Cup Runneth Over: TE, OL, Special Teams

Part II of whatever comes to mind as we head into the first Game Week of 2010.

Click here for Part I covering the QB, RB and WR

Tight Ends

No insider information here, but I'm not convinced Rudolph will be close to 100 percent for the season opener; look for the future All-American's production to triple in October vs. September…Tyler Eifert has joined tailback Cierre Wood and safety Jamoris Slaughter as the new contributors I'm most anxious to watch in September…Mike Ragone has way too much talent to play at such an inconsistent (or low) level in the passing game; he dropped as many as he caught last season, two at point-blank range…Ragone needs to emerge this fall if he hopes to earn a 5th-year in 2011…Jake Golic will debut this season on special teams; he'll have to wait two years for meaningful scrimmage time if Rudolph returns for his senior season…Rudolph's hamstring tweak could have disparate results: a September loss in 2010/but Rudolph on the roster in 2011…

At some point this August, Rudolph, Ragone, and senior Bobby Burger each missed practice time; that trio was the assumed 1-2-3 heading into camp; the new No. 2, Tyler Eifert, missed most of last season with a career-threatening back injury – maybe Jake Golic and Alex Welch should avoid walking under any ladders?…A healthy Rudolph is either the best, or second-best football player on the Irish roster – key to the Irish fortunes would be player's ranked #3 through #5-6 be not far behind…The myriad of tight end injuries served freshman Alex Welch well over camp's final two weeks, but it would be ideal if Welch never play this fall – that can only happen if Rudolph is healthy and Ragone returns to form…

The detached Irish tight ends will catch more passes than the X receiver competitors, combined… If both Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph return for 2011 – and Dayne Crist doesn't suffer a setback – Notre Dame will qualify for the BCS Championship Game…On a related note, Floyd and Rudolph have missed all or part of 12 of the team's 25 games played during their two-year tenure.

Offensive Line

Chris Watt pushing Chris Stewart for the starting left guard role is either very good, or very bad news – we'll know in two weeks…I've been down on Dan Wenger as a player for two seasons, but he seems to be quite dialed in as a 5th year senior; the Kelly regime should force him to play hard through the whistle – an obvious weakness last season…Wenger joins Allen, Crist and a handful of others I'm rooting for simply as great people, but I assume we're in agreement that this is scout camp: merit badges for hard-nosed winners only…Every time I look at Braxston Cave I think of Jeff Faine; if he's close to that level ND will win 10 games…Who'd have though redshirt-freshman Zack Martin would be the only player to earn and keep a starting job without further evaluation from the spring through August? (Even Trevor Robinson was evaluated at right guard)…

Robinson struggled vs. Purdue's Ryan Kerrigan last season; both he and Taylor Dever will have their hands full with the underrated Boiler next Saturday…the latter could be completely overwhelmed in his first start vs. a high-quality player…Robinson enters September as the team's third-best player – arguments can be made for a certain middle linebacker as its fourth…No coach, scout or player can convince me that the line's biggest question mark for September is anyone other than Dever; of course, I know less about Dever than any other front line player…Did Dever beat out Andrew Nuss, or did Nuss' apparent injury afford the role by default?

Nuss will likely serve as the team's first or second player off the bench; he needs to be stronger at the point than he was in 2009…Its great to hear that Tate Nichols and Christian Lombard are pushing for 2nd unit status, but it would be a good sign for the Irish if both freshmen could redshirt…Is sophomore guard Alex Bullard in a position to spell Robinson regularly at right guard? Regardless, expect Robinson to lead the front five in total playing time this season…Look for Lane Clelland to be the lineman of choice on most special teams; Clelland has good feet and experience in the role…Former head coach Charlie Weis noted last August that each of his then freshmen: Martin, Watt and Bullard, could have helped if necessary – chalk one up for quality player evaluation but poor decision-making, someone needed to replace the tackle tandem late last season…

Field Goals and Return Teams

Kickers David Ruffer (5-5); Nicholas Tausch (14-17); and Brandon Walker (13-17) have connected on 32 of the team's last 39 field goal attempts (82 percent) dating back to mid-season (Game Six) of 2008...Tausch has never attempted a game-winning field goal in his kicking career (including high school)… 14 in a row as a true freshman to set a program record – yet Tausch is viewed as a weak point by Irish fans…ND has hit 19 of its last 22 field goal attempts, though each of the three misses were from 41 yards or closer…3rd string kicker Brandon Walker owns the longest successful field goal boot among the trio of placekickers: a 48-yard triple overtime drill shot to tie the score vs. Pittsburgh in 2008…Ruffer was 5 for 5 in emergency duty last November; that quintet included two 42-yard boots and one 36-yard overtime kick to keep the Irish alive…Notre Dame kickers have not connected on a 50-yard (or longer) field goal since Nick Setta pounded through a 51-yard boot for the first score of the 2002 season…

Armando Allen (53 yards and a 96-yard TD and), Barry Gallup (52 yards), David Grimes (50), and Carlos Campbell (41 yards) have the five longest kick returns for an Irish player since the start of the 2004 season – two have graduated and neither Allen nor Gallup are expected to perform in that role this season…Aside from Tate's 87-yard punt return TD vs. Pittsburgh last November, Irish punt returners (Tate and John Goodman) had a season-long of 24 (Goodman vs. Nevada) with …The punt return team posted a single return effort better than 15 yards between Game One and Game Ten (Pitt)…Look for a consistent return effort from the assume backup punt returner Goodman this season; I'm not sure Allen will keep the role for 12 weeks…I assume Theo Riddick can't catch punts consistently, otherwise he'd figure prominently in that role…My summer darkhorse, Harrison Smith, is out of the running for the PR role…I wish every player returned punts with the tenacity of Tommy Z…

The Cierre Wood/Riddick kick return combo should provide ND its best effort since Vontez Duff left campus…Its been seven seasons since Notre Dame fans or opponents had to hold their breath when the pigskin was booted down near the goal to a threatening Irishman…My hope is Brian Kelly is accurate in his assessment of the return potential as "Dynamic"…in the program's most recent run of success (1988-93), the kick return team's second-level blockers became NFL Draft picks and Pro Bowlers (Rodney Culver, Anthony Johnson, Ray Zellers, Dorsey Levens, etc.)…I can't recall a top-10 level Irish team in my viewing lifetime (1981-onward) that didn't have a top tier kick or punt returner...

Intriguing that Jonas Gray is a backup kick return option; I'd like to see him hit the open field for the final 60 yards…The first future head coach from the 2010 Irish staff will be defensive line coach/special teams coordinator Mike Elston.

Up Next: The Front Seven of the Irish defense.


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