Spring Update: Tight End

With spring practice winding down, Irish Eyes takes a look at how each position group is shaping up. Although freshman Kyle Rudolph earned All-Everything honors, Notre Dame was unable to use the tight end position the way it wanted to in 2008, but 2009 should be different.

As a freshman, tight end Kyle Rudolph found out that a college football season is like the equivalent of two seasons of high school sports.

"The biggest thing I learned about myself is that the college football season is so long. I was always used to starting to play basketball November 1," Rudolph said. "November 1 was the Pitt game, that was our halfway point of the season."

And as Rudolph knew coming in, even when the season is over, it isn't really over. Rudolph used the offseason to get back to his desired weight of 260 pounds.

"The winter was great. You're body is still a little beat up from the season, but it's definitely a great time to transition yourself from the football shape into pushing yourself in the weight room," he said. "Putting on a little bit more weight and getting your numbers back up to where you want them to be."

But the Ohio native also knows that the college game is as mental as it is physical.

"In high school you're bigger and faster than everyone else so running routes, you know exactly where you're going and you just go right there," he said. "But then when you get to college you've got to set guys up."

That combination of physical and mental maturation should make Rudolph even more dangerous in 2009.

"I think I'm a lot more comfortable having one season under my belt."

Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis gave the 19-year old sophomore-to-be a simple, but telling compliment earlier in the spring.

"Rudy is Rudy," Weis said.

Last year, Rudy caught 33 balls for 418 yards and a pair of scores while being named a unanimous Freshman All-American.

"You've just got to keep working hard day in and day out. There's always more, you can never be satisfied," he said. "Freshman All-American is great, but it's a new year and we've got bigger goals as a team.

CHARTING DEPTH: The Irish found out how quickly a position of perceived depth can transform into one with almost none last year.

Mike Ragone had season-ending knee surgery before the season started and Will Yeatman was suspended after the third game, leaving the freshman Rudolph and his classmate Joseph Fauria as the only scholarship tight ends.

Notre Dame was unable to preserve a year of eligibility for Fauria, but Rudolph was virtually a one-man show, getting more playing time than any offensive skill player aside from Jimmy Clausen.

"We were very fortunate that he was an iron man in a sense and you very seldom see that in a freshman," tight ends coach Bernie Parmalee said.

Heading into 2009, the Irish have Ragone back while Fauria has a year of experience and walk-on Bobby Burger has impressed during spring practice. Parmalee is confident that the Irish offense will get back to featuring the tight ends more.

"It definitely could be a weapon. As you guys know, we've used a lot of tight ends in the past," he said. "It's a tight end-friendly offense and the more talent you have at that position, it will open up things for the guys on the outside."

Notre Dame was limited in what it could use as far as personnel and formations last year, but 2009 should be different.

"The more guys we have at that position the better we are because it's about matchups," said Parmalee. "We're fortunate enough that we have some young guys that came along this year like Fauria and then we do have Ragone back and then we do have Burger. We have three guys right behind Rudolph that can really play some ball. It allows us the opportunity to do some other things."

Rudolph is enjoying the competition that he missed out on last season.

"That's what this school is meant for, is the competitiveness on the field," he said. "It's great to finally have a bunch of guys and finally have our arsenal of tight ends back."

Fauria is pushing Ragone for the second spot behind Rudolph and Burger has a good chance of working has way onto the field as well.

"I think we've got a real good group this year," said Parmalee.

KEEP AN EYE OUT FOR: Burger transferred from Dayton a year ago and he made an impression on everybody right away.

"The one thing that stood out was the toughness," said Parmalee. "In our individual periods, other players used to get mad at him because he used to go full speed so that was a good thing on his part."

Burger may not be used as the classic tight end on the line of scrimmage, but the staff believes that he is good enough to play.

"He can play, he has some talent. He's like a move guy. He knows the offense, he's a tough kid, he's a smart kid and he likes to play the game, it's important to him," said Parmalee. "At anytime if we needed to put him in there, he could go in there and do a good job."

INJURIES, ETC.: The tight end group has not suffered any injuries during the spring, but Ragone is still recovering from his knee surgery.

"Anytime you're coming off an injury, a knee injury, initially it's mentally," said Parmalee, who had ACL surgery when he was a pro. "You've got to understand that it is fixed, you do have soreness and within time it heals. The more you go out there and you practice on it, the more confidence you have."

The coaches pulled Ragone aside midway through spring to reassure him.

"The coaching staff got on me a little bit just to stop worrying about the injury and just play," said Ragone. "I made it as a goal to get out there and play and get ready for Nevada at the start of the season so I started picking it up a little bit and just giving it everything I got."

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