Mar 4, 2011, 1:50 PM EDT
The Irish haven’t had the best of luck with elite running back recruits from the Midwest. The crown jewel of Charlie Weis’ 2006 recruiting class, James Aldridge, never lived up to his five-star billing, and seemed to be plagued throughout his career by a knee injury he suffered during his senior year of high school. Robert Hughes, who came in billed as a top 10 running back in the country, only thrived during the final games of his career. And Jonas Gray, billed as one of the top five running backs in the country, has yet to make any impact on an Irish running attack looking for a bruising tailback.
At 5-10, and 230-pounds of well-proportioned weight, Gray has all the tools to be the powerful running needed to complement the darting style of Cierre Wood. He’ll just need to shore up a spot in the running back rotation, something he’s been unable to do in his first three years, never carrying the ball more than 34 times in a season.
The Irish entered 2010 with the running back position as stocked as any on the roster. Led by Armando Allen, Gray struggled to get into a rotation that featured Cierre Wood and Robert Hughes as well. Jonas got his first touch of the season against Michigan, picking up 10 yards on his only run and 13 more on a 3rd and long reception from Dayne Crist. Gray picked up a handful of carries against Michigan State and Stanford, before not touching the ball again until bursting onto the scene against Utah, breaking loose in the second quarter against Utah on a 36 yard run, nearly taking it to the house. Gray struggled to do much on his nine carries against Army, finishing the season with an even 100 yards on 20 carries, good for five yards a tote, though pulling out his long run against Utah, it’s closer to 3.3 yards a carry.
100 word preview for Jonas Gray in 2011:
This is it for Jonas Gray, with only 2011 left to fulfill the high expectations of a career so far short on results. Gray finally has the opportunity to seize a prominent role in the Irish offense, and could be the thunder to play opposite of Cierre Wood’s lightning. If the home stretch of last season showed us anything, Brian Kelly and the Irish know they can win football games running the ball behind their veteran offensive line and Gray should be given every chance to play a big part. If not, he can always take solace in dominating Screech.
Importance in 2011:
While the coaching staff is really high on youngster Cameron Roberson, they need the presence of a veteran running back, and Gray looks like he’s ready to seize a larger role in the offense. Year two of Brian Kelly’s offense should mean a more prolific output, and if they can get Cierre Wood and Gray rolling, they’ll be able to do a lot more damage on the ground, building on the 92nd ranked rushing attack in 2010.