Notre Dame Football: Mike Ragone

Q&A with Jayhawks QB Dayne Crist

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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There's a reason so many people were so sad to see Dayne Crist leave Notre Dame — and, consequently, why they were so happy to see him get a second chance at another school. The man is that nice, and, by all accounts, as good a teammate as one could hope for. I got to talk to him only once in my first year on the Notre Dame beat (his preseason news conference after being named starter), but I was able to catch up with the new Kansas quarterback earlier this month over the phone.

Here's our conversation.

How are you liking Lawrence so far?

Dayne Crist: It's been great. We had fan appreciation day today so it was nice to have. Any time you can practice in the stadium with a live audience, it's a lot more fun. So it was fun today.

What was that like? I'd imagine it's a different atmosphere from Notre Dame.

[+] EnlargeCharlie Weis, Dayne Crist
William Purnell/Icon SMIDayne Crist was reunited with Charlie Weis in Lawrence and is eligible to play this season because he's already graduated from Notre Dame.
DC: It's been great. The fans and the community in Lawrence have been really warm and receptive to me and me being here and have really made the transition pretty easy. But I've just enjoyed my time here, and just love being with the guys and competing and just excited for the fall.

How nice has it been to have [former Irish teammates] Mike [Ragone] and Anthony [McDonald] go through this with you?

DC: It's been great. I think they're both very driven guys and you can tell just the way, how they prepare, how they play and stuff, how important it is to them. And it's nice to have some familiar faces, so it's been great thus far.

The program there has obviously fallen on some tough times in recent years. Are you invigorated by becoming essentially the foundation for trying to turn it around?

DC: I am, and I think that there's a great opportunity here to turn this thing around, and it's very exciting. As a player, as a competitor, sometimes you like being an underdog, and sometimes you like being part of that trend that changes things. So I'm very excited for this year.

How excited were you to be reunited with Charlie Weis?

DC: It really is a blessing in disguise. I'm very excited to be back with Coach. I can't thank him enough for this opportunity. I'm very fortunate and grateful and just feel really blessed to be here, but now it's time to go to work, and we're excited to do that.

How much trust has he put in the former Notre Dame guys in becoming the voices for the team?

DC: Well, I think it's more just we can really act as liaisons between Coach Weis and the team, because the relationship with Coach Weis and the team will continue to grow, and those guys really don't know him as well yet, and are continuing to get to know him. There's so much leadership on this team that we're not really the voice of the team. We're just guys working with him, we're all teammates here. There's not one voice taking precedence over another, but the leadership here has been great so far.

Is Coach Weis very similar to what you remember, or has he mellowed a little bit?

DC: He's always going to be the same guy and have the same core values and beliefs. That's something that I love and respect about the guy. At the same time you can definitely tell that he's very seasoned, he's seen some things and changed a couple things in his approach and preparation and things like that. But he's still the same guy and cares about his players, and we're just excited to be here and get to work with a guy that we once knew.

How grateful are you for this last chance with your old coach?

DC: I'm as grateful as one can be. It's crazy, but I've always been someone that lives by the mantra that everything happens for a reason, and you can't write it up any moreso than this. I'm just so grateful, so blessed for this opportunity, and you've just got to control the things you can control. There's been some things with injuries that were out of my control but with the things I can control I fully plan on taking advantage of those opportunities.

What have been the biggest differences between the programs and atmospheres from when you were at Notre Dame?

DC: Well, I mean the schools are just so very different by nature. You're talking a small private school, 8,000 kids, to public, 26,000 kids. So the campus is much bigger and much different. I'll always have a special place in my heart for Notre Dame, and I'm very fortunate and blessed to have graduated from there and had the opportunity to go to school there and play football there. But I'm fully invested in Kansas right now, and I'm just very excited to get going with my teammates this fall.

What would constitute a successful season in your mind?

DC: We want to play in a bowl game, and I think that's been a team goal of ours since we started the spring, really. And as a competitor, as a football player, why wouldn't you? So we're very internally motivated. We don't really care what the outside world thinks, and we just want to do everything we can in our power to get to a bowl game and win a bowl game.
Add Deion Walker and Hafis Williams to the list of former Notre Dame players extending their college playing careers.

The duo will re-unite with former Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar at Massachusetts, BlueandGold.com's Wes Morgan reports.

Walker entered Notre Dame from Christchurch (Va.) High School in 2008 as ESPN's No. 18 wide receiver and the 103rd overall player from his recruiting class. The 6-foot-3, 206-pounder appeared in just seven career games for the Irish, making one catch for 15 yards in 2009.
"It's really exciting just getting the opportunity to make something of myself," Walker said. "I had such high hopes coming out of high school, and not being able to execute on those plans was kind of a setback.

"It goes like that sometimes. You can't win them all. But big picture, I graduated, I had a blast over the last four years and hopefully I can go on to make something of myself in the realm of football. Looking back, it was definitely tough, but I can’t be that mad about it."

Williams landed in South Bend, Ind., from Elizabeth (N.J.) High School as ESPN's No. 19 defensive tackle in the Class of 2008. The 6-foot-1, 295-pound nose guard notched 19 total tackles and two tackles for loss in 24 career games at Notre Dame.

Here is a list of Notre Dame's fifth-year players who will be playing elsewhere in 2012: Nose guard Sean Cwynar and offensive lineman Lane Clelland have told the Chicago Tribune and South Bend Tribune, respectively, that they will not pursue fifth years of football. I do not know of David Posluszny's plans. The other six fifth-years — Braxston Cave, Mike Golic Jr., John Goodman, Kapron Lewis-Moore, Dan McCarthy and Jamoris Slaughter — are back at Notre Dame for their final seasons.
Charlie Weis' struggles during his five-year tenure at Notre Dame are well-documented. Entering his first season at Kansas with a few familiar faces, Weis is looking to learn from those mistakes and bring a winning edge to a program coming off a two-win campaign in 2011.

The two biggest lessons he learned with the Irish? College kids ain't easy, and building a cohesive coaching staff is essential.

From the Hutchinson News' Lucas Fahrer:
"I learned early on at Notre Dame that an 18-year-old kid is not like a 23-year-old young man," Weis said Thursday during a sit-down before his speaking engagement at Prairie Dunes Country Club. "Somebody coming is not like somebody going out. They're not the same. You have to have a clear understanding of how to deal with a freshman that was a superstar in his high school and how to coach him and psychologically deal with him versus the more mature guy who's already gone through the beatdown for three or four or five years and can handle just about anything you throw at them."

Weis didn't waste time looking for silver linings from a roster that won just two games. Hence, the 10 offseason transfers. But he brought in six new players --including the Notre Dame trio of Dayne Crist, Anthony McDonald and Mike Ragone -- to show the younger guys the right way to handle themselves once they enter the latter stages of their college careers.

As for that other lesson, the coaching chemistry?
"When I went to Notre Dame, I was coming from 15 years in the NFL, and other than two coaches who I knew that were coaching with the (Miami) Dolphins and had been let go ... I didn't know any of the guys I was hiring," Weis said. "I was hiring guys based off (their) reputation not from personal knowledge of the coaching staff. I hired a bunch of really good coaches but the chemistry was always crummy. The only one I have to blame for that is me."

Weis was able to take a much more hands-on approach in forming his new staff, as he wasn't balancing coaching the Patriots' offense to another Super Bowl. In any event, as Fahrer notes, it will take much more than chemistry to solve the issues that plagued Lawrence, Kan., last season. Weis knows that now, and seeing him move away from the end of his Irish tenure should make for an interesting 2012 season at Kansas.

Irish Lunch Links

April, 18, 2012
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Jamie Moyer. Wow.

Ragone to Kansas now official

April, 17, 2012
4/17/12
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Mike Ragone is the latest Notre Dame player who hopes a happy ending to his college football career can be found in Kansas.

The Jayhawks announced Tuesday that the tight end will join the program, making Ragone the third former Irish player to re-unite with Kansas coach Charlie Weis, the man who recruited them all while coaching at Notre Dame.

Kansas announced on Friday that linebacker Anthony McDonald would join the program after graduating from Notre Dame next month, once again following in the footsteps of new quarterback Dayne Crist. The two had played together at Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

Ragone, meanwhile, has already graduated from Notre Dame and has been granted a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA. The 6-foot-4, 262-pound tight end tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee during Notre Dame's Week 2 loss at Michigan, this after already suffering two major knee injuries since 2007. The first one cost Ragone his senior year at Camden Catholic (N.J.) High School. He was ESPN's No. 2 tight end from the 2007 recruiting class.

In 37 games with the Irish, Ragone caught 11 passes for 109 yards.
Anthony McDonald is the latest Notre Dame player who will extend his career this upcoming season in Lawrence, Kan.

Kansas announced Friday that McDonald, a former Irish linebacker, will become a Jayhawk after graduating in May, joining high school teammate Dayne Crist in reuniting with coach Charlie Weis.

Former Notre Dame tight end Mike Ragone is reportedly Lawrence-bound as well.

All three players were recruited to Notre Dame by Weis, with both McDonald and Crist coming from Notre Dame High School in Sherman Oaks, Calif.

McDonald appeared in 27 games for the Irish the past three seasons, totaling 24 tackles.

Ragone reportedly Kansas-bound

March, 19, 2012
3/19/12
2:30
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Is it too early to label Lawrence, Kan., "South Bend West"?

Mike Ragone will be the next Notre Dame player to join former Irish coach Charlie Weis at Kansas, Eric Hansen reports in the South Bend Tribune.

The tight end tore the ACL in his right knee during Notre Dame's Week 2 loss at Michigan -- his third major knee injury since 2007, when he missed his senior year at Camden Catholic (N.J.) High School.

The NCAA granted Ragone a sixth year of eligibility, Hansen reports, but he was not invited back to Notre Dame for another year.

So he will join former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist in taking advantage of the NCAA's graduate-exception rule, allowing the two Notre Dame graduates to play immediately at their new school -- and, in this case, with the college coach who originally recruited them -- so long as they enroll in graduate programs not offered at Notre Dame.
“The (right) knee feels great now,” Ragone told Hansen. “I’ve been working out at home since after the bowl game (Dec. 29). I plan to go to Kansas this summer.

“It’s going to be great playing with Dayne again. He’s a great guy and a great quarterback. I asked for one more chance, and I got it.”
ESPN Recruiting took a look back this week at the 2011 ESPNU 150 class and how each player fared in his first year of college ball.

Several Notre Dame freshmen have made big impacts already. Others have yet to play. Let's take a look at what the recruiting experts had to say:

[+] EnlargeAaron Lynch
Chris Williams/Icon SMINotre Dame's Aaron Lynch proved that he can put pressure on opposing quarterbacks during his freshman season.
No. 15: Aaron Lynch, DE: "Aaron Lynch has exploded onto the scene in South Bend, drawing more personal fouls than coach Brian Kelly would approve of and dropping enough incendiary comments that he was sequestered from the media for November. But don't let those freshman mishaps belie the flashes of greatness he has shown. Lynch started five games for the Fighting Irish. Of his 28 tackles, 5 were behind the line of scrimmage, including four sacks. He hurried the quarterback 13 times, forced a fumble and broke up two passes. The explosiveness is there. Now, Lynch must learn to be more disciplined, especially by staying in his gap, so he doesn't give up as many big plays as he makes."

Lynch has actually not spoken since late September, when he predicted Notre Dame could come up with 10 or more sacks against Pitt. Considering he was reminded in that question that Maine had recorded seven sacks against Pitt -- and considering he prefaced the answer by crediting Maine -- he earns the benefit of the doubt from this blogger. Still, the end has all the makings of a future NFL player and should be a star the rest of his college career.

No. 36: Matthew Hegarty, OT: "Hegarty redshirted this season for the Irish but impressed in scout team enough to get mention as a potential starter next year. The big lineman came to South Bend as a tackle but will be moved inside and could spend time at guard or even center next season."

No. 42: Ishaq Williams, DE: "Williams played spot duty this season, seeing time in 10 games at outside linebacker for the Irish. He finished the year with five tackles and also played on special teams. The Irish coaches are high on him and he's expected to be an impact player next season."

Plenty of upperclassmen ahead of Williams kept him from seeing the field more, but he will surely make an impact moving forward for the Irish.

No. 65: DaVaris Daniels, WR: "Daniels took a redshirt this season, even though he was the Irish's only receiver in their 2011 class. However, the Irish's depth chart looks ripe for the taking, and Daniels could be an impact player next season."

No. 77: Ben Koyack, TE: "Used more for blocking situations, Koyack has played in 11 games and started one. He caught one pass for 5 yards."

Mike Ragone's ACL tear allowed Koyack to see the field some more. If Tyler Eifert leaps to the NFL, the spotlight could be on Koyack next season.

No. 90: Stephon Tuitt, DE: "Tuitt played in eight games, starting three, and has taken over the starting end spot for the Fighting Irish. He has 27 tackles, two quarterback hurries, a sack and a pass deflection in his first season."

Tuitt also saw some time inside and was coming along really well before an illness forced him to miss the last two games. He and Lynch will make for one tough pass-rushing tandem in the years to come.

No. 123: Anthony Rabasa, DE: "Rabasa was moved to middle linebacker and was doing quite well before injuring his shoulder. He redshirted for the Fighting Irish."

No. 130: Jordan Prestwood, OT: "Prestwood enrolled at FSU in the spring and then transferred to Notre Dame, where he had originally committed in the summer of 2010. He redshirted for the Irish."

Regular-season report card: Tight ends

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
2:45
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The regular season is over and the end of the semester has arrived. Here, we grade Notre Dame's 2011 campaign by position. Part seven of the 10-part series brings us to the tight ends.

TIGHT ENDS

Grade: A-

Summary: There's a reason Tyler Eifert is one of three finalists for the Mackey Award, which will be given Thursday night to the nation's top tight end. To read my endorsement for Eifert, click here.

A quick look at the numbers: 57 catches, 713 receiving yards, five touchdowns. He was Notre Dame's best pass-catcher not named Michael Floyd this season, and he had more catches than any other FBS tight end. Time after time he would make defenses pay over the middle on third down, and he and Tommy Rees certainly developed a nice rapport.

Fifth-year senior Mike Ragone, an excellent blocker, tore an ACL and missed much of the season, leading to a youth movement behind Eifert, the only thing keeping this unit from a perfect grade.

Backups: Sophomore Alex Welch and freshman Ben Koyack each had one reception and saw extensive time in Ragone's absence. However, much more will be expected of them next year if Eifert decides to move on to the NFL, which is a possibility after his strong junior year.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks
Defensive line
Offensive line
Linebackers
Running backs
Wide receivers

What to watch: Week 12 vs. Boston College

November, 17, 2011
11/17/11
10:15
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Here's what to keep an eye on Saturday when the Irish host the Eagles:
  • Manti Te'o: The junior linebacker says he is healthy. The projected first-round pick might just be playing his final game at Notre Dame Stadium. And he has certainly heard all the talk about Boston College linebacker Luke Kuechly. All of this should add up to another strong Te'o performance, much like his most recent game in South Bend, Oct. 29 against Navy.
  • Another strong performance from Robby Toma: Theo Riddick is not expected to start, leaving Toma, the 5-foot-9, 185-pound junior, to fill his shoes at wide receiver. He was more than capable last week, just as he was last season. If we've learned anything about Toma, it's that he knows how to make the most of his limited opportunities.
  • Steve Filer and Mike Ragone: These two seniors won't be on the field for their class' final home game, but the two will be honored for their Notre Dame careers. Each has suffered a season-ending ACL injury, and Filer even put off surgery until after this game to enjoy his final walk through the tunnel. It will be nice to see this duo get proper recognition.

Bye week grades: tight ends

October, 17, 2011
10/17/11
11:00
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TIGHT ENDS

Grade: A

Summary: What more can you ask for from a group that has been forced to play a true freshmen and a sophomore who had never seen game action following another ACL tear from fifth-year senior Mike Ragone? The starter isn't too shabby, either. Tyler Eifert is second on the team in catches (32) and receiving yards (363) and is tied for second in receiving touchdowns (three). Eifert is fourth among tight ends nationally in receiving yards and even garnered midseason first-team All-America honors from Phil Steele.

Eifert is as reliable a target as you will find, and he has been huge for the Irish on third downs this season. The junior's bond with Tommy Rees is evident each and every week, and it seems defenses always forget about him over the middle, something that has proven to be a big mistake time and time again. Eifert has done a tremendous job building off last season, when he was forced to start the final seven games after Kyle Rudolph went down with a season-ending right hamstring injury.

The backups: Ragone was a senior leader known for his blocking, something tough to replicate as a first- or second-year player. But freshman Ben Koyack and sophomore Alex Welch have done a solid job so far. Ragone himself has done everything he can to contribute off the field, traveling with the team to road games and acting as an extra coach on the sidelines for the young group.

Previous report cards:

Quarterbacks

Defensive line

Offensive line

Linebackers

Running backs

Freshmen making impact through 6 games

October, 10, 2011
10/10/11
4:30
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Nobody confuses Notre Dame fans wearing No. 5 jerseys for representing Everett Golson. And that likely won't change for the rest of the season, either.

Whether or not Manti Te'o elects to return for his senior season will be determined once his junior year is complete. Until then, he will probably be the only No. 5 on the field for the Fighting Irish.

"I think you guys can figure out what the rotation is going to be at this point," Brian Kelly said on his conference call Sunday when asked about the freshman quarterback Golson, who has not played through six games.

Told he was giving reporters too much credit, Kelly almost went there: "You know what I would like to say, but I'm not going to say it."

For those late to the party, the term is "redshirt," an eight-letter no-no in South Bend, regardless of the few fifth-year players who trot out to the field every Saturday.

It's a fate that Golson is all but assured of after sophomore -- or is redshirt freshman? -- Andrew Hendrix saw his first career action Saturday, completing all four of his passes for 33 yards and rushing it six times for 111 yards.

Kelly has played 10 freshmen through six games, one more than he did throughout last season. DaVaris Daniels would seemingly be the next freshman in line to join the list, but Kelly said Wednesday that although he wanted to get Daniels in, it was "getting close to that time," another way of saying a redshirt decision could be on the way.

With freshmen Chase Hounshell and Josh Atkinson debuting Saturday while Daniels did not, the receiver's chances of seeing the field this season went from slim to virtually none.

Kelly had plenty to say when asked about the freshmen who have seen the field so far:

"Wow, where do I start? Let's start defensively. Obviously [Stephon] Tuitt and [Aaron] Lynch are great freshmen. I wouldn't put that tag on them as seniors, but as true freshmen, they played great. They made mistakes, but you can see that they are going to be a great building block for us.

"George Atkinson on offense has provided a great spark for us on the kickoff return team. I think if you continue to look at freshmen in terms of their impact, along the line, Ben Koyack has done a very nice job in our tight end set coming in and providing us really some solid play when we lost Mike Ragone, who is an outstanding blocker. Chase Hounshell played very, very well for us at 39 snaps; that's a lot of work when you talk about week six, and his physical conditioning was outstanding. Kyle Brindza has been pretty good and kicking the football, the number of touchbacks, that's really impacted what we've done.

"You know, Troy Niklas, he comes in and has to start against a pretty good team against [Michigan State] and came in and has done a great job for us.

"So a lot of freshmen, a lot of guys that are getting in there and helping us. Cam McDaniel on special teams has been outstanding for us. Again that's a lot of true freshmen. Ishaq Williams, you look at what Ishaq has done, he has not gotten as many snaps as Lynch, but you can see him coming each and every week. How's that so far?"

The early returns are successful, particularly Tuitt and Lynch, who have combined for 21 tackles. Lynch has 3.5 tackles for loss, three sacks, eight quarterback hurries and a forced fumble, as well.

And as the season progresses and mid-terms and homesickness begin to mount, Kelly is thankful his first-year players have a chance to take a frenetic game week out of the equation.

"You have to understand, Aaron Lynch, those kids have been up here on campus since June 16," Kelly said after Saturday's win. "They have not been home since June 16, and that's hard for an 18-year-old kid. So this break comes at a good time for our guys to get home and see their families a little bit. So any momentum that is lost in that is gained by our guys getting a chance to get home."

Irish Lunch Links

September, 30, 2011
9/30/11
12:00
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Friday night playoffs, Saturday night football. Works for me.

Reserve tight end order becomes muddied

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Another man down, another man up -- that's the situation Notre Dame faces with a tight end corp that just can't seem to stay collectively healthy.

Freshman Ben Koyack saw action backing up Tyler Eifert in Saturday's 35-31 loss to Michigan thanks to injuries to reserves Alex Welch (foot infection), Jake Golic (broken arm) and Mike Ragone (ACL).

Welch, a sophomore, has been cleared to practice this week and should be ready to go against Michigan State this weekend, when he will likely split No. 2 duties with Koyack.

Head coach Brian Kelly liked what he saw from Koyack in his debut Saturday.

"You know, he's not afraid to stick his nose in there, and it's interesting, you know, in terms of assignment, he was assignment correct," Kelly said. "We had some other guys that needed to be attentive to their assignments.

"All in all, he did a nice job. He's a kid that's not rattled. I really love his demeanor. First time we put him on the field he didn't have that look that sometimes you're concerned about. I think Ben is going to be fine for us."

Golic has been cleared to practice as well after the junior broke his arm during a preseason practice.

Still, the injury to Ragone is troubling, as the fifth-year senior will have to sit out his final college season after suffering his third major knee injury in the past six years.

Ragone missed the 2008 season after suffering a torn ACL in preseason practice, two years after missing his senior season of high school at Camden Catholic (Cherry Hill, N.J.) because of a knee injury.

"I'm pretty disappointed for him," Kelly said. "He's been a warrior for us in a sense. He's battled through a lot of injuries. He loves to play the game. He loves competition, and we're really going to miss him. He'll still be around our football team. He's going to help mentor some of our younger players, and that brings us to the other tight ends."

Notre Dame could ask the NCAA to grant Ragone a sixth year of eligibility since he would have missed nearly two full seasons due to an injury or circumstance beyond his control.

For now, the Fighting Irish have to be happy with the production they've gotten out of the junior Eifert, whose 10 catches for 144 yards are both good for second on the team.

Brian Kelly: 'I'm excited'

September, 13, 2011
9/13/11
12:53
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The world isn't coming to an end with Notre Dame off to an 0-2 start. In fact, Brian Kelly has been encouraged by his team's performance through two games.

"I think you can sense that I'm not, 'Oh my God, we're 0-2, what did I get myself into?'" Kelly said at his weekly news conference. "I like our players. I like where we're going. I know you've got to win, I get that. But we're where I believe we should be -- we should've obviously taken care of the football better, made a couple plays here and there, coached a little bit better. We're all disappointed, it's not acceptable to lose, especially at Notre Dame, but we're on the journey that I'm excited about."

Kelly corrected a reporter who began his question suggesting he said he had a good football team, but the second-year head coach added that he doesn't think his team has been beaten through two weeks.

Kelly compared last year's loss to Michigan to this year's in showing the difference between the capabilities of the two teams.

"I said we have a chance to be a good team; we're 0-2 right now," Kelly said. "It's been what I've expected it to be. And they're not pleased with their performance, they're not happy where they're at, coaches are not pleased with our performance. We're all in this together. It's not, 'Hey, they did this, we're smart, they're not.' We're all in this together. I'm 0-2. But I did tell them this: I said I really believe that you haven't won a game yet but you haven't been beaten.

"Last year we were beaten. We got beat by Michigan last year, as much as I don't like to say it. They beat us last year. We've really had a hand in beating ourselves and that's the big difference. If we do not beat ourselves, we've got a chance to be the kind of football team that we all believe that we can be. I can see it. I've coached almost 250 football games. I can feel and see a football team coming together. They've got to take care of the football. They've got to execute better and they will. I know it's just a matter of time for them."

Notes: Kelly also said reserve tight end Mike Ragone will undergo season-ending surgery to repair a torn anterior cruciate ligament. ... Alex Welch (foot) and Jake Golic (broken arm) have been cleared to practice. ... Danny Spond (hamstring) is questionable. ... Sean Cwynar (broken bone in hand) is regaining strength and doing better.

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