Irish excited to put Rudolph to work

Even though he's moving from a pro-style offense to a spread, Notre Dame tight end Kyle Rudolph doesn't have to worry about his role being marginalized. If anything, the new coaching staff can't wait to use him.

"If there's a better tight end in the country than Kyle Rudolph, I'd like to see him," Irish offensive coordinator Charley Molnar said.

Molnar may be new to Notre Dame but he's long been familiar with Rudolph, who went to Cincinnati's Elder High School. When Brian Kelly took over Cincinnati in December 2006, Molnar tried to recruit Rudolph to the Bearcats.

Rudolph visited Cincinnati but always knew he wanted to leave home to go to college. Molnar stayed in touch because his sons went to Elder and knew Rudolph; he'd see Rudolph at school functions and tell him how much he'd love to coach him someday.

"It's kind of funny how it all worked out," Rudolph said.

Rudolph kept an eye on the Bearcats the past couple of years because so many of his Cincinnati-area friends played on the team. When Kelly was hired at Notre Dame, he worked the phones for two solid weeks digging up info on his new boss. Irish teammates bugged him for the inside scoop.

Kelly and Molnar already knew all about Rudolph, and there's a lot to like about him.

He's an imposing physical specimen at 6-foot-6 and 260 pounds, but he's not just some blocking brute. Rudolph was a star basketball player in high school who scored over 1,000 points and grabbed more than 500 rebounds. In fact, he wanted to play basketball in college until his sophomore year, when he attended some football camps and was told by coaches that football should be his future. Former coach Charlie Weis told Rudolph he could play on the Irish basketball team if he kept his grades up, but Rudolph decided to focus on football.

Still, you can see his overall athleticism in the way he can adjust on fade routes or use his leaping ability to make himself even tougher to defend.

"Basketball definitely helped me to develop skills and fine-tune skills I use on a regular basis during football," he said.

Rudolph had 33 catches for 364 yards and three touchdowns as a sophomore last year before injuring his shoulder in the Navy game. He had offseason surgery to clean up the shoulder and in recent days has resumed full contact in spring practice.

Tight ends get lost in some spread offenses, but Kelly likes to keep one on the field almost every snap. While tight ends at Cincinnati didn't catch a ton of passes, Rudolph is a good enough receiver that he can be used in a variety of ways.

"Our tight end is really like a wide receiver half the time anyway," Molnar said. "We can split him out and create matchup problems for linebackers and safeties."

Which is just fine with Rudolph.

"Any time you can be flexed out and catch balls and score touchdowns, that's where the real fun comes," he said. "It's good to get in there and make blocks, but catching touchdowns is what it's all about."