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Football: Rudolph, healthy Ragone lead talented tight end group

Michael Bryan | Tuesday, March 31, 2009

After a challenging season that saw the Irish lose sophomore Mike Ragone to an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) injury and junior Will Yeatman to suspension, Notre Dame appears healthy and reloaded at the tight end position this spring.

Led by the recovery of Ragone and rising sophomore talent Kyle Rudolph, tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee said this season’s depth will help open up the Irish offense.

“[Last year] we couldn’t do what we needed to do, we couldn’t use certain packages with multiple tight ends because we only had one,” Parmalee said. “The more guys we have at that position, the better we are. We have three guys right behind Rudolph that really can play some ball and allow us to do more things.”

Rudolph was thrust into the starting position last season as a freshman after the losses of Ragone and Yeatman, and made an immediate impact in the passing game. The tight end set school records for a freshman at the position, recording 25 receptions for 262 yards and two touchdowns.

Parmalee said the main point of emphasis with Rudolph this offseason was in the weight room.

“He’s smart, and he’s got a lot of talent, and he’s gotten stronger. The biggest time to make gains is after that first year, then you can really hold the point of attack,” Parmalee said.

He also praised Rudolph’s efforts his freshman year.

“He was an iron man, you rarely see that in a freshman, coming in playing in this type of offense, starting every game and taking almost every snap,” he said.

The rising junior Ragone also appears healthy and primed for a big season after sitting out last season because of a torn ACL.

“He’s out there practicing like everyone else,” Parmalee said. “He goes out there and plays his butt off. He’s playing well, he has no limitations, he’s competitive, and he’s productive.”

Pushing Ragone on the depth chart is rising sophomore Joseph Fauria, who saw the field in three games his freshman season.

“He’s working hard, all the guys are working hard, but he’s really pushing Ragone.” Parmalee said. “He was on the scout team and then got moved up last year to be the second tight end, and was playing catch-up, so he finally has an off-season to get in the system and get some meaningful reps.”

Parmalee also said junior walk-on Bobby Burger could also push for playing time.

“He knows the offense, he’s a tough kid, and he’s a smart kid,” Parmalee said. “The thing that stood out [after transferring from Dayton] was his toughness, and he’s looking to get into the mix too.”

The foursome of tight ends will look to continue Notre Dame’s recent tradition of success at the position – former starters John Carlson and Anthony Fasano were two of the most prolific tight ends in program history and have moved into starting NFL roles.