Expectations in South Bend are high this summer for the Notre Dame football team. Fans are really wanting to return to glory and let the haters know about it.
Much of the focus on the team,at least on offense, has been on the high profile guys like Jimmy Clausen, Golden Tate, Michael Floyd, and Armando Allen. Of course we all know that nothing matters without a line. With the line having all but one being seniors, there is plenty of experience there.
One guy that really hasn't been talked about but will have a big role is Kyle Rudolph. That really isn't all that surprising though. The tight end is often overlooked on many teams. That doesn't take away from the importance of the position.
I have always believed that the two most versatile guys on an offense are tight ends and full backs. They have to block and handle the ball as well. A tight end has to be able to block like a lineman on running plays and catch like a wide receiver on passing plays.
In many playbooks you see a tight end be used primarily as a check down guy. What that means is that the other receivers go deep and the quarterback looks to them first. If it isn't there, the tight end runs a shorter pattern to serve as the safety valve. That way he at least gets the first down or close to it.
Kyle Rudolph can certainly be used in that role and will do very well in it. However, he has also shown that he can go downfield as well. With James Aldridge now playing full back, that will allow Rudolph downfield more. Aldridge can help play the check down role.
Since Charlie Weis has been in South Bend he certainly has had good tight ends. Weis claims that Rudolph will be better than both Anthony Fasano and John Carlson. Those are big words considering how good both of those guys were.
Whether or not Rudolph lives up to the hype will depend on one thing. That is the development of Jimmy Clausen. I am anxious to see just how far the signal caller has come since he first took over against Penn State. Going into his junior year he needs to be able to go through the progressions and check down when necessary.
Brady Quinn was better at that than any quarterback I have seen in my lifetime at Notre Dame. That is why Fasano and Carlson were so good. Tight ends love playing for a quarterback like that. If you don't believe me just ask Kellen Winslow.
Rudolph was good at times last year, but like many other players he really broke out in the Hawaii Bowl. Again I think a big part of that was the maturation of Clausen during the 15 practices after the USC debacle.
I remember after the game I was at the airport with a Hawaii fan. He was really impressed with Rudolph and his jaw about hit the floor when I told him that he was only a freshmen. I was one of the only guys celebrating on that short flight back to Maui.
Looking forward to 2009, Rudolph may not be the big name on the offense (at least not right away). That doesn't mean his role isn't huge. Hopefully Clausen can continue to grow and if he does, Rudolph will be one to watch this fall.