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Tight end shuffle

Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph scored a 95-yard touchdown in the second game of the season.

That long scoring catch and run seemed to remove doubt that a preseason hamstring injury would hamper him for the rest of the season.

But even during the run in an eventual 28-24 loss to Michigan on Sept. 11, Rudolph temporally thought about his injury.

"I'd be lying if I said I wasn't worried when I was running," Rudolph said. "It is just something where you are running and hoping for the best. I was joking before, it would be funny to see how fast I'd be able to run 95 yards with two good legs. I was able to run fast enough to score."

What Rudolph won't be able to do fast enough is heal from a hamstring injury that got worse after six games this season.

The 6-foot-6, 265-pound junior will not play the rest of the season after the stress on a pair of tendons in his right leg snapped, separating his hamstring from the bone.

Rudolph had been limited in wins over Boston College and Pittsburgh because of the hamstring injury that he suffered before the start of fall camp, but had tried to play through the pain.

He underwent an MRI on Monday, the first MRI he had on the leg this season, and the severe injury was discovered.

"You know, he's a courageous kid and he's tried to fight through it," Kelly said when he announced the news Tuesday during his afternoon news conference. "Unfortunately it's led to, you know, him being sidelined for the season.

"I thought he was in great hands with our training staff, with our doctors. It was a Sunday conversation with our training staff and doctors. It was a daily interaction we had with Kyle.

"Just one of those unfortunate things that occurs in a sport like this, and this is an injury that's unfortunately is becoming a lot more common because of the explosiveness of these young men. I think we have covered all of the things that we needed to do relative to this injury, and it's just one of those unfortunate things."

Rudolph said he is talking with his parents about who will perform the surgery and where it will happen, as well as mapping out a rehab plan. Kelly said it typically takes six months to return from this type of hamstring injury.

"All we know is that the surgery has to be done soon," Rudolph said. "It is something that you can't put off and wait a couple of weeks. The farther it gets away, the more problems you are going to end up having."

This is the second time in as many seasons Rudolph will miss games because of an injury.

He separated his left shoulder last season and didn't play in losses to Pittsburgh and Connecticut. He was also limited in the season-finale loss at Stanford and had off-season surgery to repair his shoulder.

Rudolph said the news of his hamstring injury was surprising.

"God has a plan for everything, and whatever doesn't kill you makes you stronger," Rudolph said. "For me, I'm just going to have the surgery, get started on my rehab and do everything I can to get 100 percent and get myself ready for next year."

As for where he will play next year, Rudolph said he isn't thinking about that yet.

Before the injury, he was rated as the top tight end prospect for the upcoming NFL draft.

"All of my focus now is on the surgery, and getting myself to 100 percent and getting a jumpstart on my rehab," Rudolph said.

Next up

Kelly has spoken often this season about one of the Irish's strengths is depth.

That depth is going to be tested with the loss of tight end Kyle Rudolph for the rest of the season to a leg injury.

Rudolph's hamstring separated from the bone in his right leg and will require surgery that will shelve him for at least six months.

Notre Dame will turn to former Bishop Dwenger standout Tyler Eifert and Mike Ragone to fill the shoes of its potential All-American tight end.

"We know the offense," Eifert said. "I picked it up well, and I'm confident. I just need to go out and execute. Not execute the same way he did, but do it do the best of my ability."

Eifert should be able to play to the best of his abilities Saturday against Western Michigan even though he has missed the last two games with a left shoulder injury.

Eifert hurt his shoulder in practice two weeks ago, but Kelly said the sophomore appears ready to play again.

"Well, we think he's able to play winning football for us or we would not put him in that situation," Kelly said. "I don't know that anybody at six games into the season is at 100%. If you are, you're probably not playing very much.

" He's excited about his opportunity and I know Mike is, too. Both of those guys, as a tandem, and again, we'll use (Jake) Golic, as well, I think all three of those guys will give us the production we need at that position, very confident."

Eifert, who has one catch for 17 yards this season, said he could have played against Pittsburgh if he was needed.

"It was just kind of precautionary," Eifert said of sitting out. "I didn't practice much during the week, I think that is a big reason why I didn't play."

Eifert said he was not limited at practice Tuesday after being held out of contact drills the last two week, and he is able to practice with the same intensity he had at the start of the season.

"It was a big step up from last week," Eifert said. "You need to bring the same intensity to practice every day whether you are first string or second string. That part didn't really affect me. Maybe got a few more reps (with Rudolph out). I just need to be ready to go."

Ragone had to wait a little while to be ready to go before the season.

The senior missed time during fall camp after a heat-related illness.

Ragone had dealt with adversity before. He missed his senior season in high school with an ACL injury, and he came back last year to make six catches for 60 yards after missing 2008 with another ACL injury.

"It's just been my life basically," Ragone said of dealing with injuries. "One thing after another, nothing is perfect. I'm bound to get hurt, but you are never 100 percent during the season. I'm just battling through it."

While Rudolph will not be able to contribute on the field this season, he still plans on helping the team.

"Just being there for them with something they might not understand," Rudolph said of how he can help the tight ends. "Our practices are intense and fast and coaches are yelling. Just to be able to be someone calm they can talk to when they don't really understand something you can't wrap your mind around or a concept you are confused about. Just being able to help them and get them on the right page every day at practice. To have things like questions about game plans and just preparing for a game, I'm here to help them with that as well."

The Journal Gazette's Assistant Sports Editor Tony Krausz covers The University of Notre Dame. Krausz, a graduate of the University of Missouri School of Journalism and a native of St. Louis, has been assistant sports editor since October 2005. Prior to joining the JG, he worked at two papers in Mississippi covering high school and college athletics.

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