Notre Dame coaches not easing cross-training talent, Jafar Armstrong, into Irish offense
“If I could plug right here, I hope that I can get him in my room full-time.”
That request was made publicly by Notre Dame running backs coach Autry Denson during the spring as it pertained to then-cross-training athlete Jafar Armstrong.
Veteran Fighting Irish coach Brian Kelly had moved the redshirt freshman from solely being a wide receiver to also giving him some work at running back throughout the spring. However, Denson’s insistence paid dividends because Armstrong opened training camp Friday at Culver Academies by participating with the running backs in both drills and teamwork sessions.
Kelly explained on Thursday that both of the athletes that cross-trained in the spring (Armstrong and classmate Avery Davis) would get extensive work quickly with the runners.
“We want to put the whole thing in,” Kelly said of his offensive packages that involve those two players, “and we want to put the whole thing in because we need to focus and get to guys like Avery and Jafar early.”
As opposed to simply coming up with select packages to utilize the athleticism and skills of Armstrong and Davis, Kelly and Fighting Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long (as well as Denson) want those two to be part of the normal rotation of backs.
“We may not have gotten to that package of what we wanted with them last year to maybe practice six, seven,” Kelly explained. “So we’ve got to put it all in. They are going to drink through a fire hose for the first couple of days, but we need to do that so we can start to work on some of these packages that we want to employ offensively.”
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Armstrong’s versatility is already reaping rewards for the Irish.
Following Sunday’s practice, he was named as the “Special Teams Player of the Day,” which shouldn’t surprise anyone, including Denson.
“He is a big, physical, strong young man,” Denson said. “You can never have too many guys that can play multiple positions. We run the Spread offense, so it is about getting the best five guys on the field from the skill positions.”
That was a problem last season.
At the slot position, redshirt sophomore runner Tony Jones Jr. was the only really skilled player among the backs to fill that hole. When he battled injuries, it took away that component of the Notre Dame offensive attack.
“It certainly did,” Kelly lamented when that point was broached.
However, Armstrong and Davis can now add depth behind (or with) Jones Jr. so that the Irish can utilize a myriad of players and formations and strategies.
“It’s very difficult to match up,” Kelly explained, “because really what you’re talking about is that we can employ three, four tight ends in some sets, and then still have three tight ends with two backs, and it’s really difficult.”
Having Armstrong and Davis also allows the Notre Dame coaches to have depth at the position while they figure out exactly what they are going to do with senior runner Dexter Williams, who has was limited in Friday’s practice following his off-season disciplinary measures imposed by Kelly.
“That’s why we want to get all of this coming together,” Kelly said of implementing Armstrong and Davis. “We have a lot of weapons. We’ve got to sort it out. We want to be able to come out with a comprehensive package that keeps defenses on their toes with personnel groupings and these guys enhance that ability to do that.”
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