I think you would be hard pressed to find a more talented group of tight ends and wide receivers on any roster in the country. As Kool-Aid swilling as that may sound I honestly believe it to be true. Check it out.
Listed below are the individual players at tight end and wide receiver. Players with an * next to their class will be eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Of note only reserve TE Bobby Burger and WR Duval Kamara will exhaust their eligibility this fall.
This group of tight ends is exceptional which is amazing considering the attrition rate for very talented Tight Ends in the program over the last couple of years.
9 Kyle Rudolph 6’6" 265 (Junior) I think Rudolph is the best tight end in the country and Phil Steele agrees with me. Kyle is an absolute freak of a human being with tremendous size, speed and great hands that make him a matchup nightmare for linebackers and defensive backs alike. Rudolph has been slowed during camp with a sore hamstring but the staff reports that it isn’t anything serious. Rudolph will be on the field come September 4th. I expect Rudolph to have a huge season that will leave him facing a big decision about his future come January. I’m already on the record as saying that I expect him to return for his senior year in 2011.
83 Mike Ragone 6’4" 245 (Senior*) Ragone was supposed to be Rudolph when he came to Notre Dame. He has had a wild ride since that has included jumping upperclassmen on the depth chart, battling injuries and most recently a run in with the law. If Ragone is going to realize his potential the time is now. He has been held out of camp since 11 August when he was hospitalized for a "heat illness" which has left an open door behind him. When he gets back on the field he will have to work that much harder to reclaim the number two spot behind Rudolph.
80 Tyler Eifert 6’6" 242 (Sophomore*) With both Rudolph and Ragone sidelined Tyler has made the most of his opportunity to impress the staff during camp. Eifert battled back from a back injury that he suffered as a freshman and has made significant strength gains over the summer. Tight Ends Coach Mike Denbrock has applauded Eifert for adding strength to his athletic repertoire.
"He’s very athletic, very skilled running and catching the football, but add the other component to it. I think he’s put himself in a position to be a more physical football player and we need both of those aspects from the tight end."
It would appear that Eifert is progressing nicely and will be ready to contribute this fall.
41 Bobby Burger 6’2" 248 (5th Year) When camp kicked off it looked like Burger was running number 2 behind Rudolph with the assumption being that Ragone was in the doghouse for his summer run in with the law. It appears that Burger has since been supplanted by Eifert and he has really dropped off the news radar in the last couple of weeks. Burger is a kid that just loves to play football and both the current and previous staffs have always seemed to have a soft spot for the kid. I expect he will see the field in assorted roles this fall primarily as a blocking tight end.
88 Jake Golic 6’4" 235 (Sophomore*) Golic has added some bulk but is still a tad on the thin side for a Tight End. He will no doubt benefit from the reps he is getting in camp as he has been running with the 2s behind Eifert. I still don’t anticipate seeing much of Jake this fall unless multiple tights are out of the mix due to injury.
82 Alex Welch 6’4" 240 (Freshman) Welch has also seen some action during fall camp due to Rudolph and Ragone being slowed by injuries. Welch has good size and will eventually develop into a solid TE that can block and pick up first downs in the passing game. In a perfect world he will be able to retain a year of eligibility this season to continue growing into his frame and working on his skill set. Unfortunately things haven’t quite gone that way thus far in camp and Coach Kelly has identified him as one of the freshman that needs to be "prepared to play."
On more than one occasion Brian Kelly has stated that he wants to move the receivers around throughout the course of a game. Floyd and Kamara are currently the starters at W and X, respectively, with Riddick in the slot.
"We have the ability to move guys around. We can move Theo, all of a sudden Theo could be in the boundary, we can move Michael into the slot."
This is a very good thing as it will create natural matchup problems for opposing defenses.
3 Michael Floyd 6’3" 227 (Junior) Floyd is a special talent and Coach Kelly has raved about how he has set the bar for the rest of the team with his work ethic. The only issue with Floyd in his first two seasons was some bad luck with injuries. When healthy Floyd has been a force to be reckoned with and he could take that to a whole new level this fall. Michael is the real deal and I expect that he will play on Sundays for a long time. Unfortunately I also think he will opt to chase that dream a year early and declare for the NFL Draft at the conclusion of the season. Regardless I am very excited about watching #3 play another 13 games for the Fighting Irish.
18 Duval Kamara 6’4" 225 (Senior) In 2007 Duval set freshman receiving records at ND for receptions and touchdowns only to find himself competing for time behind Tate and Floyd the next two seasons. While Duval is currently listed as the starter at X Coach Kelly has said he will be used "in combination" with T.J. Jones there. Duval is one of the guys in this offense that could benefit most from all the attention that Floyd and Rudolph will draw from opposing defenses. With his size and strength he will be a tough assignment for any corner that has him one on one. Need a quick slant to X for a first down? Duval is your guy.
81 John Goodman 6’3" 207 (Junior*) As of now it appears that Goodman will spell Floyd and Coach Kelly has stated that he needs to be a little more consistent. Goody is a guy that would be starting at most other places and I expect to see plenty of #81 in the rotation.
1 Deion Walker 6’3" 198 (Junior*) If there is one player in this group that has all but disappeared it is Deion Walker. I recently read an entire article about the receiving corps and Walker was the only player that was not mentioned. Unless Deion quickly turns the corner or the receiving corps becomes plagued by injuries it would appear that Deion will spend another season buried on the depth chart.
6 Theo Riddick 5’11" 198 (Sophomore) Theo Riddick has the tools to be a truly dynamic playmaker, and with Allen and fellow Sophomore Cierre Wood at RB I really like the staff moving Theo into the slot. If Theo can get the ball in space good things will happen. I expect that he will make several big plays this season and assume a utility role pseudo similar to that previously provided by Golden Tate.
11 Shaquelle Evans 6’1" 205 (Sophomore) Shaq was in the mix early last season then essentially disappeared. Weis claimed he was not in the doghouse but we will probably never know what really happened there. What we do know is that Shaq is very fast and Receivers Coach Tony Alford has been complimentary of him throughout camp. I expect we will also see Shaq in the rotation this fall where he will primarily be used to stretch the defense vertically.
19 Roby Toma 5’9" 175 (Sophomore) Toma is a prototypical slot receiver and Coach Alford has been complimentary of his competitiveness. We will also see a little bit of Robby this fall.
7 T.J. Jones 5’11" 187 (Freshman) T.J. was an early enrollee last spring and wasted no time jumping into the two deep. He was dynamic in the spring game and it looks like he will split time with Kamara this fall. Of the four freshman receivers T.J. is the one that is sure to be a contributor this fall.
28 Austin Collinsworth 6’1" 195 (Freshman) Austin has also received some praise from the coaching staff during camp and it looks as if he will contribute on special teams this fall at a minimum. With so much talent in front of him at receiver Austin will likely spend this fall working on his skill set and compete for real time as a receiver in 2011.
87 Daniel Smith 6’4" 208 (Freshman) While I expect Daniel to retain a year of eligibility this fall I see him as the heir apparent to the Kamara role in this offense. Smith has the frame to turn into another strong big bodied receiver in the Kamara mold.
86 Bennett Jackson 6’0" 172 (Freshman) Bennett is another speedster that will likely eventually work his way into the rotation either in the slot or stretching defenses on the outside. Like Daniel Smith Bennet will also likely retain a year of eligibility this fall.
This group of Tight Ends and Wide Receivers are very deep, very talented and still pretty young. When guys like Evans, Goodman and Jones running with the 2’s you have undeniable quality depth While many raved about the success of Mardy Gilyard at Cincinnati I believe that Notre Dame has a handful of receivers that could be at least that good this fall.
Coach Kelly’s plan to pair different types of athletes in the two deep at the various receiver positions and cross train guys like Floyd at multiple positions will create significant matchup problems for opposing defenses. Couple that with a fast paced no huddle system and I expect to see a lot of pre-snap confusion from opposing defenses this fall. Not only will this ultimately put significant pressure on opposing defenses in the passing game but it will also create space for Armando Allen and Cierre Wood to take advantage of in the rushing attack. I can't wait to watch it!
In the next and final installment I will discuss the offensive backfield. If you missed the first four installments of this series you can find them at the links below.