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Eifert, Ragone prepared to fill in for Rudolph

Sam Werner | Thursday, October 14, 2010

Since arriving at Notre Dame last December, Irish coach Brian Kelly has been preaching the importance of his “next man in” philosophy, which means that every player at every position needs to be ready to step in and be productive if called upon.

Now it’s time to put that mantra to the test.

With junior tight end Kyle Rudolph sidelined for the rest of the season, sophomore Tyler Eifert and senior Mike Ragone, as well as sophomore Jake Golic, will have to fill the void left by the preseason All-American.

“No one player is going to stop what we do,” Kelly said at his Tuesday press conference. “It’s a ‘next man in’ philosophy for us. Tyler Eifert, Mike Ragone, Golic — those guys are going to have to step up and play the position for us at a high level. We think those guys can. We have a lot of confidence in them.”

It may help that the hamstring injury had been nagging Rudolph all season, and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said the tight ends and coaching staff had discussed a plan for what would happen if he had to miss any action.

“We talked about this in summer camp when he was sore and we’ve been prepared for it,” Molnar said. “Everybody moves up a notch on the ladder, moves up a rung, and those guys have been ready for it. We don’t slow down a bit; we just keep on moving.”

Eifert and Ragone are the two players most likely to see a substantial increase in playing time with Rudolph out. Of those two, Eifert has seen more playing time so far this season, but has only hauled in one pass for 17 yards against Michigan. Since then, he’s been hampered with a shoulder injury, but said that it was at a point where he thought he could play through the pain.

“With the medicine and the heat of the game, you don’t feel it and you can’t let that bother you,” Eifert said.

Ragone played sparingly in the first few games after a heat-related illness caused him to miss a significant portion of training camp. He caught his first pass of the season for 11 yards in last week’s win over Pittsburgh.

“It always feels good to be on the field,” Ragone said. “It feels better to be on the field that it does to sit on the sideline.”

He added that the lack of playing time early on wouldn’t affect his play going forward.

“First couple of games I just didn’t get as many reps,” Ragone said. “But hey, when your opportunity’s called you just step up and you just do what you’ve got to do.”

Both players stressed the need to not try and fill the shoes of Rudolph, one of the top tight ends in the country, but rather to play within their abilities to help the team win.

“Why would I want to be Kyle Rudolph?” Ragone said. “I want to be Michael Ragone, he wants to be Tyler Eifert, he’s Kyle Rudolph over there. We’re all different. I’m just gonna keep doing me, Kyle’s gonna keep doing him and we’re gonna win these ball games.”

Part of Rudolph’s effectiveness could be attributed to his tight-knit relationship with starting quarterback Dayne Crist. The two are close friends and seemed to have a strong rapport on the field. Crist, though, said that he would be just as comfortable throwing to whoever takes Rudolph’s spot.

“I have a ton of confidence in our other two tight ends, Mike Ragone and Tyler Eifert,” Crist said at his press conference Wednesday. “They are great players and doing some good things for us, as well. We will continue to bring those guys along and get better with those guys because that’s really our focus right now.”

For their part, Efiert and Ragone both said they’re comfortable enough with the playbook to step in right now.

“We know the offense,” Eifert said. “I’ve picked it up well and I’m confident. I just need to go out and execute.”

While losing a player of Rudolph’s caliber is obviously a tough blow to Notre Dame’s chances going forward, Eifert and Ragone said they were excited about their chance to showcase their ability with more playing time.

“The circumstance, [Rudolph] being down, is not great,” Ragone said. “I’m not smiling about it or anything, but now my opportunity is called and now it’s time to step up.”