Team Preview: Tight Ends

Tight end John Carlson caught 40 passes last season for the Irish and yet many felt the former Irish great had a less than average season. I remember a time when an Irish tight end was lucky to have 40 receptions total in his career….my how times have changed.

Former Irish coach Lou Holtz was vilified each and every year for his lack of attention to the tight end position while coaching at Notre Dame. With some great talent on the roster like Derek Brown and Irv Smith, Holtz rarely threw to the former first-round picks. That can't be said of current Irish coach Charlie Weis. Weis loves the tight end.

Carlson's 40 receptions were solid numbers for any tight end, but those catches only resulted in 372 yards and three touchdowns. Teams were certainly locked in on Carlson last season, and his numbers certainly declined because of it.

In 2006, the 6-foot-6, 260-pound junior caught seven more passes, but amassed 634 yards and four touchdowns. Carlson was vital vertical threat in the middle of the field that did a lot of damage when thrown to.

There are many reasons for the decline of numbers, none of which had to do with Carlson. The Irish offense was broken, and even Carlson couldn't fix that.

The tight end position has been a staple of the Charlie Weis offense since he arrived at Notre Dame, and we expect the productivity to increase this season. Better pass protection, more experience all around on offense, and more weapons to defend will certainly boost the ailing ND offense.

Junior tight end Will Yeatman is the most experienced tight on the roster. The 6-foot-6, 265-pound Yeatman returns from a spring suspension as the incumbent to Carlson, but he'll have plenty of talent to challenge him for the position.

The San Diego, Calif. native has recorded just six receptions in his career for 37 yards, but his blocking has been a vital cog in the Irish offense. Yeatman is strong, and will likely be much bigger and stronger this season. He'll definitely be on the field often for the Irish, but we're not sure how much he'll be used in the passing game. He is athletic for his size, but he hasn't shown he's a great receiving threat as of yet.

Sophomore Mike Ragone was the only true scholarship tight end on the roster for spring football and likely gained a wealth of valuable experience with Yeatman out of the picture. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Ragone isn't as big or strong as Yeatman, but he does have more speed and athletic ability. Ragone played as a freshman, recording just one reception for seven yards, but he also played a lot on special teams.

The Cherry Hill, N.J. native had a golden opportunity this spring to earn playing time, and he's never shied away from contact. Ragone has been recovering from a knee injury that cost him his senior season in high school, but the sophomore is now two years removed from the injury and should be back to 100 percent this season. Ragone has a wealth of talent, but he'll need to hold off the charge of some talented freshmen to secure his spot as the main receiving threat for the Irish at tight end.

Here Come the Freshmen

Freshman Kyle Rudolph knows there's an excellent opportunity for playing time in 2008 at the tight end position, and thus far he's taken advantage of that opening. Rudolph is rumored to have reported to Notre Dame this June well north of 250 pounds and has been impressive in 7-on-7 workouts this summer. At 6-foot-7, he's kind of a combination of both Ragone and Yeatman. He's big and strong like Yeatman, but he can run and is very athletic for his size like Ragone. He's also a great receiver. The combination of his size and ability to catch the football should get the former five-star recruit on the field early and often in 2008.

In the fall of 2003, two freshmen tight ends enrolled at Notre Dame and all the talk was about five-star prospect Greg Olsen. Olsen eventually left, and little-known tight end John Carlson was left with a great opportunity.

In the fall of 2006, two more promising tight end prospects enrolled in five-star prospect Konrad Reuland and the little-known Yeatman. Reuland also left and Yeatman is now left with a great opportunity.

In the fall of 2008, Joseph Fauria will join the more publicized Rudolph on the Irish depth chart at tight end. While I don't think Rudolph is headed anywhere but for stardom with the Irish, remember that Fauria is a gifted and athletic tight end in his own right. At 6-foot-7, 250 pound, Fauria has massive hands and is a very solid athlete. He also has a solid pedigree with uncle Christian Fauria playing for Weis with the Patriots after starring for the Colorado Buffalos in college. Don't count out the Encino, Calif. native when it comes to playing time this year. He very well may see the field this year.

The Irish have a roster loaded with talent at tight end currently, but they do lack experience. There will likely be some growing pains at the position this year. They also have a wealth of different body types, and each tight end appears to have something they excel at. Notre Dame is in very good shape at the tight end position for the near future. It could be argued that Notre Dame has never had this much talent at the position as they do currently. It should be fun to watch this group this year and in the future. Top Stories