2018 Notre Dame Spring Football Position Analysis: Running back

Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams (2) catches a pass in front of Stanford cornerback Quenton Meeks (24) during the first half of a game last season in Stanford, Calif. (By The Associated Press)
Notre Dame reshirt sophomore running back Tony Jones Jr.
Notre Dame redshirt freshman wide receiver/running back Jafar Armstrong
Notre Dame football coach Brian Kelly, right, watches the final minute of his team's game against Stanford last season in Stanford, Calif. (BY The Associated Press)

Is it possible that the Notre Dame running backs will account for 2,422 yards rushing in the 2018 season? It’s possible, but not likely.

Is it probable that the Fighting Irish have one player gain 1,430 yards on the ground next fall, as Josh Adams did last year?

Very, very unlikely.

Will Notre Dame have an effective run game? Absolutely. Well, that is, if every available athlete stays healthy.

The Irish opened spring football Tuesday with the first of 15 practices, culminating with the Blue-Gold Game on April 21 (12:30 p.m.) and the question as to how effective the Irish run the ball following the departure of Adams is a question heading into this spring, but it’s a stretch to say that it is a major concern.

News-Sentinel.com sports reporter Tom Davis has been writing on Notre Dame football for nearly two decades and will take an in-depth look at the each position group for next season as it pertains to this spring.

Today’s position: Running back

Coming next:Wide receiver

THE WHO

With Adams bolting a year early for the 2018 NFL Draft, Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has at his disposal a number of talented and capable athletes.

Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr. are the two most experienced backs and will get the first opportunity to showcase their skills, but they won’t be alone in getting carries this spring or next fall.

Notre Dame signed a pair of incoming freshman this off-season in Jahmir Smith, who has already enrolled at Notre Dame and will participate in spring drills, as well as C’Bo Flemister, who will come to South Bend this summer.

In addition, Kelly said that he will study ways to involve wide receiver Jafar Armstrong in the offense as a ball carrier, as well as possibly giving a look at freshman defensive back Tariq Bracy, who excelled at the high school level as a running back.

THE DETAILS

The only worry for the Irish Nation in regards to either Williams or Jones Jr. is the fact that both had a difficult time staying healthy last season, which really cut into their ability to produce.

“We all know last year was much more about staying healthy,” Kelly said of Williams earlier this week. “We couldn’t really get into a great continuity with him because of injuries. It put him back in terms of his preparation.”

Kelly explained that because of Williams’ health issues, he couldn’t prepare in practices.

“Most people just see you on Saturday when you have your helmet on and shoulder pads, and wonder why isn’t he in the game,” Kelly explained. “Well, there’s four other days leading up to it and his inability to really practice and provide the kind of work necessary to get to Saturdays put him behind a little bit.”

Williams missed three games and only carried the ball 39 times throughout the entire season.

As for Jones Jr., it was a similar story.

The redshirt sophomore totaled 44 carries in 12 games. However, Kelly said recently, both players have increased their ability to work this off-season and are in a better place to contribute this spring than they have been in some time.

“His work volume is better,” Kelly said of Jones Jr.

THE MOVE

Armstrong spent last season as a redshirt and didn’t see any action, but at 6-foot-1 and 214 pounds, he has the skill-set and athleticism to get a look as a runner, according to Kelly.

“Jafar is more towards that of Theo Riddick, if you will,” Kelly said of the former Notre Dame great that had a hybrid role offensively. “Theo was a wide receiver, but took reps for us at the running back. I think I’d like to kind of move in that same direction.

“Jafar is going to be a guy that I think can touch the ball coming out of the back field, but also can give us some work at the running back position.”

THE RESULT

Williams and Jones Jr. have the size, athleticism and skills to excel as the primary ball carriers, as long as they remain healthy.

Both can run with power and speed, though Williams needs to continue to improve in his blocking execution.

Both freshmen have the potential to contribute to a degree, with Smith really getting a jump on things by enrolling early.

The offensive line development (more significant roles for experienced players moving to new spots), as well as effective quarterback play, will play a key role in the Fighting Irish being able to run the ball effectively.

If Williams and Jones Jr. aren’t as effective as the Irish coaches anticipate, it more than likely won’t be due to a lack of talent or depth at this position, because these guys have the ability to run the ball successfully.

For more on college football, follow Tom Davis on Twitter at Tom101010 and on Facebook at Thomas Davis.

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