Tag: Anthony McDonald

Mike Ragone

Ragone and McDonald set to join Weis in Kansas


The westbound caravan heading from South Bend to Lawrence, Kansas has added two more passengers, with linebacker Anthony McDonald and tight end Mike Ragone ready to play out their eligibility for former head coach Charlie Weis. McDonald’s addition to the Jayhawk roster was finalized late last week, while Ragone’s — long anticipated after he was cleared for a sixth year of eligibility by the NCAA — was announced by Kansas this afternoon. They’ll join former Irish quarterback Dayne Crist in Lawrence, with all three likely expecting to immediately contribute to a Kansas program that fell off a cliff after Turner Gil took over for Mark Mangino.

We’ve discussed Crist’s departure from the program multiple times, but closing the book on Ragone and McDonald’s careers in South Bend deserves a little consideration. McDonald in many ways typified the career path of the 2008 recruiting class. Highly ranked out of Notre Dame High in Sherman Oaks (where he was teammates with Crist), McDonald’s star-ranking was much better than his recruiting cohort, with neither UCLA or USC offering the Los Angeles prospect. Choosing the Irish over Boston College and Oregon, McDonald redshirted his freshman season then contributed mostly on special teams during three injury plagued seasons. Stuck behind and passed by guys like Manti Te’o, Dan Fox, and Carlo Calabrese, both McDonald and fellow inside linebacker commitment David Posluszny failed to make any impact on the field, with the ’08 class essentially whiffing on inside linebackers.

Ragone’s career, also discussed many times here, is one more difficult to profile. Between terrible luck with injuries, Ragone also battled an up-and-down attitude and some off-the-field issues before turning his career around. Expected to be one of the best tight ends in the country with multiple national offers, an ACL injury suffered in high school kept Ragone off the field for his senior season and All-American game exhibitions. Still, he saw the field through most of the dreadful 2007 season. Ready to contribute during 2008, Ragone suffered a torn ACL, the second in just over two years, during fall camp. By the time he rebounded for the 2009 season, Ragone was delegated to second tight-end duty, with Kyle Rudolph the featured pass catcher. Ragone’s senior season was put in jeopardy when he was pulled over on the Indiana Toll Road driving home after classes ended in May. While it was less publicized than Michael Floyd’s lenient sentence, Student Affairs, and head coach Brian Kelly, allowed Ragone to play his senior season without sitting out a game.

That Ragone went from the doghouse to a fifth-year player for the Irish was as good of proof as any that he had turned the corner and matured as a player and leader. Suffering another season-ending knee injury early in the season — after he was counted on to fill a void at the tight end position — was especially disheartening, but Ragone continued with the team, delaying surgery for a brief spell to keep young tight ends Ben Koyack and Alex Welch up to speed. With the Irish needing to identify an in-line blocking tight end for 2012, the Irish coaching staff had to consider bringing Ragone back for a sixth season, but ultimately decided against it.

McDonald and Ragone will join Crist in Lawrence this summer for unofficial workouts before both being immediately eligible next season.


Ragone granted sixth year, headed to Kansas

Mike Ragone

Lost in the shuffle of a pretty eventful offseason Thursday, tight end Mike Ragone won his sixth year appeal with the NCAA and will play one more season of college football. While it won’t be for the Fighting Irish, Ragone will be reunited with the head coach that brought him to South Bend, joining Charlie Weis — and Dayne Crist — in Lawrence, Kansas.

Catching up with the South Bend Tribune’s Eric Hansen, Ragone was ecstatic about the opportunity.

“I’m pretty excited right now,” Ragone told Hansen. “I want to do big things, now that I have this chance.”

That chance didn’t seem possible at Notre Dame, especially with the return of Tyler Eifert and a depth chart featuring promising youngsters like Ben Koyack and Alex Welch, who were forced into duty after Ragone’s knee injury.

Ragone was one of the most highly touted tight end recruits in the country when he came to Notre Dame, recruited by Weis out of New Jersey after a promising high school career as both a football player and wrestler. But a knee injury ended his senior season of high school before it ever started, and then did the same in 2008. Last season’s knee surgery was the third for Ragone in his last seven seasons of football.

The injuries were hardly the only speed bumps in his career at Notre Dame. He suffered severe heat illness during preseason camp and also was arrested for possessing marijuana in his car. He returned to the team without missing a game and earned back the trust of the coaching staff who hailed Ragone’s maturity and leadership after his knee injury last year.

Reunited with Crist, Hansen also hinted that the Notre Dame to Kansas migration isn’t complete, with linebacker Anthony McDonald — not invited back for a fifth year at Notre Dame after an injury filled career as a reserve linebacker — potentially joining them in Lawrence.

First look at contact: Jumping to conclusions edition


After four practices getting acclimated to helmets, the Irish were in full pads today, giving freshman their first real feel of college football. Thanks to the always excellent practice reports courtesy of UND.com, we’re able to get a sneak peak at the first day of work, which allows all of us to jump to some very early conclusions.

Here’s a look at today’s practice report, courtesy of our friends over at UND.com. Because it’s my job to have no life and break down the rodeo drill for everyone, here’s a play-by-play of what you’ll see, helping to isolate some of the match-ups and battles that fly by in just under four minutes.



The first one on one we see (around the :40 second mark) is sophomore tight end Alex Welch welcoming freshman linebacker Ben Councell to to college football, and two mammoth youngsters battling with 6-8, 320-pound Tate Nichols taking on 6-6, 295-pound freshman Stephon Tuitt.

After that, we watch Michael Floyd snatch balls from the jugs machine, Ishaq Williams sprint down in kickoff coverage, and Davaris Daniels work on his hands as well. In snaps from scrimmage, Tate Nichols works at left tackle, where he rides Kona Schwenke outside the pocket. The very next snap, Brad Carrico looks pretty solid battling against veteran Brandon Newman. And for those wondering how Louis Nix would look, that’s him putting Mike Golic on rollerskates. (Golic definitely shouldn’t feel embarrassed, Nix was absolutely dominant in the one-on-one matchups he had, which we’ll get to now.)

For those looking for some rough-and-tumble power football, Let’s go to a frame-by-frame breakdown of the rodeo drill (starting at 1:42), where we’ll reach grand conclusions after watching less than a minute of drills.

1. Braxston Cave vs. Louis Nix. Winner: Nix, who stood up Cave and stuffed freshman Cam McDaniel.
2. Trevor Robinson vs. Carlo Calabrese. Winner: Robinson, who controlled Carlo and pushed him inside while George Atkinson slid by.
3. Ben Koyack vs. Unknown (Zeke Motta?) Winner: Koyack, who planted a defender unknown (I’m guessing Motta after a Zapruder like breakdown), getting a big rise out of his coaches.
4. Brad Carrico vs. Anthony McDonald. Winner: Slight edge to Carrico, who looks pretty fluid at offensive line.
5. Jordan Prestwood vs. Tyler Stockton. Winner: Stockton, who does a nice job getting physical with the freshman.
6. Prestwood vs. Aaron Lynch. Winner: Lynch, who looks every bit the part of a freshman All-American.
7. Prestwood vs. Stephon Tuitt. Winner: Slight edge to Tuitt, as it’s tough to say Prestwood lost that collision.
8. Alex Welch vs. Unknown (Anthony Rabasa?) Winner: Draw. Nice work by both guys, whoever our secret defender is.
9. Welch vs. Steve Filer. Winner: Filer, who taunts Irish fans by reminding people just how physically gifted he is.
10. Nick Martin vs. Joe Schmidt. Winner: Schmidt, who does his best Mike Anello impression, ignoring his physical limitations by blowing up a block making a nice play on Martin.
11. Christian Lombard vs. Lynch. Winner: Lynch, who once again blows up an offensive tackle at the point of contact.
12. Lombard vs. Chase Hounshell. Winner: Lombard, but credit to Hounshell for holding his ground and battling.
13. Taylor Dever vs. Kapron Lewis-Moore. Winner: Dever, who did a nice job engaging KLM, in a rare battle of ones-versus-ones.
14. Mike Golic vs. Louis Nix. Winner: Nix. He’s going to be very tough to move.
15. N. Martin vs. Jarrett Grace. Winner: Draw. A nice collision between two talented freshmen.

While I’d appreciate everybody else sharing their gut reactions below, the two guys that really stood out were Louis Nix and Aaron Lynch. They looked dominating, regardless of who they were facing.


Injuries end Roberson and McDonald’s spring

Cam Roberson
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Brian Kelly’s suspicions were confirmed when an MRI of freshman running back Cameron Roberson’s knee showed a partially torn ACL and a torn lateral collateral ligament. There’s no official timetable on Roberson’s return, but you’ve got to think that getting anything out of Roberson next season would be a big surprise.

Meanwhile, linebacker Anthony McDonald’s spring is over after suffering a partially torn pectoral muscle. McDonald was a front runner to play next to Manti Te’o last season but had injuries derail his progress as Carlo Calabrese and Brian Smith slid ahead of him in the depth chart. The injury is another bit of bad luck for the Southern California product, who has struggled to stay healthy and had plenty of opportunities this spring to get an extended look.

Down to two scholarship running backs, the Irish fielded open tryouts for walk-ons, as running backs coach Tim Hinton broke down the current depth chart.

“We have five total,” Hinton said. “Derry Herlihy (a walk-on from last year’s team) has come back and helped us out, and obviously the new guy (Tyler Plantz, of Providence Catholic school in In Lenox, Illinois). It’s an interesting room. I’m coaching my rear end off, it’s a lot of fun. Because three of the five really don’t know a lot, we are working the heck out of those guys.

“Here’s what coaching them in the spring does, it makes them better scout players in the fall. And the better our scout teams are, the better our No. 1 defense is.”

The injury to Roberson certainly hurts the depth of the Irish backfield and two scholarship running backs isn’t an ideal allocation of your roster. That said, there’s no real reason to panic (yet), as Cam McDaniel’s arrival this summer gets the numbers back to an appropriate, albeit thin, place. While most recruitniks doubt McDaniel has the chops to be a three down running back, it’s clear that the coaching staff is confident in his abilities.

McDonald enters his senior season snake-bit, and the pectoral injury likely limits his ability to weight train and continue to add the needed bulk and strength to contribute on the inside. Even with Te’o limited and McDonald out, there’s a good group of linebackers competing for playing time.

How we got here: Injuries


There’s a tricky line to draw when you write about injuries. They are a certainty in football (not unlike death and taxes off the field), but there is also a line where you’ve got to take injuries into account when adjusting your expectations for a team’s ability to perform.

There’s a school of thought that argues (probably successfully, I’d add) that regardless of injuries, Notre Dame shouldn’t lose to Navy or Tulsa. A simple look at the star-ratings and offer list of Notre Dame’s second string would support that claim, though it doesn’t take into account the development that happens after you’ve arrived on campus.

If there was a No. 1 knock on Charlie Weis as a collegiate head coach, it was probably his ability to develop his roster. Elite offensive talent seemed to thrive under Weis’ tutelage, but the middle of the roster — the long-term development of players in years three, four, and five of the program are the players that determine whether or not you’ve got a BCS team or a team filled with NFL prospects. (We’ll get to this later, I promise.)

As we saw plainly in 2007, Charlie Weis did little to develop the second level of his roster in the early years of his tenure, and his career never recovered when his teams in 2008 and 2009 failed to get better than mediocre results, struggling to replace veteran offensive and defensive linemen, safeties, or linebackers.

Brian Kelly entered Notre Dame with a reputation for developing talent, and he quickly set about implementing a practice system and approach that tried to strengthen and ready the depth on the roster. That approach has been put to the test this season, as Kelly not only had to implement new offensive and defensive systems, but also had to instill in his team a “Next Man In” attitude that was often preached by Weis, but never truly implemented.

Kelly started his first spring practice with only two players in “protected” status: Quarterback Dayne Crist, who was recovering from a torn ACL and running back turned wide receiver Theo Riddick, who was recovering from shoulder injury. Tight end Kyle Rudolph was also battling to stay healthy, being monitored by his position coach as a “restricted” player in Kelly’s training system. The Irish excited the Blue-Gold game without a major injury, getting Dayne Crist through every snap of spring practice even while he was less than five months removed from knee surgery.

From there, it was practically all down hill.

Nine games into the season, the Irish have lost a litany of players to injury. Major injuries have ended the seasons of starting quarterback Dayne Crist, senior tailback Armando Allen, and tight end Kyle Rudolph on offense alone. The loss of Rudolph robs the Irish offense of an All-American, the loss of Allen robs it of one of its most productive, and the loss of Crist removes the most indispensable players on the Irish roster. Three catastrophic losses any way you slice it.

Offensively, the Irish also lost presumed starter Dan Wenger for the season before it ever started, inserting first-timer Braxston Cave into the lineup at center. After finding his form at the slot receiver, Theo Riddick finds himself in the midst of a major ankle injury, robbing the Irish of it’s second most explosive offensive threat, and a player absolutely instrumental to Kelly’s spread attack. Starting right tackle Taylor Dever missed significant time, forcing redshirt freshman Zack Martin to flip over to the right tackle position, and pushing senior Matt Romine into the left tackle position, a spot he’s taken limited snaps in during his four years on campus. Running back Jonas Gray also has missed a significant portion of the year with an injury, turning a four-headed position that was the deepest position on the roster into a 1-2 punch of Cierre Wood, playing his first football since his senior year of high school, and Robert Hughes, a jumbo-sized back that’s a square peg in the round-hole mold of spread running backs needed for Kelly’s system. Finally, wide receiver Michael Floyd, the Irish’s best offensive player, battled hamstring issues of his own before sitting out the Navy game, watching from the sideline the Irish’s ugliest loss of the season.

On the flip side of the ball, no injury took a greater toll on the defense than the strained MCL of senior nose tackle Ian Williams, who could’ve player his last game in a Notre Dame uniform after being injured against Navy. The Irish battled depth and injury issues at middle linebacker from the beginning of the year, losing senior Steve Paskorz to a knee injury and Anthony McDonald to a variety of ailments, paving way for Carlo Calabrese, who suffered a major hamstring injury of his own. A position that was already incredibly thin forced the Irish to counter with true freshman Danny Spond and Prince Shembo in the middle, but Spond’s been out with injuries for the past few weeks and Shembo suffered a concussion Saturday afternoon. The Irish plugged senior Brian Smith in at inside linebacker, a move Kelly would barely concede to during spring ball unless it was an extraordinary emergency situation.

In the secondary, the Irish safeties have been decimated by injury. Both Jamoris Slaughter and Danny McCarthy have struggled to stay healthy all season, with Slaughter injuring an ankle that’s been incredibly slow to heal and McCarthy having a nagging leg injury that robbed him of the speed necessary to cover the back-end of the defense. With two of the four scholarship safeties on the roster sitting out, the Irish were forced to play the odd couple of Harrison Smith and Zeke Motta in the defensive backfield, two maximum effort players that leave some coverage skills on the table.

Irish fans have likely been spoiled during the transition years of the past two regimes, where a veteran roster stormed out of the gates quickly. Kelly wasn’t dealt the same hand, playing with a deck of cards short some very important faces. For all the struggles the Irish have faced along the offensive line since Charlie Weis took over the program, the line play has been decent considering three new starters at the positions most vulnerable and two veteran guards who have hardly taken the leap to elite that many had hoped. Defensively, outside of the game against the Naval Academy, the Irish have played a much better brand of football than they did last season, limiting explosive plays by the opponent and surviving with a more structurally sound, bend, don’t break, defense.

On the road to a 4-5 record through nine games, the Irish can easily look back at losses to Michigan and Tulsa and wonder if a healthy Dayne Crist couldn’t have gotten them through two opponents that had sizable flaws. And since losing Riddick and Rudolph, the Irish have lost every game not played against Western Michigan. It’s the ultimate game of “what could’ve been,” but the Irish are likely playing it after seeing their training room filled with some of the most important players on the roster.