Ragone's Loss Hurts Depth, Experience

The University of Notre Dame announced on Friday that sophomore tight end Mike Ragone will miss the 2008 season with a left knee injury. Ragone suffered a partial tear of his left anterior cruciate ligament during summer workouts and tried to work through it, but decided on Thursday that he needed to have season-ending surgery.

"This summer while running routes, Mike tweaked his knee and partially tore his left ACL. His two options were to have the knee fixed immediately or to brace it and try to play," Charlie Weis said in a statement released by Notre Dame. "He understood that eventually the knee would have to be fixed and he was hoping to do it at the conclusion of the 2008 season.

"Mike had continued to practice but felt his progress had deteriorated. Thursday afternoon, Mike came to me and decided that having the surgery done now prior to the start of school would be best. Together with Jim Russ and our team doctors, we quickly arranged surgery for late Friday morning. The surgery was successful and Mike will spend the 2008 season rehabbing to be ready for the 2009 season."

Ragone tore the same ligament while wrestling in high school and had surgery that caused him to miss his entire senior season at Camden (N.J.) Catholic. Ragone was able to get back into playing shape by the time he arrived at Notre Dame and played in 11 games on special teams and caught one pass for seven yards as a freshman.

With the suspension of junior tight end Will Yeatman for spring practice, Ragone had worked his way to the top of the depth chart at the position and appeared to hold on to that spot even after Yeatman's return.

Yeatman is now the only tight end on the team with any experience. Yeatman was a bit of an afterthought as a recruit. Yeatman was going to come to Notre Dame on a lacrosse scholarship and have that grant switched over to football when he joined the squad as a sophomore. But when tight end Joey Hiben left the squad for academic reasons it opened up a spot for Yeatman as a freshman and he was given a football scholarship. Still, Yeatman was able to work his way past one of the nation's top tight end recruits in classmate Konrad Reuland and up the depth chart as a freshman.

Yeatman played in all 13 games as a blocking tight end in 2006, while Reuland transferred a year later. Last season, Yeatman played in all 12 games, starting three, but made just six catches for 37 yards. Now he will have his hands full competing against another top-ranked tight end in freshman Kyle Rudolph.

Rudolph had reportedly been pushing both Ragone and Yeatman for playing time and possibly a starting position. On Wednesday, before Ragone informed the staff of his decision, Weis was asked about freshmen who could contribute and Rudolph in particular.

"I'm very, very, very high on Kyle Rudolph," Weis said. "The kid is 255 but he has just grown into 255, he still looks skinny at 255 because he's so big. His straight-line speed, he gets down the field in a hurry and he has great ball skills. So anytime you have a tight end who can run, that is at least an adequate blocker where he can sort of hold the point and not get his butt kicked at the line of scrimmage, and that can vertically threaten all three levels of the field, you know you've got something."

Now there is no question that Rudolph will be one freshman that sees the field this year. Rudolph worked with the first-string offense during Friday's practice session and with the multiple-tight end sets that Weis likes to use, the freshman will see plenty of time even if he does not win the starting job.

The experience of Yeatman coupled with the talent of Rudolph could mean that Ragone's loss won't take away that much production on the front end, but there is no doubt that depth and experience will suffer.

Freshman Joseph Fauria and junior Luke Schmidt, a converted fullback, round out the current depth chart.

At 6-foot-7, Fauria would be a matchup nightmare for any defense, especially in the red zone, but he has been hampered by a hip injury and it is unknown if the staff feels confident enough to include him in some three tight end groupings.

Schmidt figures to be the guy that gets the call in those multiple tight end packages. Weis said on Wednesday that Schmidt has worked as more of an H-back which will be reflected on the coming depth chart.

"When I put out the (fullback) position, it will say (Asaph) Schwapp or Schmidt. They are really playing the (fullback) but from different locations. One guy is in the backfield, one guy is more of a move tight-end," Weis said. "We have practiced Luke on the line of scrimmage and we have practiced him in the backfield, but he is more of a move tight-end."

The Irish appear to have the players to withstand this type of loss, but they won't be able to afford any more.

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