17, 2010
9/17/10
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Kyle RudolphBrian Spurlock/US PresswireKyle Rudolph leads all tight ends with with 207 yards on 13 receptions.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Dayne Crist dropped back into Notre Dame's own end zone, bounced on the balls of his feet and trusted his best friend to get behind Michigan's secondary. The rest was up to Kyle Rudolph, who plucked a perfect Crist pass from the sky at midfield and finished the 95-yard touchdown play with speed few 265-pounders possess.

Irish fans weren't the only ones wondering if Rudolph's hamstring would hold up.

"I was one of those people questioning it," he said of an injury that kept him out of several preseason workouts. "I felt great and was able to outrun [safety Cameron Gordon]. [No pain] the next day, nothing two days later. So I think I'm completely over that."

The quick strike ignited Notre Dame Stadium and gave the Irish a 24-21 lead with 3:41 to play -- far too much time, as it turned out, for Wolverines wunderkind Denard Robinson, who led Michigan to a game-winning drive in the closing seconds. Back to the drawing board for 1-1 Notre Dame and coach Brian Kelly, who at least clearly identified his spread offense's most reliable pair of hands.

"I'm not taking Rudolph off the field," Kelly said following the loss.

The 6-foot-6 junior is the only returning Mackey Award finalist from last season and currently leads the nation at his position with 13 receptions for 207 yards heading into Saturday's 7 p.m. game against Michigan State in East Lansing. A good chunk of that yardage was gained after contact. Seemingly allergic to praise, Rudolph evenly distributed the credit.

"I think Coach Kelly has a great scheme, and we game plan every week to get our guys open," he said. "I mentioned before, it helps a lot having [Michael Floyd] on your side because he's a big play waiting to happen. We've seen it for the last two years; Mike can make a big play on any play anywhere on the field and [opponents] have to respect that. Being next to him definitely helps us a lot. We have five guys that could be the No. 1 receiver on any Saturday."

Not at the moment they don't. Sophomore Theo Riddick, still learning the nuances at receiver after spending last season in the offensive backfield, has yet to make a significant impact. Freshman T.J. Jones has been electric at times but still makes rookie mistakes. As for Floyd, he just hasn't seen much daylight. It's not that opponents haven't also harassed Rudolph, ND offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said, but that the Cincinnati native has managed to shrug off the heavy coverage.

"I would say that they're paying attention to him, he's just made some nice plays -- that's just the truth," Molnar explained. "He's caught a couple balls with guys right on his back and guys collisioning him as the ball's touching his hands, and he's just managed so far to come up with most of those grabs."

Like on third down, when Kelly dials Rudolph's number like roadside assistance. The Irish are only 10-for-24 on third down attempts through two games, but Rudolph, who has always provided a comforting presence for Crist, has extended six of those drives.

"Dayne and I, since we got here, have been really close," Rudolph said. "We have the same major [business], so we're taking a lot of classes together. We live together in the dorms, we're just around each other all the time and have built a great relationship. I brought Dayne into my dorm [O'Neill Hall] freshman year and we shared a room. He lives across the hall now.

"I'm always trying to help Dayne out. Whether it's as far as execution, offense or just questions about little things, I'm always there. I've got a couple more games under my belt, and I'm willing to do anything I can to help him out and help put him in the best situation."

To be exact, Rudolph has 23 more games under his belt than Crist, who agrees the rapport they share factors heavily into their relationship on the field.

"I think it's a combination of both," Crist said. "I think we've got a pretty good chemistry. You know, that just comes with repetition and practice, and time spent away from here. But also just by game plan and just by read. He just ended up getting open pretty well."

Rudolph does plenty of things well, like further disguising his dry sense of humor with an expressionless face and also burying his emotions completely when it's most difficult. For the majority of the first half last Saturday, Rudolph was forced to push back his concern for Crist, who left the game after a shot to the had blurred his vision, and turned his attention to a pair of rookie quarterbacks who needed a calming veteran voice in the huddle.

"I was just focused on getting Nate [Montana] and Tommy [Rees) ready to go," Rudolph said. "I was just giving them all the confidence in the world and, you know, just making sure I echo the fact that they're ready for this and they're prepared for it."

Last fall Rudolph caught six balls for a career-high 95 yards against MSU, and he's itching at the opportunity to silence Spartan Stadium.

"I think as an away team going into a hostile environment, you're goal by the end of the game is to just have your fans there -- to clear out the seats and have the people there rooting for you. We're playing at a great venue, under the lights and on national television. It doesn't get any bigger than this. It's a great opportunity for us to show the country that, hey, we are a good football team and we can play."

Rudolph excited about Wildcat formation

August, 17, 2010
8/17/10
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[+] EnlargeKyle Rudolph
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKyle Rudolph is up for a postseason award, but he's more concerned with how his team performs.
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Widely regarded as the nation's top tight end heading into the 2010 college football season, Notre Dame junior Kyle Rudolph would be thrilled to receive a postseason award. He said that would mean the Fighting Irish are in line for some hardware.

"It's definitely exciting to be recognized," said Rudolph, a monotone 6-foot-6, 265-pounder from Cincinnati, at Tuesday's Media Day. "At the same time, it's just preseason stuff. Those awards go to the best players on the best teams in the country. You watch the BCS games and the national championship, those are the guys winning awards. That's where we need to get as a team."

As constructive a mindset as that may be, it's hard to believe that if Rudolph's productivity continues to climb as expected, he'd be snubbed even with a sub-par finish by the Irish in coach Brian Kelly's first year.

The Mackey Award finalist from last year -- the only sophomore considered -- has started all but one game since arriving in South Bend. A big target for incumbent quarterback Dayne Crist, Rudolph, still nursing a pulled hamstring but completely healed from rotator cuff surgery last December, has caught 62 passes for 704 yards and five touchdowns in his career. He found out Tuesday he might get the opportunity to run or throw for a score in Kelly's spread offense.

"I heard about that a little while ago," Rudolph said. "I wasn't sure if it was a joke. I'm excited, I can't wait. I played quarterback in fourth grade and we won the championship."

It's no joke, according to Kelly, who used players at the same position at Cincinnati last year when the Bearcats lined up in the wildcat formation.

"I kind of like the big physical guy in there," Kelly said.

Surprisingly, Notre Dame has three guys who fit that bill one week into practices. Senior Mike Ragone (6-4, 245), who was arrested in May for marijuana possession, never was suspended as many assumed he would, and sophomore Tyler Eifert (6-6, 242) has seemingly elbowed his way past Ragone to back up Rudolph and possibly see the field simultaneously.

"It's been really interesting," tight ends coach Mike Denbrock said. "Obviously we've had a few setbacks with Mike Ragone not being able to go full-speed (heat illness) and Kyle Rudolph a little bit slowed by his situation with his hamstring. But it's been as fun a camp as I can remember being involved in, because it's given the younger guys a lot of reps. And then to watch them take advantage of the opportunity they've gotten has been a lot of fun."

Denbrock said he's cautiously trying to add a little more to Rudolph's workload each day. There's no doubt that Rudolph will be ready to go on September 4 against Purdue.

"[Hamstrings] can be a pain for a long period of time," Rudolph said. "[Team doctors] want to fix it now while we have the time."

More from Brian Kelly during Media Day:

  • On Crist's development: "I think the footwork can continue to get better probably through the first year. You need some game situations, you need a live rush so you can get a sense and feel for how to slide and move your feet in the proper way. Where we're at right now, it won't hold us back from of him being effective in running our offense. He's still got a ways to go."

  • On changes he's seen in college football: "There's no longer those grinding two-a-days I remember when I first started. I remember some of those days were grinds. Everybody was sleep-deprived. It's a little better now c but you don't spend as much time on the field. Technology has allowed us to do a lot more teaching without having to hit each other."

  • On frosh QB Tommy Rees: "I don't know that I'm fair to Tommy to just say he's been here longer. c He's really savvy; he's a smart kid. He has those intangibles of a quarterback relative to seeing things before they open up. He's got a great head for the game and understands the offense very well. He showed us early on that he can run this offense. He's in a battle with [Nate] Montana. Montana had a really good day yesterday. Nate's problem is he has a really good day and a really bad day. I gotta get him more consistent, because Tommy's been really consistent."

  • On other key freshmen: "Probably the topic of conversation for our staff meeting last night, No. 1 for quite a long time was about, 'Who are the freshmen right now that have to be prepared to play?' ... On the offensive side of the ball: T.J. Jones, Tommy Rees, Alex Welch, Tate Nichols, Christian Lombard. ... That's the most I've ever had in 20 years of coaching that will be eating breakfast with the team when we're ready to play. On the defensive side of the ball: Lo Wood is in our two-deep. Prince Shembo is right there and is most likely somebody that will be prepared to play, and Danny Spond has been really, really dynamic. I don't know that we have as many guys that play with their hands and really shock you. You have nine freshmen [including special teams player Austin Collinsworth] right now that will be on the bus."

  • On building a winning culture: "First thing is you have to stop losing. ... All the things that detract you from winning, [like], 'How do you live your life?' Are you a guy who likes to drink beer on Thursday night and think that you can do that and be the best you can be on Saturday? Are you somebody that likes to hide in practice and pick your spots [as to] when you're going to turn it on? ... I know how to win, and I know what the things are that needed to be put in place here. Our players have cut out a lot of the losing things. ... It's not just about what the scoreboard says."
  • Ragone latest Notre Dame TE to disappoint

    May, 20, 2010
    5/20/10
    10:19
    AM CT
    A knee injury in 2008 sidelined heralded Notre Dame tight end Mike Ragone for his sophomore season. The senior's arrest on a marijuana possession charge on May 8 is presumably the final scorch mark on a once-promising career.

    "It was horrible, just because I was getting ready to play, you know?" Ragone said of the 2008 injury in a Chicago Tribune story last August. "Looking forward to the season, coming off a good spring my freshman year. Then coming in and hurting my knee, it felt like my whole body was drained. I had nothing in me anymore, when it happened. I felt like I was dead. Literally. I felt like I lost my life, basically."

    [+] EnlargeKyle Rudolph
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesKyle Rudolph had 33 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns last season.
    Ragone, who was pulled over by state police for speeding on the Indiana Toll Road, now faces a reality where, though unlikely, he could lose his freedom. At the very least, he's expected to lose his spot behind junior star Kyle Rudolph on first-year coach Brian Kelly's roster.

    And it's not up to Kelly to decide.

    Despite admitting at the scene that two bags of marijuana found in a female passenger's purse belonged to him, Ragone's attorney Jeffrey Stesiak entered a not guilty plea on his behalf Monday in LaGrange (Ind.) County court.

    No matter the legal ramification, Ragone's confession will almost surely draw a suspension by Notre Dame's Office of Residence Life -- the university's own justice system that's dropped its sledgehammer gavel on many student-athletes in recent years.

    In January 2007, Residence Life suspended Notre Dame basketball guard Kyle McAlarney from school for the entire spring semester after he was pulled over by police and marijuana was found in his vehicle.

    Ragone is the latest in a string of tight ends to find himself in thigh-pad-high trouble -- continuing attrition at a position that has its own storied history in the hallowed halls of Notre Dame history.

    Other than John Carlson (2004-07) and Rudolph, the position has been a bust.

    Then a sophomore on the rise, 6-7, 250-pound Joseph Fauria was suspended by Residence Life for the fall semester in 2009 for "undisclosed disciplinary reasons." He played in only three games as a freshman but was expected to contribute behind Rudolph. Instead of sitting out, he left for UCLA, where he'll be eligible to play this year.

    Will Yeatman compounded Ragone's physical status in 2008 when he was arrested for underage consumption at a campus party early in the season. Yeatman was already on probation after being cited for driving under the influence of alcohol in January, when he was issued a spring semester suspension and could not participate in football or lacrosse.

    Following his second arrest, Yeatman sat out the remainder of the 2008 football season, leaving Rudolph to bear the entire load as a freshman. Yeatman transferred to Maryland in December.

    Others include Konrad Reuland, who transferred to Stanford in 2007, and Luke Schmidt, lost to a career-ending injury the following year.

    Rudolph is on track for legendary status with two seasons of eligibility remaining, but the Cincinnati product wasn't available for the remaining three games last season after injuring his shoulder against Navy.

    Playing behind Rudolph last season, Ragone caught six passes for 60 yards. His performance last month at the Blue-Gold spring game (six catches for 75 yards and a touchdown) was a promising indication that the Irish could rest easy with it's depth at tight end.

    Now Kelly holds his breath as Ragone's fate rests at the feet of Residence Life, an astringent judiciary body at which former coach Charlie Weis hurled heavy criticism after his ouster.

    Experience back, but still questions for Irish

    May, 13, 2010
    5/13/10
    3:58
    PM CT
    [+] EnlargeMichael Floyd
    Brian Spurlock/US Presswire Michael Floyd gives new quarterback Dayne Crist a freakishly-talented target during his first season under center.
    Overshadowed by a an unfulfilling 6-6 record last season, the Notre Dame football team moved the ball efficiently en route to one of the program's highest-powered offenses in history. Six starters who helped the Fighting Irish roll up 451.8 yards per game return this fall, but first-year coach Brian Kelly entered the spring knowing there were several holes to plug.

    The spring game on April 24 gave us a broader look at what Kelly is working with. Some position battles appear to be over, while others are expected to be rekindled in August when the entire freshman class arrives.

    GONE TO CAROLINA
    As Jimmy Clausen gets used to his new southern digs with the Carolina Panthers, junior quarterback Dayne Crist takes up residence in the fish bowl. Wearing No. 16, walk-on Nate Montana harnessed his Hall of Fame father's legend in South Bend and delivered another fine performance ... in a scrimmage. His aberrational performance may have been the buzz of the Blue-Gold game, but Montana has a better shot of walking across the surface of Hesburgh Library's reflecting pool than dethroning Crist.

    It has to be some measure of comfort for Kelly knowing what Montana, who managed to hold off early enrollee Tommy Rees -- a freshman QB far more suited for the spread offense -- is capable if needed. However, the No. 2 spot is very much in the air and will only grow more complicated once freshmen Andrew Hendrix and Luke Massa arrive on campus.

    Crist has the dubious distinction of entering this season at Notre Dame with only 20 career pass attempts -- the least amount of experience since Ron Powlus in 1994 and failed-experiment Demetrius Jones in 2007, both of whom had zero attempts to their credit before starting under center. But with a great arm, sharp mind and more charisma in his chinstrap than Clausen ever had, Crist is more than a serviceable replacement.

    TAKING STOCK OF THE STABLE
    Using the spring game alone as a barometer for future success in the running game at Notre Dame has failed miserably. Remember Junior Jabbie in 2007? How about Travis Thomas the year before? If Blue-Gold dominance really served as a gaze into the crystal ball, then senior walk-on Patrick Coughlin, who rushed for 80 yards on 11 takes, will be a Heisman Trophy candidate and sophomore Cierre Wood, after breaking out for 111 yards on 10 carries, might take the hardware home by season's end. Try again.

    Wood's performance, which included a 44-yard touchdown scamper, was impressive, however, leaving fans very comfortable with a pack of running backs led by senior Armando Allen. In 382 carries, Allen's never popped for over 26 yards and doesn't elicit many fist pumps. To be fair, he has never worked behind top-notch offensive lines. Allen's primed to have a great season, though it won't be a surprise to see as many as four tailbacks getting serious work, combining as one of the most talented units on the team.

    ALL HANDS ON DECK?
    Losing Biletnikoff Award winner Golden Tate to the NFL is no reason to panic, not with wide receiver Michael Floyd and tight end Kyle Rudolph -- a pair of juniors that make grizzled defensive coordinators curl up in a fetal position under their office desks -- galloping back in 2010.

    Talk about making Crist's transition a bit more manageable, Floyd is a physical freak with circus-catch capability. Rudolph is a gamer who can catch the ball in traffic and bail out an inexperienced quarterback. In open space, both can chew up yards and Floyd is a threat to find the end zone with each touch. If the duo remains healthy, first-team All-America honors await.

    Throw in dynamic freshman Tai-ler Jones, senior Duval Kamara, running back transplant Theo Riddick (sophomore), speedy junior Deion Walker, star-in-the-making Shaq Evans (sophomore) and shifty slot Roby Toma (sophomore) and the Fighting Irish are stacked at receiver.

    Tight end Mike Ragone was a pleasant surprise in the spring game, catching six passes for 75 yards and a score. His recent snag might erase all progress made, however. Ragone's Saturday arrest for marijuana possession on the Indiana Toll Rode might net the senior a semester suspension or worse, according to Notre Dame's student handbook. Ragone, with two years of eligibility, was formally charged Wednesday at LaGrange (Ind.) County Circuit/Superior Court with the misdemeanor that carries a maximum sentence of a year in jail.

    Brian Hardin, director of football media relations told the Associated Press that Kelly had spoken with Ragone and "feels it is a serious matter" and that any team-related recourse would be "handled internally."

    If Ragone isn't on the sideline this fall, that leaves just senior Bobby Burger and sophomores Tyler Eifert and Jake Golic as backup tight ends -- a trio combining for a whopping two catches.

    Early enrollee Alex Welch, a Cincinnati product, has a leg up after going through spring practices and might find more repetitions when camp begins.

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