Posted by BrianBoru at 7/29/2009 3:37 PM EDT

Just in: Sophomore tight end Kyle Rudolph has been named to the John Mackey Award watch list.

The Mackey Award is given annually to the best tight end in college football.

Rudolph, already a terrific asset in the passing game, must become a much better blocker if the Irish offense is to perform up to preseason expectations.

Notre Dame is depleted a bit at the tight end position, with sophomore Joseph Fauria, expected to contribute this season, transferring to UCLA last month.

Not to worry.

Talented junior tight end Mike Ragone will return to the football team this season, and he appears to be healthy following a spate of injuries dating back to his senior season in high school. Ragone's reputed speed should add an interesting dimension to the offense, allowing Weis to satisfy his desire to utilize more passing sets within his offense.

Much as the Irish offensive line will be a fulcrum for the success or failure of the 2009 season, the development of the tight end position will determine whether or not this coaching staff returns beyond next season.