Spring Solutions: Running Backs

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(The first in a series of updates on the positional battles that took place during spring practice.)

It doesn’t seem like too long ago that rumors were swirling about a possible position switch for Cierre Wood. With Wood buried on the depth chart behind Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray, and Theo Riddick, there were whispers that Wood was moving to the secondary — or even worse — considering a transfer.

Fifteen short practices later, and the eyebrow-raising decision to move Theo Riddick to slot receiver is coming into focus after Wood dazzled at the Blue-Gold Game. With the Irish running game stuck in neutral for much of the Weis era, Brian Kelly’s Irish offense should lean heavily on a running attack that now realistically could be called four-headed.

Here’s a look at the current eligibility of the Notre Dame running backs and what we can realistically expect from them:

2010: Armando Allen, Robert Hughes
2011: Jonas Gray
2012: (Vacant with Theo Riddick’s move to WR)
2013: Cierre Wood
2014: Cameron Roberson

Armando Allen is still the class of the running backs. While he didn’t steal the headlines that Wood and Gray did during the Blue-Gold Game, he’s still the best all-around back that the Irish have, and he’s the high-water mark of a talented position grouping. The knock on Allen is his inability to make the big play, puzzling because he’s got the skill-set you’d expect from a big play running back. His career long carry of 26 yards is shorter than Hughes 37-yard scamper against Washington last year, not to mention two long runs Hughes broke off during his freshman season. Still, Allen displays good hands out of the backfield, surprisingly tough inside running, and the speed needed to get out in the open field. A chance to run in Kelly’s fast-paced offense, and new offensive line coach Ed Warriner likely means we’ll see Armando break a long run this year.

Many expect Hughes to be the odd-man out in the new offense, but the powerful senior running back is far from conceding a diminished role in the offense. Hughes has always impressed with his light feet and great size, and in an offense as varied as Kelly’s, you’ve got to think that the new staff will find a formation or scheme to feature Hughes in the backfield. Having added the slash to his resume by taking on fullback duties, Hughes might find himself lead-blocking in goal line situations, or perhaps as a playaction weapon out of the backfield. Hughes averaged over 10 yards a catch last season, a nice perk for a 245-pound running back.

Beside Wood, Jonas Gray has to be considered one of the better stories of the spring session, especially considering that there were rumors that Jonas might not be participating in practice at all. Not only did Gray practice, but he made an argument for serious playing time during the Blue-Gold Game, breaking off dazzling runs and getting tough inside yards as well. Gray has to be a pleasant surprise for new running backs coach Tim Hinton, who will look to find carries for the junior out of Detroit.

Cierre Wood is a perfect example of the proper use of a redshirt year. While many worried that Wood was going to get lost in the shuffle, the reluctance of playing Wood on special teams last year let’s him enter the season with four full years of eligibility remaining, perfect when you consider that both Allen and Hughes graduate after this season. Wood apparently struggled at times last year with his fitness levels, but if his performance last weekend was any indication, strength coach Paul Longo has whipped him into proper shape, and the Irish have another versatile weapon in the backfield.

Incoming freshman Cameron Roberson wasn’t originally recruited by the new coaching staff, but Kelly has been effusive with his praise, and he’s reportedly a good fit for the Irish’s one-back attack. With the depth chart in front of him, the decision on what to do with Robertson will be a good indication on how Kelly values freshman eligibility. Unless Roberson dazzles this summer and during fall camp, there’s no reason to think he’ll get any playing time this year, keeping him off of special teams and allowing him to develop on the scout team taking most of the snaps at running back.  

Kizer named MVP at annual ECHOES awards

echoes
@NDFootball Twitter
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DeShone Kizer was named the Monogram Club’s Most Valuable Player for the 2016 season at the 96th annual Notre Dame football awards banquet. Kizer was voted team MVP by his teammates, after throwing for 2,925 yards and 26 touchdowns and rushing for 472 yards and eight scores.

He was one of 15 players honored with an award at the “ECHOES,” with the following accolades being given:

Equanimeous St. Brown, Offensive Player of the Year.
James Onwualu, Defensive Player of the Year
Greer Martini, Next Man In award
Drue Tranquill, Rockne Student-Athlete Award
Cole Luke, Nick Pietrosante Award
Isaac Rochell, Lineman of the Year
Quenton Nelson, Offensive Lineman of the Year
Scott Daly, Special Teams Player of the Year
Alex Bars, Newcomer of the Year, Offense
Nyles Morgan, Newcomer of the Year, Defense
Ben Stuttman, Scout Team Player of the Year, Offense
Jonathan Jones, Scout Team Player of the Year, Defense
Mark Harrell, Father Lange Iron Cross
Tyler Newsome, Irish Around the Bend

 

 

Notre Dame names 7 captains for 2017 team

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Quenton Nelson #56 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish celebrates after a 10-yard touchdown reception by Corey Robinson against the USC Trojans in the fourth quarter of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
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Notre Dame named seven captains for the 2017 season, the most to wear the ‘C’ in school history. Quarterback DeShone Kizer, linebackers Greer Martini and Nyles Morgan, offensive linemen Mike McGlinchey and Quenton Nelson, safety Drue Tranquill and walk-on receiver Austin Webster were all given the honor.

McGlinchey returns in the role, the 22nd different two-time captain in the program’s history. New to the job are the rest, including Kizer, who has yet to make a decision on if he’ll return for 2017 yet.

After worries about the team’s leadership heading into the 2016, the naming of captains in the immediate aftermath of the season is a change—Brian Kelly not naming his team’s official leaders into August training camp last year. It’s not an unprecedented move for Kelly (he named Harrison Smith and Michael Floyd team captains at the banquet following the 2010 season), though it points to some changes—some subtle, others not—that’ll likely take hold after a four-loss season.

Webster, a rising senior reserve wide receiver from California who has yet to register a stat in a Notre Dame uniform, made his debut as a sophomore in 2015 against UMass, is the first active walk-on to receive the honor.

 

Irish land blue-chip OL Aaron Banks

aaron-banks
Tom Loy, Irish 247
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Notre Dame received the commitment of 4-star offensive tackle Aaron Banks on Friday afternoon. Picking the Irish over a national offer list that included Michigan, Tennessee, and local programs USC and UCLA, the 6-foot-7, 335-pound Banks reminded all that even if the Irish only won four games this season, Harry Hiestand is still one of the premier offensive line coaches in the country.

Banks made the commitment from a ceremony at his high school in El Cerrito, California. And when he picked the Irish, he added to Notre Dame’s impressive offensive line haul, joining Dillan Gibbons, Joshua Lugg and Robert Hainsey — a key piece of the puzzle moving forward.

Banks is a consensus 4-star recruit and a Top 200 prospect. He took an official visit to Michigan in November, but has been a long-time target of Hiestand’s, visiting South Bend in September and welcoming Brian Kelly and Hiestand into his home after the USC game.

As a big recruiting weekend gets started at Notre Dame, the annual Echoes Awards will serve as the beginning of an important home stretch for a program without a bowl game. As Kelly still looks to lock in a defensive coordinator, not to mention other staff changes still in the air, Banks takes back some of the lost momentum, a key commitment heading into a holiday dead period before a furious finish leading into the first Wednesday in February.

Banks is No. 18 in the Irish recruiting class. He’s an early-enrollee, ready to hit campus within weeks and compete on the interior of the offensive line during spring ball.

Zaire says thank you to Notre Dame

CHARLOTTESVILLE, VA - SEPTEMBER 12: Quarterback Malik Zaire #8 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish rushes past defensive end Mike Moore #32 of the Virginia Cavaliers in the third quarter at Scott Stadium on September 12, 2015 in Charlottesville, Virginia. The Notre Dame Fighting Irish won, 34-27. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)
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Big week for The Observer. Not just for its advertising revenues, but for the classy gesture that outgoing senior quarterback Malik Zaire made this week.

Thursday’s edition included a letter to the editor from Zaire, who took to the student newspaper not to make headlines around the internet, but rather to thank the university for his experience in South Bend.

While Zaire’s time at Notre Dame is drawing to a close, he will leave as a proud alum. So while he’ll play football next season at another university, Zaire wrote the following in Thursday’s issue:

Dear Notre Dame students and staff,

My life changed for the better the moment I stepped onto the University of Notre Dame’s beautiful campus. The one goal I had set in my mind to achieve was to become a better man, a Notre Dame man. After growing through many trials and triumphs, the thing I’ve learned most from my experience was that if you don’t believe in yourself first, then no one else will. I believed in becoming a better man and succeeding through any circumstance, and I can say that I’ve truly accomplished that. I often refer to the famous quote from the movie “Catch Me If You Can” that was well put by Frank Abagnale:

“Two little mice fell in a bucket of cream. The first mouse quickly gave up and drowned. The second mouse wouldn’t quit. He struggled so hard that eventually he churned that cream into butter and crawled out.”

I’ve put my heart, soul and passion into the University, the football program, the South Bend community and the Irish community worldwide. I have the unbelievable honor to represent this University to the fullest as a student and soon-to-be alumni. Thank you to the amazing students and staff that I’ve met through the years for helping me grow into the person I’ve always wanted to be. I love the Irish and will always be an Irish alum no matter where I go! I look forward to keeping in touch. Let’s change the world!

Go Irish!

Malik Zaire

Senior
Dec. 7

Zaire is expected to compete for a starting quarterback job next year as a graduate transfer. He’s reportedly taken a visit to Wisconsin and plans to visit North Carolina as well, just two of several programs on the radar as Zaire looks to step in and win a starting Power 5 job.