Bad news from the Irish practice fields as sophomore starting tight end Mike Ragone will officially miss the 2008 season with a torn ACL. The tear occurred during the summer while running passing routes, but Ragone tried to see if he could play on it anyways.
"His two options were to have the knee fixed immediately or to brace it and try to play," Weis said. "He understood that eventually the knee would have to be fixed and he was hoping to do it at the conclusion of the 2008 season.Since Ragone played last year as a true freshman, he can use 2008 as his medical redshirt and not lose a year of eligiblity. Still, with Ragone's injury and Konrad Reuland working for a starting job at Stanford, Notre Dame's once deep depth chart at tight end all of sudden is anything but.
"Mike had continued to practice but felt his progress had deteriorated."
Ragone came to Weis on Thursday and told him of his decision to have surgery, the coach said.
"The surgery was successful and Mike will spend the 2008 season rehabbing to be ready for the 2009 season," Weis said.
The pessimistic view is that now Notre Dame will run its tight end friendly offense with three scholarship tight ends. One is a junior with limited experience who missed all of spring practice and the other two are true freshmen. The glass half-full version is that ND still has plenty of talent available at the tight end spot.
Will Yeatman is back from his semester suspension and up to 260 pounds. He isn't as fast as Ragone, but is bigger and an excellent blocker. He probably won't be running as many seam routes as Ragone would have, but should be very effective in the short passing game. Freshman Kyle Rudolph has been impressing everyone so far this fall and probably would have seen the field even if Ragone was healthy. He will add some of that speed back to the tight end spot and be an excellent complement to Yeatman. There's always the possibility that he'll take the #1 tight end spot at some point this season and not give it back until he graduates. The buzz on him has been pretty high so far. He was practicing with the first string today, but it's probably best not to read too much into that already.
Fullback Luke Schmidt also cross-trained as a tight end this past spring which adds to the team depth. According to Weis he'll be playing more of a "move TE" or H-back role this season than a pure fullback or tight end. (Think of when Carlson lined up in the backfield last season, occasionally going in motion before the snap.) Finally, freshman Joseph Fauria would benefit from a year in the weight room, but might be needed at some point this season. He's already 6'7" and all of 245 pounds, but would make a better occasional red zone target than consistent in-line blocker at this point.
Losing Ragone is a blow, but ND does have some very talented options. Inexperience is really the biggest hurdle at this point, which was still true when Ragone was considered the starter. Irish Illustrated focused on the remaining tight ends today at practice in this video report for those who want to give the remaining TE candidates the ol' eyeball test.