Pre-Camp Outlook - Part 3

Duval Kamara, Mike Ragone, and Paul Duncan look to bounce back from recent frustrations.

Heard enough off-season analysis of Notre Dame's running game or the details of junior quarterback Jimmy Clausen's up-and-down (and back up) sophomore season?

Me too, but I do have three remaining personnel questions that need early-season answers.

Three's Company

I'm as excited as most Irish fans to see sophomore (redshirt freshmen) wide receivers John Goodman and Deion Walker in competitive action this month and when the bullets are live in the fall. But I think the Irish offense will operate at peak efficiency if last August's future star Duval Kamara takes a major step forward and fights off every challenger for the team's third receiver role.

In this case, "third receiver" doesn't mean "slot," which has become the popular expression when searching for a sidekick for Golden Tate and Michael Floyd. Rather, I think Kamara showed promise as a freshman in '07 on the outside, and if he can build on that promise – albeit one year delayed – Coach Weis could work wonders with the Dynamic Duo lining up anywhere in his three, four, and five wide formations.

Kamara's freshman season prompted one national pre-season publication to refer to him as "an absolute beast," while another mused "he could be unstoppable down the road…" prior to 2008. If Kamara is to develop into a dynamic college football player he'll have to take his first step toward that end in practice this month.

The line of talented athletes behind him continues to grow.

Partner in Prime

We've read about his speed; his hands; his aggressiveness. He tasted the field in spot duty as a freshman in '07 before losing his entire '08 campaign to an August knee injury. Junior tight end Mike Ragone: the man, the myth, the media legend. And finally, it appears, the football player.

Ragone's continued recovery (from a solid Blue-Gold game in April to Saturday's first practice) will have a major impact on two crucial aspects of the Irish offense: the team's goal line attack and, most importantly, its running game. Freshman Kyle Rudolph understandably struggled as a blocker last season. He's sure to improve, but it's the junior Ragone who must embrace the role of former Irish tight ends Derek Brown, Irv Smith, and Anthony Fasano … run-blocking brutes that acted as sixth linemen when an edge needed to be sealed or an alley opened for the team's running backs.

Likewise, whether Ragone's impressive speed returns this year or next, he'll nonetheless offer Clausen and Weis another capable option in the red zone…a talented pass-catcher to attack the soft middle of the defense with Tate/Floyd/Rudolph, etc. pressuring the sidelines and seams.

And in stark contrast to last year's predominantly one tight end attack, imagine this September scenario: Ragone and Rudolph – bookends on 2nd and goal from the 3-yard line...the options contained therein are enough to give defensive coordinators sleepless Friday nights. In 2005 and 2006, Notre Dame's two tight end sets were Coach Weis' preferred offensive package – Ragone's health and progress will determine if they can be again as the offense attacks the September slate.

Retribution?

The last time we saw Paul Duncan man his left tackle spot in a real football game was September 8, 2007. A tank of gas cost $2.81, Konrad Reuland was a contributing Irish tight end, the nation's box-office leader was 3:10 to Yuma, and the Irish offensive line had just yielded its 15th sack in the season's first eight quarters.

Duncan took a position change in stride (moving to right tackle for the Michigan game and the team's final 9 outings - all starts) but the Irish offensive line showed little improvement over the next 10 weeks. Duncan then sat out the 2008 season due to hip surgery.

Fast forward to the spring of 2009, and a reportedly aggressive, thankful, and even contemplative Duncan emerged as the surprise of camp, easily beating out three challengers for the team's starting left tackle role and impressing both Weis and new OL coach Frank Verducci.

Since the Irish coaching staff knows just a shade below 100 percent more about the 2009 Irish than do the rest of us, we should probably consider August as a time to take the staff, Duncan, and the good vibes surrounding his re-ascension to the LT role and renewed focus at face value. Duncan is ready to help right the wrongs of recent season's past up front.

The scrutiny begins around 3:45-4:00 on September 5.


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