Photo by Rick Kimball/ISD
Notre Dame Football

Spring Preview: Running Back

February 14, 2017

Normally running back meetings are held in the smallest rooms because there are not that many players who have to attend. This spring the meeting room may be a bit more crowded.

There are going to be as many as five scholarship players competing at running back. The days of having to move another position player to have enough players to take reps are over. In fact, one of the players recruited to carry the ball may move over to the wide receiver room.

Notre Dame has a returning starter coming back that has rushed for 1,768 yards and 6.4 yards per carry in his first two seasons. Even with those numbers, I'm not sure his starting job is secure. There should be plenty of healthy competition going on to establish the pecking order heading into the summer.

Can Adams take his game to the next level?

I mentioned those numbers heading into his third year for Josh Adams and they are definitely impressive. In most situations, there would be lofty expectations for him heading into his junior year. An up and down sophomore campaign has to put a hold on that for now as we wait to see if he can take his game to the next level.

I think injuries played a part in some early season struggles. He was never 100% in camp and was splitting time early in the year with Tarean Folston. He was a different player after the bye week when he rushed for 517 of his 933 yards in only five games. He had four of his five rushing touchdowns as well during that stretch.

The biggest difference was that he never got loose early in the year. Other than one brilliant run versus Nevada, he didn't display the type of power in his lower body that someone his size should have. Then he started to run different in the Miami game. He finally started to break long runs and would maximize yardage by breaking tackles. His season was punctuated with what I felt was his best game of his career against USC. He rushed for 180 yards and was hitting the hole with authority.
When Adams is decisive, he is outstanding and looks like he can be a bell cow for the Irish.

He needs to show he is that kind of player this spring. When he is decisive, he is outstanding and looks like he can be a bell cow for the Irish. He'll likely come into the spring as the starter and if runs like he can, then I expect it to stay that way.

Time is now for Williams

Williams was the more hyped recruit when he and Adams came into together. Adams took advantage of his opportunities in his first camp and immediately became the third option at running back behind Folston and CJ Prosise in 2015 with Williams a bit of the forgotten man. Then when Folston went down, Williams could have found his way into the lineup if not for Prosise and Adams being so productive.

I understand why it was tough for him to see the field in 2016. Adams was more proven and Folston was the the veteran who did all of the little things right. Williams got his chance when Folston was banged up for a few weeks and had a highlight reel run versus Syracuse, but never found his way into regular carries the rest of the season.

Now he should be slated to be at least the second option heading into spring, but he'll need to do certain things to keep it or possibly leapfrog Adams.

Can he catch the ball consistently out of the backfield? The other backs have shown a proficiency for doing so, but Williams has not shined as much as they have. We've seen him get open only to drop the football on more than one occasion in practice.

Is he going to block well? He'll get a good test against all of the blitzes Mike Elko brings. Adams and Folston were a notch above him in that area and he needs to keep improving.

I think he has all of the physical tools to be a great back for the Irish. He just needs to do the little things well because the guy behind him already does.

Here comes Jones Jr.

On the list of players I am most excited about seeing this spring, Tony Jones Jr. is right near the top. ISD's Matt Freeman has already mentioned how big he looks this winter. He is going to be a man out there and already showed he can run like one in last year's fall camp. I can't wait to see him collide with some tacklers at the second and third level.

I think he might have the best vision out of the group and he is more than capable of doing a great job in blitz pickup. I think he may have the best hands out of the backs as well and that is saying something considering how talented the others are.
If Jones Jr. does the little things well and runs with the type of power I expect him to run with, then it's not out of the question that he can start his push to be a big part of the offense

I expect him to do the little things well and if he runs with the type of power he is capable of bringing, then it's not out of the question that he can start his push to be a big part of the offense. And if he can show a bit more a big play element, then his role will have a chance to expand come game time.

Will McIntosh stay at running back?

We saw him mostly working as a slot receiver in practices last summer and he displayed some impressive ball skills. He's still a bit of an enigma as a running back at the college level. There hasn't been enough of what we've seen from him  to know what he does and doesn't do well. Most of what we know is based off of his high school film and a lot of time has passed since then.

Whether he is playing running back or receiver, his size is going to be the biggest point of interest for me. He looked like he was destined to stay a jitterbug type during his career, but perhaps he is going to look transformed into a much bigger player after spending time in the program.

Wherever he is at, he needs to make a splash with his speed to get noticed. He broke long runs at the high school level and he is going to need to show he can do that at Notre Dame to separate himself from his peers.

First audition for Holmes

Perhaps it's the newness after just enrolling, but CJ Holmes is a favorite of mine. I love his footwork and how he excels as a receiver. He needs to get bigger and add some weight to handle the inside running game better, but he is a bit different than the other backs they have. He is more Theo Riddick or Prosise than the others. That can be a very good thing because different means he may be able to earn his way to some opportunities.

He's got some swagger to him and I guarantee he is coming in with the attitude that he is going to play and play a lot this season. It starts this spring. I'm going to guess his opportunities will be a bit limited as the youngest player out of the group so he'll have to shine to earn more chances as spring advances.
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