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Pre-Spring Depth Chart: Tight End

We are inching ever closer to the quarterback position, but up first we have the tight ends.

If you’ve missed any of the other positions so far, clink on the names below.

Wide receiver

Offensive line

Running Back

*Denotes fifth year eligibility

Mike Ragone, Fifth year

Tyler Eifert, Junior*

Jake Golic, Junior*

Alex Welch, Sophomore*

Ben Koyack, Freshman

Will the Irish Be Able to Replace Kyle Rudolph’s Production?

Without a doubt, yes.

Rudolph was a physical specimen and very talented in his own right, but in the grand scheme of things his production over his career wasn’t that great. Of course injuries played a major part in that, but nevertheless the team doesn’t have to replace that many receptions or touchdowns.

Just think about it…Rudolph never caught more than 33 balls in a season or totaled more than 364 yards in a season. As the starter for seven games in 2010, Tyler Eifert put up 27 receptions and 352 yards.

That’s not to say that he is more talented or better than Rudolph, but if Eifert can stay healthy there should be an increase in production.

Also, we have to factor in some production from any of the other backups who should catch a few balls along the way in the fall. You’ll notice that from 2008 to 2009 it was either Rudolph catching balls or the tight end position was essentially dead from a receiving stand point.

With a few up and coming young tight ends and a veteran fifth year senior, there should be a lot of production from this position.

How Much Will the Underclassmen Play?

As it stands right now seven months before the season, I would say that Ben Koyack is going to redshirt and add a little bulk to his frame.

He may be the most physically gifted tight end on the roster, but there are a handful of bodies ahead of him right now and I’m not sure it would be worth putting Koyack in there if he’s only going to see the bare minimum of minutes.

Alex Welch is an interesting case and his playing time might depend on what Kelly decides to do with Mike Ragone.

Will Ragone be used primarily as a blocker and will that allow Welch to backup Eifert as the receiving tight end of the group?

Or will Welch have to fight Ragone (and possibly Golic) for minutes in non-blocking situations?

We could probably see a little of both scenarios, in which case Welch should probably get some quality playing time but nothing too overwhelming.

Until we see how he shapes up in relation to the other tight ends, it should be assumed that Koyack will redshirt.

Who Needs to Step Up?

This is a tough question because there really is a lot of stability and depth at tight end and no pressing need for someone to fill a starting or primary backup position.

You could argue that Ragone needs to bring leadership and blocking, or that Welch needs to make some sort of an impact, but at the end of the day it is all about Eifert taking over as the main man in the passing game.

Losing Rudolph hurts, but it appears that Eifert is going to be a legitimate star and one of the better tight ends in the country. He is tall, with a lean muscular frame, and proved he has good speed and playmaking ability down the stretch last year.

The high praise Brian Kelly heaped on Eifert during fall practice last year probably signals that he’ll be a force for years to come.

What’s the Lineup Going to Look Like?

Eifert should start and play a lot of minutes, coming out to take a breather or give someone else a chance to block on third and short and other similar plays.

Eifert is actually a pretty good blocker so he could play a ton of minutes if he stays healthy enough and can still get open down field without slowing down.

I tabbed Ragone as my breakout player of the year for 2010…and that didn’t work out too well.

Nonetheless, he’s probably the team’s best pound for pound blocker and has shown glimpses that he can be a really good tight end at this level.

I know some people have written Ragone off because of his problems off the field and questioned why he was brought back for a fifth year, but he really is talented and no one should be surprised if he hauls in 20 receptions in 2011 and makes a big impact.

Welch will probably be in the mix somehow, but I don’t foresee anything greater than a 10-catch season and some spot duty blocking late in games.

Jake Golic was actually a better prospect out of high school than people remember, but I’m not sure he’ll ever be a regular in the tight end rotation. He does have three years of eligibility left, so there is plenty of time to make some noise in his career.

Down the road Ben Koyack should be the number one guy and a big part of this offense, but he may have to bide his time throughout 2011 while other veterans eat up all the minutes.

Will these players live up to the "Tight End U" moniker?