Skip to content

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.

 

Latest Posts
  1. Can spring stars deliver in the fall?

    May 22, 2015, 1:36 PM EDT

    C. J. Prosise C. J. Prosise

    Just like spring marks the end of winter, it also begins another unofficial season on the gridiron. The emergence of spring stars. These breakout stars sometimes burnout before fall rolls around, but it doesn’t make their emergence any less interesting.

  2. After high-profile academic mistakes, Notre Dame wisely examining new options

    May 20, 2015, 2:51 PM EDT

    Monday, Notre Dame announced that 16 student-athletes would be spending three weeks in South Africa, earning credits in a new study abroad program examining the cultural, historical and social effects racism has had on South Africa. Five more will be going to Greece, learning about archaeological sites and museums in Ancient Corinth.

  3. Kelly comments on Golson’s transfer

    May 20, 2015, 1:17 PM EDT

    Brian Kelly, Everett Golson AP

    If you were looking for anything official out of Notre Dame after Everett Golson announced his intention to play next season at Florida State, think again. But yesterday, Brian Kelly was the head speaker at the ninth annual West Michigan Sports Commission Luncheon in Grand Rapids, and he shared a few comments about the move.

  4. Everett Golson transferring to Florida State

    May 19, 2015, 1:30 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    After graduating from Notre Dame over the weekend, Everett Golson has decided to play out his eligibility at Florida State. The former Irish quarterback visited Tallahassee last week before coming to a decision on Tuesday morning, according to Fox Sports’ Bruce Feldman.

  5. Russell talks to SI about suspension, return

    May 19, 2015, 12:37 PM EDT

    Oklahoma v Notre Dame Oklahoma v Notre Dame

    In a profile with Sports Illustrated, KeiVarae Russell spoke on the record about his departure from Notre Dame, his impending return, and the motivations that push him.

  6. Mailbag: All about the defense

    May 18, 2015, 2:35 PM EDT

    Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt Sheldon Day, Terrel Hunt

    In a one-question, part-two of the mailbag, a reader points out one of the most important factors entering the 2015 season: Brian VanGorder’s defense.

  7. Mailbag: All about the quarterbacks

    May 15, 2015, 9:18 AM EDT

    Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl Getty Images

    For as much as we’re ready to move on from the quarterback talk… we’re not really ready to move on from the quarterback talk.

  8. Post-spring depth chart: Defensive line

    May 14, 2015, 11:41 AM EDT

    North Carolina v Notre Dame Getty Images

    We close out our post-spring stock reports with a look at the defensive line.

  9. KeiVarae Russell’s Return (or the greatest story we’re not talking about)

    May 13, 2015, 2:47 PM EDT

    Jackson Russell

    For all the attention paid to Everett Golson’s decision to leave Notre Dame, the Irish might be welcoming back an even better football player when KeiVarae Russell returns this June.

  10. Mailbag: Life after Golson (and an update on comments)

    May 13, 2015, 11:12 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Also, a quick bit of housekeeping as we address some problems in the comments.

  11. Swarbrick denies blocking Golson’s transfer options as rumors swirl

    May 12, 2015, 2:03 AM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    First came the news that Everett Golson was leaving. Now comes the circus, as we take to the rumor mill to speculate where Golson ends up.

  12. Post-spring stock report: Linebackers

    May 11, 2015, 12:18 PM EDT

    Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt Jaylon Smith, Joe Schmidt

    We continue our look at the post-spring depth charts with the linebackers. A talented group of athletes might provide one of the most misleading depth charts in recent memory.

  13. Mailbag: Anything but the QBs

    May 9, 2015, 2:36 PM EDT

    Temple v Notre Dame Getty Images

    Just to get our mind off the big quarterback news. Let’s tackle a few mailbag questions… that don’t talk about the guys playing behind center.

  14. Five things we’ve learned: Analyzing Everett Golson’s departure

    May 8, 2015, 1:51 PM EDT

    Discover BCS National Championship - Notre Dame v Alabama Getty Images

    The dust has settled. Everett Golson is leaving Notre Dame. So while the rest of the story will take chase—the wheres and the whys eventually coming out—the only thing that’s important for the Irish is looking at what remains, and how the program moves on from here.

  15. Recruit Bo Wallace announces he’s not coming to Notre Dame

    May 7, 2015, 7:11 PM EDT

    Rivals.com Rivals.com

    Incoming freshman defensive end Bo Wallace tweeted that he’s no longer going to attend Notre Dame.

  16. It’s official: Everett Golson will transfer (UPDATED)

    May 7, 2015, 1:48 PM EDT

    Everett Golson Everett Golson

    It’s official: Everett Golson is transferring.

  17. ESPN Report: Golson plans to transfer

    May 7, 2015, 1:37 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With finals nearly finished and Everett Golson on track to earn his degree in the coming weeks, ESPN’s Brett McMurphy broke the news that Irish fans had to be dreading.

  18. Former Irish TE John Carlson retires from NFL

    May 6, 2015, 3:40 PM EDT

    North Carolina Tar Heels v Notre Dame Fighting Irish Getty Images

    One of the branches on Notre Dame’s NFL tight end tree is retiring. Former Irish star John Carlson, a former second-round pick who spent seven seasons as a professional, is stepping away from football. Carlson played for the Irish from 2003-07 and spent time with the Seahawks, Vikings and the Cardinals.

  19. Mailbag: Now Open

    May 6, 2015, 11:08 AM EDT

    New Mailbox

    The mailbag is open. Drop your questions below or on Twitter @KeithArnold.

  20. Post-spring stock report: Secondary

    May 5, 2015, 12:43 PM EDT

    Michigan v Notre Dame Getty Images

    With the majority of Notre Dame’s starting lineup returning for 2015, the Irish spent spring practice knowing what their team would look like. But for Brian VanGorder and new secondary coach Todd Lyght, getting improvement out of the returning depth chart was critical.