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Rudolph’s Pro Bowl performance hints at what could have been

Jan 28, 2013, 3:44 PM EDT

2013 Pro Bowl Getty Images

After putting together a regular season where he caught nine touchdowns in an anemic Vikings passing attack, former Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph was named the MVP of the Pro Bowl yesterday, catching five balls for 122 yards and a touchdown yesterday in Hawaii.It’s a tremendous achievement for the second-year pro, who was drafted by the Minnesota Vikings in the second round after leaving Notre Dame after his junior season.

Rudolph’s college career for the Irish was one filled with promise, but never of potential realized. As one of the blue-chip pieces of Charlie Weis’ 2008 recruiting class, Rudolph walked into South Bend and immediately onto the field, in the starting lineup for all 13 games as a freshman, the first tight end to do that in Notre Dame history. Rudolph’s rookie season had a few high notes — five catches for 70 yards in a 28-21 victory over Stanford, and a nice performance against Hawaii in the bowl game, catching four balls for 78 yards and a touchdown in the Irish’s 49-21 blowout win.

Rudolph’s production that freshman season was in line with what he did the next two seasons, both of which were marred with injuries. In Rudolph’s sophomore season, he missed the final two games of the year with a shoulder injury. His junior season was all but stopped before it got started, with lingering hamstring issues that started in preseason camp ending his season in early October, when he underwent major surgery and six months of rehab after the hamstring gave out.

The transition to Brian Kelly’s spread offense was one that put Rudolph in a foreign system, but also one that gave us the first look at what Kelly planned on doing with elite tight ends, often flexing Rudolph out as a receiver and working to find one-on-one matchups, lining Rudolph up on one side of the field while Michael Floyd played on the other. That experiment never could get off the ground completely, with the Irish struggling at quarterback with Dayne Crist learning on the job before Rudolph’s injury ended his Irish career.

Rudolph decided to skip his senior season and head to the NFL, a decision that made sense considering he was the top tight end on most NFL draft boards. Yet there was also some disconnect between the Rudolph family and the Irish coaching and training staff, with some reported dissatisfaction about the way the injury was handled.

It’s interesting to think of what Rudolph’s return in 2011 would have meant to the Irish offense. With Tyler Eifert allowed to emerge after Rudolph’s injury, the Irish offense would have been stacked at skill positions, with Michael Floyd anchoring the receivers while Eifert and Rudolph would have made a tight end duo envied by just about every NFL team short of New England.

Whether it was Tommy Rees or Dayne Crist playing, that added weapon would have given defenses fits as they tried to game plan schematically for an Irish offense that was efficient running the football, an adding another All-American to an attack that was explosive when it wasn’t turning the football over.

Yet Rudolph’s decision to leave Notre Dame almost crystallized the Weis era — so many promising pieces that just couldn’t fulfill expectations. There was never any doubt Rudolph had the skills and size to be a successful player, as we saw this season for the Vikings and yesterday in the Pro Bowl.

But like Jimmy Clausen and Golden Tate, two other three-and-out talents that used Notre Dame more as a stepping stone than a destination, Rudolph’s Irish career leaves most of us wanting more and wondering what could have been.


  1. fw190wuerger - Jan 28, 2013 at 4:06 PM

    Keith, your article reflects my sentiments exactly. Well, that and he should have gone to the Packers.

  2. Jennifer - Jan 28, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    I really liked Kyle a lot, (and his name…one of my sons is a Kyle). I’ve always felt he was a casualty of Charlie, (whose name I abhor even having to type.) Often wondered what he might have done in the Kelly regime… He deserves this and can serve as real inspiration to players who were hurt or feel stuck battling for field time. Really happy for the guy!

  3. 9irish - Jan 28, 2013 at 4:24 PM

    Hell, I’ve been saying that all along. They’ve always had the talent, it’s just in the way it was used. Hopefully we’re over that….the beat down said that we’re still a step away (Bama was not 28 pts better than Notre Dame…but that’s the score). Now if we can get past this soap opera and move on…I think we’re in good shape.

    Go Irish

  4. 41donutguy - Jan 28, 2013 at 5:46 PM

    Leave it to nd fans to think they’re closer than they are. The bama game is exactly why nd shouldn’t be allowed in a bcs game until they join a conference. nd is a cute team that couldnt compete in a real conference. they are indy because they know they are frauds. nd is as legit of a contender as teo’s girlfriend is real.

    • italianirish - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:26 PM

      Pac-12 Champ: Stanford: Lost to Notre Dame
      Big-12 Co-Champ: Oklahoma: Lost to Notre Dame

    • 9irish - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:58 PM

      I assume that you’re talking about conferences with football players that would normally never even be in college, and can barely put sentences together?

    • 1notredamefan - Jan 28, 2013 at 7:16 PM


      • 41donutguy - Jan 29, 2013 at 11:28 AM

        Leave it to ND fans to point out grammar errors in a comment section on the internet. I never said ND is not a good team, just not a national contender and if they wore big boy pants and joined a conference the rest of the country would have seen they were a fraud well before the Bama disaster. Let me guess, that 38 pt. loss was a fluke and it was closer than what the score showed? Ha. HOMERS! No way they would have made that title game if they would have taken that tampon out and played through a grueling BCS conference schedule like every other major University. But hey, keep pretending like you’re better than everyone else and watch Rudy again.

  5. irishinmich - Jan 28, 2013 at 6:22 PM

    Bad joke, even worse grammar and punctuation. Back away from Mom’s laptop, and go take out the garbage.

  6. 1historian - Jan 28, 2013 at 10:21 PM

    Why do people here continue to hate on Jimmy Clausen? He came back to get his degree and I think Tate did too.

    Charlie Weis – making him head coach at ND was just plain idiotic. He NEVER should have been HC. He did his best, he recruited some pretty darn good players but for some reason people really seem to enjoy hating him.

    for your own sake – get over it

    • irish4006 - Feb 5, 2013 at 4:10 PM

      “Charlie Weis – making him head coach at ND was just plain idiotic.” Err… that and the fact that we offered him a 10 year extension and still paying $3M+ a year. What was Kevin White thinking? Idiot!

      The university lost a lot in terms of $$ and other things. I don’t hate CW, he did the best he could. He just didn’t feel like HC material, was not able to put together a complete team (in recruiting) or a complete game (on field).

  7. fnc111 - Jan 29, 2013 at 3:05 AM

    Good article on why following recruiting is pointless.

    • 1historian - Jan 30, 2013 at 10:03 AM

      Pointless? To be sure

      Fun? To be sure

      please allow us out here in the hinterland our simple pleasures.

  8. fnc111 - Jan 29, 2013 at 3:09 AM

    Golden Tate got his degree from Tennessee. He was never an RKG. Clausen at least finished up his degree at ND.

    • fw190wuerger - Jan 29, 2013 at 10:20 AM

      fnc111 — clever post, about rhyming words you can boast!

    • bernhtp - Jan 29, 2013 at 12:07 PM

      Clausen was close to graduating when he left given his summer sessions and that he was an EE.

      Tate still had about a full year left, and most of that would need to be done at Notre Dame to get a Notre Dame diploma.

      It was far easier for Clausen to finish than Tate.

  9. ph53knowsall - Jan 29, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    Why are all ND fans so sanctimonious?
    It’s no wonder the rest of the college sports world abhors you.

    The Tide wasn’t 28 points better, you’re right. The inevitable letdown of blowing a team out led it to be a 4 touchdown game. You can’t expect those kids to keep up the intensity when they are beating a team like a government mule.

    Alas, ND fans must always fall back on the graduation rates when the team on the field fails. It’s as sure as death and taxes.
    It’s fun to to read this tripe you people post daily. The sheer volume of you that are delusional is astounding.

    ND will not be a top 10 team at the end of this year.

    • dillonbigred - Jan 29, 2013 at 12:15 PM

      Wow. One post calls it a beatdown, admits it was a 28 point game, but doesn’t think the difference of the teams is that great, and all Irish fans are sanctimonius, abhorant, and delusional? We ND fans come here to read and discuss the ups and downs of the team. Why do you come daily to a site where you clearly dislike the team and its fans? I truly would like a response. I would like to understand you and others. No taunts or name calling, I am just curious.

    • papadec - Jan 29, 2013 at 1:05 PM

      ph53 – speaking of delusional – your tag says it all.

      • jerseyshorendfan1 - Jan 29, 2013 at 1:06 PM

        Ooh papa you just beat me to the punch on that one.

    • bernhtp - Jan 29, 2013 at 5:15 PM

      Ph: we’re no sanctimonious; we’re just smarter and better than everyone else. Stop the envious hatred, end the denial, and accept the truth. While you’re not a Notre Dame grad and will suffer untold centuries in Purgatory, you can escape the eternal fires of hell by repenting and cheering the Irish.

    • irish4006 - Feb 5, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      Can you please elaborate on the “delusional” piece? There are delusional fans everywhere, that is partially what makes sports fun. We do have some (many would contend that many more than most schools), but this board, in particular, is more about talking ND football and keeping it real, most of the time.

      And yes, Bama is not a 28 point better team; very much like how Baylor is not a 28 point better team than KSU. ND played their worst game of the year (think how many missed tackles ND had the whole year and how many they had against Bama, the numbers will probably be very close) and Bama played their best game. ND just didn’t play to the level that got them there in the first place. There is obvious talent gap and Bama is a better team, but the difference is not as much as the final score would suggest.

  10. ph53knowsall - Jan 29, 2013 at 1:38 PM

    It was sarcasm about the final score. You’d think that you ND people, with your “better education”, would comprehend that….

    Take a look at some of the postings on these blogs. Why wouldn’t I come in here and burst your bubbles?

    I do it because you deserve it and I get off on it.

    Now tell me how pathetic I am, how.much better you are than me, to get off moms computer etc. Ad infinitum.

    It’s what you ND fans do.

    • dillonbigred - Jan 29, 2013 at 10:24 PM

      I did get the sarcasm if that is what you want to call it. At least you replied and gave an explanation. Do you really think you burst bubbles? I guess I am glad that we help you “get off”, although I feel a little dirty now.

  11. irishdrg1 - Jan 29, 2013 at 5:47 PM

    But you are here reading about ND, gotta love you other guys, some can even spell. LOL

  12. goirishgo - Jan 29, 2013 at 5:48 PM

    Rudolph, Clausen and Tate used Notre Dame as a steppingstone to gainful employment – and how exactly is that problematic? In fact, how does that materially different from any other student?

    • irish4006 - Feb 5, 2013 at 4:26 PM

      It’s not and that should be fine. While Rudolph and Tate found success, it probably helps both the team and, more importantly, the athlete to spend another year in the college system to be physically and mentally ready for the big league. This would probably even help with their respective draft stock and the $$ at signing.

      Of course the fans only care about the team, but I like this recent trend of guys coming back to complete their allotted quota of years (was a little skeptical about Luck coming back for the 4th, esp. under a new coach/system, but that too turned out pretty well for him).

  13. goirishgo - Jan 29, 2013 at 5:49 PM

    …how IS that materially…..

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