Kelly talks Ragone, Irish, Spartans

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Brian Kelly ran down the state of the Irish football program, and the biggest headline of the presser was the loss of fifth-year senior Mike Ragone to an ACL tear.

It’s horrible news for Ragone, who suffered his third major knee injuries in his football career — with an ACL tear as a high school senior and again as a sophomore. Ragone came to campus as one of the most highly touted prep tight ends in the country. While he never lived up to those lofty expectations, he did fill a big role for the Irish in the running game, and will continue to throughout the season.

“I’m pretty disappointed for him. He’s been a warrior for us in a sense,” Kelly said. “He’s battled through a lot of injuries. He loves to play the game. He loves competition, and we’re really going to miss him. He’ll still be around our football team. He’s going to help mentor some of our younger players, and that brings us to the other tight ends.”

Here’s more from BK:

Staying with tight ends, Ragone’s injury could really hurt the Irish running game, with Ragone now being replaced by guys like sophomore Alex Welch, true freshman Ben Koyack, and little used Jake Golic, who has been recovering from a broken arm. While Welch and Golic weren’t available last week, they’ll both be full-go this week at practice.

“Alex Welch is cleared to practice and compete, Jake Golic has been cleared to practice and compete, as well,” Kelly said. “So unfortunate to lose Mike. We do get a couple of tight ends back.”

Koyack filled in admirably for Ragone last week, a true freshman that probably didn’t think he’d see the field at all this year with a depth chart well stocked.

“In terms of assignment, he was assignment correct,” Kelly said of Koyack. “All in all, he did a nice job. He’s a kid that’s not rattled. I really love his demeanor. First time we put him on the field he didn’t have that look that sometimes you’re concerned about. I think Ben is going to be fine for us.”

Of course, watching the tape, you notice Koyack in on some unfortunate snaps, most notable Cierre Wood‘s fumble and a few failed short-yardage plays. It’ll be interesting to see how the tight end depth chart shakes out next year. Technically, Ragone could apply for a sixth year, which would keep the tight end depth chart unchanged in 2012.

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I’ll be the first to admit that I thought Aaron Lynch would’ve already made an impact, particularly getting after the quarterback. I certainly predicted big things for the freshman, who has yet to make a real dent in the stat sheet. Of course, when you think of the first two quarterbacks the Irish have faced, they’re far from traditional drop-back throwers, with B.J. Daniels and Denard Robinson putting more pressure on playing assignment correct football than pinning your ears back and getting after the quarterback.

After both Lynch and Stephon Tuitt failed to see the field against Michigan, Kelly knows he’ll have a chance to unleash his freshman duo against traditional drop-back passer Kirk Cousins.

“We’ve got to get them on the field, there’s no question,” Kelly said. “We’re committed to getting them some more playing time and getting them on the field and helping us continue to build our defense.”

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Lastly, Gary Gray didn’t go from a good football player to a bad football player in two weeks. But at cornerback, it’s tough to hide mistakes, and Gray is suffering from some frayed confidence and a lack of composure when playing the football in the air.If there was any thought of Kelly giving Gray a bump down in the depth chart, it hasn’t happened yet.

“He’s got to have a short memory at that position,” Kelly said. “You’re going to have a day like that. It’s unfortunate that people look at that one position because it’s not just Gary Gray that we put this loss on. There’s a lot of situations. If we don’t turn the ball over, Gary Gray’s name is not even brought up.¬†Gary is going to be fine. He’s a senior. He’ll bounce back. He had a great game last year against Michigan State, and he’s been really solid for us. So we need Gary Gray to come up and play good football this weekend against Michigan State.”

Expect the Spartans to test Gray early. In many ways having an accurate passer like Cousins actually helps Gray, as he really struggled against the under thrown ball, something Robinson did a lot of… not necessarily on purpose.