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Notre Dame Football

Irish Running Backs are Staying Healthy, Ready for the 2022 Season

August 17, 2022

Freshman Jadarian Price will miss the 2022 season after he ruptured his Achilles tendon over the summer. Going forward, Notre Dame will have four scholarship running backs at its disposal: junior Chris Tyree, sophomores Audric Estime and Logan Diggs and freshman Gi'Bran Payne.

With the Ohio State game less than three weeks away, each is working hard at various aspects of their game in order to be ready for the grind of a 12-game college football regular season.

Health Focused

Tyree has suffered a handful of minor injuries throughout his career thus far, which have limited his overall on-the-field production. This spring, he was also hobbled by an ankle injury.

Now as a veteran within the running back room, Tyree is determined to stay healthy and on the field. 

“I take the time before practice to make sure I'm all good,” he said. “I'll do any kind of 'prehab' that I need.”

His post-practice efforts are even more important.

“That's something that I've really taken priority in summer training and through fall camp as well. At this point, we're towards the downhill point of camp, and I feel really good. It's been paying off so far.”

Sophomore Logan Diggs tore the labrum in his left shoulder during the Blue-Gold Game in April. 

At this point, he says his left arm feels stronger than his right and he’s ready to go, but the Notre Dame trainers and coaching staff are still having Diggs wear a protective red jersey in practice. 

Right now, even McCullough is unsure when Diggs will be full go.

“That's out of my pay grade,” McCullough said. “The head coach and the medical staff make that determination. But while he's out there, I'm going to continue to have him do things in preparation to play football.”

During fall camp, he’s at least had a few opportunities to see how his shoulder handles a collision. In team drills, he’s fallen on his shoulder a few times without any pain.

Before Diggs can play against Ohio State or any other team on the schedule, he will need to wear a regular jersey to at least a couple of practices.  

“You need to see if he can take a hit and get back up,” McCullough said. “I don't know what the medical circumstances would be by the time we get to that game. But for his sake and for our peace of mind, I wouldn't want the first contact he takes to be against Ohio State Buckeyes. That's not fair to him or fair to us.”

Significant Practice Reps for Payne

Freshman running back Gi'Bran Payne was a late addition to the 2022 recruiting class. A four-star recruit, he dealt with injuries through much of his high school career.

While staying healthy is important for Payne, it was also vital that McCullough get him prepared for Notre Dame’s offense. 

At the start of fall camp, McCullough evaluated Payne based on his pre-snap alignment, footwork, reads, route-running ability and more. 

“On his first day, he graded at 30 percent,” McCullough said. “I think that hurt him.”

While his learning curve was steep at first, McCullough has witnessed tremendous growth from the freshman recently. Even with progressively higher expectations throughout fall camp, Payne has found a way to meet or exceed them.

“Last practice, he graded out at 88 percent,” McCullough said. “That gives you an idea of how he turned it around.”

McCullough says Payne also produced several grades of 90 percent or better at recent practices. 

“We're just thrilled to have him, especially with JD's situation,” McCullough said. “He's been a guy who's performing mentally and physically above what you would expect for a freshman.”

Due to Payne’s progression, McCullough has grown more and more willing to test his young pupil by throwing him into the fire.

“We were doing tempo out there today, I put him with the ones,” McCullough said. “I thought, ‘I'm going stress him out.’ He performed and got it done on a high level. That's how I prep guys, and I really feel confident about what we're doing.”

Payne will likely have a limited role against Ohio State, if he plays at all. But given the nature of the running back position, players often get banged up, so even summer enrollees like Payne need to be ready to play at a moment's notice. 

In McCullough’s mind, the worst thing he could do for Payne’s development is to bring him along slowly. Because what happens if Payne is suddenly forced to play a significant role out of necessity, but he’s entirely unprepared to do so?

Ultimately, it’s better for him to fail early and often in fall camp, even if it’s a baptism by fire at times. That way, he’s prepared if and when he’s called upon. 

More than a Power Back

In 2021, Audric Estime rarely played a meaningful snap, but he’s confident he’ll have a much bigger role this season.

At 5-foot-11 and 229 pounds, it’s easy to label Estime as a power back, but he’s on a mission to prove he’s more than a goal-line and short-yardage specialist. 

When asked if he’d rather juke an opposing defender or run him over, he couldn’t choose between them. He spends a lot of time preparing to do both, whether that’s in drills, scrimmages or in his own head.

“I'm a bigger back, but I want to prove to the world that I'm able to do everything that little backs like Chris can do,” Estime said. “To see him move in and out his cuts,  burst [up field and make] catches, even though I might not be taking the rep, I'm taking a mental rep, so when my time is called, I can work it to perfection like Chris does.”

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