2018 Notre Dame football redshirt projections: Running Backs
The 2017 Notre Dame football program set a new mark for season rushing yards (3,503) last fall in large part, but not solely, due to a behemoth offensive line and a talented and powerful back (Josh Adams).
The offensive line lost its two most critical pieces in Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, both of whom were first-round selections in the 2018 NFL Draft this spring, while Adams also turned pro.
“I hope we stay run-heavy,” Notre Dame running backs coach Autry Denson said this spring. “I like running the ball.”
The Fighting Irish have a large number of candidates, some with experience, seeking to replace Adams and his 1,430 yards gained, but the issue a year ago was those guys remaining healthy enough to contribute.
Senior Dexter Williams, redshirt sophomore Tony Jones Jr., and redshirt freshman Jafar Armstrong will compete with incoming freshmen Jahmir Smith and C’Bo Flemister to give Notre Dame a potent ground attack.
For the first time, programs can play a student-athlete in up to four games, yet still have him maintain eligibility for four more seasons. So there are players that will perform to a level that Denson and the rest of the Notre Dame coaches believe can help all season, while they will have to juggle who to rein in and keep eligible for four seasons down the road.
News-Sentinel.com is going to take a look at each of the position groups and the freshmen student-athletes and project the level of impact for the coming season.
Today: Running Backs
Smith took a step forward in his preparation for the 2018 season by enrolling in January and went through spring football working under Denson and learning the nuances of the offense.
“He’s a big, physical back,” Denson said of Smith midway through spring practices. “He is kind of a cross between speed and power. He catches the ball better than I thought he would and he retains information really well.”
Smith is a 5-foot-11, 200-pound athlete that the Notre Dame coaches felt would balance the Irish run game with a speed component.
“He is very smart,” Denson continued. “His academic IQ and his football IQ are mirroring up very well.”
Projection: Denson said at one point this off-season that “we are going to need all of them” when asked about the running back rotation, which leads me to believe, coupled with his football intellect and skills, that Smith will play this upcoming season and not redshirt.
Flemister was the leading rusher in the state of Georgia as a senior in high school last season and despite being just 192 pounds, the Irish coaches like his power to run inside.
“You truly do give every guy in (the running back room) an opportunity to compete and contribute at some point,” Denson said. “That is not only exciting for me because I like the challenge of developing young guys, but it is exciting for them.”
Projection: If Williams and Jones Jr. remain healthy, and the cross-training Armstrong and young Smith continue to develop, there won’t be a lot of carries or possessions remaining for Flemister. However, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get work in a handful of games, yet still retain his redshirt status while he puts on weight and strength. However, that scenario involved a number of “ifs.”
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— Notre Dame Football (@NDFootball) August 1, 2018