SOUTH BEND - Notre Dame opens the 2017 football season Saturday against Temple (3:30 p.m., NBC) at the renovated Notre Dame Stadium.
The Fighting Irish are desperately searching for a bounce-back season after flailing to an anemic 4-8 mark a year ago.
The News-Sentinel is going to take a daily look this week at each position group leading up to Saturday with today's analysis of the offensive backfield.
There were no shortage of questions surrounding the floundering Irish a year ago, but what wasn't questioned was the talent of the (eventual) starting quarterback in DeShone Kizer. However, that isn't the case this season, as redshirt sophomore Brandon Wimbush steps in for Kizer, who is now starting for the Cleveland Browns.
It isn't that people are questioning whether Wimbush will play well or not, it's just that no one truly knows how he'll perform until he actually does. But that doesn't mean his teammates don't believe in him.
“He's definitely grown a lot,” Fighting Irish running back Josh Adams said of Wimbush recently. “He's definitely getting a feel for things. He definitely looks more comfortable, and he's having fun, which is an important aspect of this game that people tend to forget about.”
Wimbush has a lot of reasons to be comfortable, as well as to be “having fun,” because he has a lot of talent – like Adams – surrounding him.
Notre Dame has a plethora of speed and power in its running backs (Adams, Dexter Williams and Tony Jones Jr.) and a multitude of pass catchers at both the receiver positions, as well as tight ends. Oh, and Wimbush is playing behind a very seasoned offensive line.
“Up front,” Wimbush said of the offensive line unit, “they have given me so much time in the pocket and so much comfort. Everybody makes it really easy, and for a quarterback, that's huge, especially in your first year starting and going out there to play.”
Wimbush has the ability to extend plays with his feet, but he also displayed a strong arm and accuracy in a recent public scrimmage that the Fighting Irish put on in front of several thousand fans at the newly-renovated Notre Dame Stadium.
Veteran Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly has praised his young quarterback often throughout spring football, as well as training camp, but he said his most attractive trait has been is ability to move on mentally from any mistakes that he makes.
“There are going to be some things in each and every game that he's going to have to go through and fight through,” Kelly explained of Wimbush, “a little bit of adversity each and every week. But he's got such a great mindset. He's going to be able to handle things quite well.
“He does a good job of putting something aside and moving on. He doesn't dwell on a mistake and let it affect the next play.”
Kelly's biggest issue as it relates to the running backs will be to get each guy enough opportunities.
Adams rushed for nearly 1,000 yards a year ago, but the addition of Jones Jr., who redshirted last season, may curb that total this season, which Adams said is fine with him.
“Whether it's 18 carries or just two carries,” Adams said of his workload, “I think every guy in that (running back) room has taken it upon themselves to be the best player that they can be overall. Whether that is running the ball, in pass protection, or running routes. We all want to contribute the best that we can to this offense.”
With a first-year starter at quarterback and a trio of talented backs, the consensus might be that Notre Dame would be a run-oriented offense. However, Adams said that won't necessarily be the case.
“I wouldn't say that is a run-first mindset,” Adams said. “But I would say that we've taken it upon ourselves as a running back unit to really try to take as much of the load as we can, whether it's in the pass game or the run game.
“That's our mindset as a unit, just doing the best that we can to help our offense succeed, regardless if it's run or pass first.”
Tomorrow's analysis: Defensive front 7
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