Mailbag: Barnett, Commitments, Paying Players and more

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In the ultimate “my dog ate my homework excuse,” I just spent three hours answering all of these questions and then WordPress erased it.

So if I missed your question, it had a great answer that was just nuked into the internet’s wasteland.

Let’s get the Blake Barnett stuff out of the way (again):

shaunodame: How solid of a commit is Blake Barnett? There’s a lot of talk on these boards about him but he’s still a long way from signing day 2015. Also, is he scheduled to be an Early Enrollee?

dudeacow: I can answer that question. I was listening to ISD’s Power Hour podcast where they referenced this question and apparently Barnett status is currently (and I paraphrase) “I’m not even listening to other schools. I’m not even thinking of it. I am going to Notre Dame.” Seems pretty solid to me.

dudeacow: And right after I write that I read the news that he’s visiting Oregon. Why don’t you just let the expert answer your question.

bernhtp: Do you see other fallout from Barnett’s de-commitment among other recruits/commits since he was supposedly recruiting others? We saw no effect from Elijah Hood’s flip to NC on others.

Did anybody see Barnett’s departure coming? Not me. But then again, that’s the beauty of recruiting. You never see it coming. After talking to some people behind the scenes, Barnett had been looking around for a few weeks. (After all, you don’t just get on a plane and arrive in Eugene without a plan.)

Does losing Barnett hurt? Yep. This comparison meant something different before the decommitment, but Barnett reminded me a lot of a high school Dayne Crist. Golden Boy Californian, big arm, NFL size, and great wheels.

We’ll see how he turns out, but if the three offers that ND sent out to quarterbacks Travis Waller, Deondre Frenchois and Jarett Stidham mean anything, they’re hardly crying in their pillow and watching rom-coms.

 

mattnef: Where did the word “commit” come from in the recruiting process? This is definitely not the write word. Keith – I think you should start a campaign to pick a better word. “Inclined” “Leaning” not sure what the right term is.

Man, my first answer for this question was way better. But I agree — I don’t like the word commit, especially when there’s nothing hold either side to the agreement. My friends over that The Solid Verbal probably have coined the best version, but I’ve always kicked myself for not doing something clever about verbal commitments on the blog.

What do you think of this:

GOT HIM (For Now): Recruit X.

 

don74: First offensive play vs. Rice. Deep throw to Brown?

I don’t think Chris Brown’s gonna be on the field. (My starting trio at wideout is DaVaris Daniels, Amir Carlisle and Corey Robinson.) While I spent a few days trying to think of something clever to run, I’d just hammer it off the left side with Tarean Folston and take off into tempo offense.

(Come to think of it, last year’s first series went pretty well — a long run for Carlisle and then bombs away with Rees over the top.)

 

onward2victory: In your opinion, is there any reason that Sheldon Day can’t be as good as Aaron Donald? Seems to me that they are a similar size and athletic ability.

Other than the fact he’s not as good?

Day has a high ceiling. The staff loves him and he’s poised for really big things this season. (I’ve already written about it.) But just because two guys are roughly the same size doesn’t make them the same football player. Donald put up absolutely insane numbers last season. He could be the next Warren Sapp.

I’d be happy if Day became the next Trevor Laws.

 

ndlv:Keith, pretend that you have been put in charge of the NCAA (not the boring parts, just making the major decisions). What would you do about the following?

1-Should players get paid? If so, how much?
2-Should players not get paid, but be allowed to make money through other means (e.g., advertisements), like olympic athletes?If #1 occurs, does this benefit or hurt ND?

This is being debated right now in the NCAA vs. O’Bannon case, and candidly, I don’t want to watch any of it. It feels like too many people are tugging at strings on your favorite knit sweater. Things can only go badly from here.

I think starting the debate at “Should college athletes be paid,” is a pretty naive place to start. First off, they are. A scholarship athlete at Northwestern essentially earns $75,000 a year. And he’s capped at a 20 hour work week. That’s if he’s a starter or bench warmer. He’s on a guaranteed one-year deal that is essentially five years if you don’t screw up.

As the cost of education soars, the value in these scholarships only goes up. And while everybody talks about the difficulties making things work outside the confines of the financial aid, there’s also a Pell Grant that nets kids an extra $5,600 a year. I couldn’t earn that in a summer of work, even when I was hauling rebar.

At the same time, it’s a difficult thing to balance the absurd TV contracts and the fact that none of that money trickles down. That the NCAA –and its member schools — got so institutionally arrogant that they’d be cool with videogames, selling jerseys with favorite player numbers or autographed photos when a player gets ruled ineligible, things were bound to come to a head.

I don’t know a single Notre Dame fan who started cheering for the Irish because of Jimmy Clausen, Louis Nix or a lesser player like Kerry Neal or Marcus Freeman. So the idea that we cheer for the proverbial name on the front and not the back shouldn’t be lost in this debate.

The college me would’ve probably dumped a beer on the head of the old man typing this, and I know as a college athlete (not one on scholarship), it felt like we weren’t getting the best part of this deal. But while the idea of letting athletes advertise or be sponsors could make sense, it makes for some mighty murky waters. And it’d only help out .1% of college athletes.

Notre Dame isn’t giving up football, regardless of what happens. So the fact that it’s providing one of the best educations in the country with an elite traditional football experience is a good place to start.

 

twebb2: Hey KA, especially in light of Barnett’s departure, can you explain Kelly’s comment in the off-season about only wanting to carry three QBs? Especially when the depth chart can turn upside down unexpectedly, in an instant (see ND’s 2013 season)?

I must have missed that statement, because Kelly also always wants to recruit a quarterback in each class. And as we saw with the immediate interest from Deondre Francois, Travis Waller and Jarrett Stidham, this spot won’t be too hard to fill up.

That being said, recruiting quarterbacks is tricky. And ultimately, your depth chart is only as good as your QB1. We saw that the past couple years with Tommy Rees at the helm and Everett Golson being taken off the field.

A conversation I had a few months ago with Yogi Roth still strikes me: A quarterback is the only guy in a football program who can get everybody — even the secretaries — fired. So I think Kelly and his staff know how important it is to continue recruiting the position.

 

newmexicolife: Keith what is the status of Ty Isaac relative to his recruitment to Notre Dame? The last I heard he wasn’t able to talk to schools that play against USC because of a policy the school has to that effect. However, I also heard USC missed a deadline rendering the policy moot. Can and is Notre Dame actively recruiting Isaac?

Sorry I was late on this one. Isaac is going to Michigan. ND would’ve probably taken him, but seeing Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston in front of you doesn’t make as appealing of a destination as the backfield Michigan is trotting out there.

 

mediocrebob: What are the chances that if BK doesn’t feel he’s getting it done calling the plays that he reaches out to some of the posters on nbc sports talk “Inside the Irish” to take over the duties for him? If you had to choose one of the anonymous posters on here to lead the Irish offense, who would your choice be, Keith? Why?

How could I choose? No parent has a favorite child, do they?

That said, after hosting live blogs for five seasons, I’m not sure I want any of the crazies that post on that think with their hand on the proverbial trigger.

 

mediocrebob: On a serious note, what are your feelings on the QB “race”? I feel it’s EG all the way as an outsider but you have been up close with these guys. What are your honest thoughts on what BK is creating between EG and MZ?

BK is making sure the life blood of this program is competition. And the fact that Malik Zaire worked so hard to push Golson is a great thing. That being said, I’m with you. There’s little chance that a healthy and eligible Everett Golson isn’t the Irish’s starting quarterback.

 

iamgolden4life: Hey Keith, I was just about to crack a cold one and I got to thinking who might be the best possible recruits to impress @ the “Irish Invasion” on the 20th? Also if you have heard anything on any new recruits who might be attending the camp?

I’m finalizing a talent list of the prospects that’ll be in South Bend and will do a big write-up on it. Needless to say, it’ll be a very elite group and the Irish recruiting staff should be commended for putting it together.

 

irishdog80: Why is Willingham on the Selection Committee for the Playoffs after successfully running Washington into the ground with an 0-12 season and failing in his attempt to lead Notre Dame to an 0-12 season? And can he be impartial to ND?

I think every person on that committee will have a level of bias. And I’m pretty sure that Ty won’t have it out for Notre Dame or Washington, who also fired him.

(The checks cleared, right?)

I think having a former head coach who has actually be inside the game in the last decade is a good thing.

 

martyhealy:Keith, One subject that seems to get little coverage during this off season is how the new playoff format with four teams vs the old format of two teams. My thought is that there might be at least 8 to 12 teams with realistic chances vying for the 4 spots in the final week or two of the season. I believe LSU went to the BCS (two team) game 6 or 7 years ago with two losses. Therefore odds would appear that at least one team will likely have two losses. Any thoughts how ND might fit if their is improvement from last year?

I don’t think a two-loss team is getting in unless there aren’t a lot of one-loss teams. But I do think that a team with one more loss with trump a team with one less and it’ll be the first step towards chaos… which will be awesome.

Ultimately, the selection committee is going to force schools to play better schedules. And Notre Dame is well positioned for that to happen. The Irish have the best non-SEC resume that they can ask for. Now they need to win 10 or 11 games and see what happens.

dudeacow: What position does Jaylon Smith play? He apparently moved inside this spring, but in a 4-3 there’s only one inside backer (Mike) and he and Grace (our only definite MLB) are listed at different spots (Will and Mike, respectively [I think]). Has Jaylon actually moved inside? Is he playing both sides of the field? Or has he just been moved to a more pass-rushing and run-stopping oriented position? Where does Nyles Morgan fit in? Also, what’s the difference between the Sam, Will, and Mike backers, and who do you see starting at each position? I don’t expect you to answer all of these, but please give some of them thought.

This is a terribly written question, but I know what you’re getting at. And again, I had a really long answer typed out here that got nuked. But here’s the ultimate rub on Brian VanGorder’s defense: Nobody knows what it is yet.

So calling Smith a Will, Sam, Dog, Cat, Whatever. It won’t matter until we see the Irish take the field.

That being said, it’s clear that Smith is going to shift inside, putting himself into the middle of the action. And it’s also clear that he’s not coming off the field. But I also think that the Irish are going to be running a 4-2-5, not a classic 4-3, with Smith and Joe Schmidt the guys who have trust of the Irish staff right now.

Ultimately, why would Kelly tell us any more? He has the benefit of keeping things secret for the time being.

jerseyshorefan1: Keith, use your prognosticating skills and tell me which of our 2014 opponents:
Gives up the most points to the Irish. Navy
Gives up the least points. Stanford
Gives up the most/least rushing yards. Most: Rice, Least: Stanford
Gives up the most/least passing yards. Most: Purdue, Least: Florida State
Puts up the most/least points. Most: Florida State, Least: Purdue
Puts up the most/least rushing yards. Most: Navy, Least: Syracuse
Puts up the most/least passing yards. Most: Arizona State, Least: Navy
We’ll all take a crack at guessing and compare notes in December and the person with the most right out of 12 wins something. What do ya say?

I spent a solid 10 seconds a question answering those, so how about no… unless I look smart in the end.

 

 

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s tight ends, a surplus of depth, unproven talent

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Notre Dame has such tight end depth, it was somewhat surprising when the Irish pursued a second tight end in the class of 2018, but the possibilities of yet another playmaker in Tommy Tremble combined with a physical option in George Takacs forced the coaching staff’s decision.

“I always like to have that versatility each year and each signing class,” Notre Dame offensive coordinator Chip Long said Feb. 7. “… We don’t want to pass up on a great athlete … being able to present different challenges to the defense with those kind of guys and still be very physical at the same time.”

That is a key to remember when looking at the Irish tight ends — Long sees different purposes amid the individuals in that position’s meeting room. Tremble, for example, could line up as a receiver as often as not while Takacs might fill in as Durham Smythe most recently did, serving as an additional blocker when needed and offering sure hands otherwise. In many respects, the two roles are two different positions.

Spring Roster:
— Fifth-year Nic Weishar, who Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly said had shoulder surgery recently, though Kelly did not offer a timetable for return.
— Rising senior Alizé Mack.
— Rising sophomore Cole Kmet, when he is not pitching in relief for the Irish baseball team. Kmet made his second appearance of the season Thursday night. A letdown (3.0 IP, 3 ER, 3 H, 4 K), it did not go anywhere near as well as his debut did (4.0 IP, 0 ER, 1 H, 3 K).

@NDFootball

— Rising sophomore Brock Wright, who underwent a shoulder surgery of his own shortly following the regular season. A recent photo (left) from the @NDFootball Twitter account indicates Wright is partaking in at least some winter conditioning drills.
— Early-enrolled freshman Takacs.

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman Tremble.

Depth Chart Possibilities:
Long uses multiple tight ends, deploying both of those aforementioned archetypes at the same time. That tendency should be seen even more often in 2018 with more options now available. A full year in a collegiate program should have both Kmet and Wright ready for bigger roles, challenging Weishar for some of what were Smythe’s snaps in 2017.

The third tight end will see opportunities. It is essentially a second-string role. If granting the argument of two different forms of tight ends, then even the fourth tight end will get chances, as he will simply be the second-stringer in that particular role.

Kmet would seem the more likely of the rising sophomores to get a bit more time, but that only means Wright will see plenty of time in a blocking back role, just as he did in situational packages in 2017.

Biggest Question:
Kmet could find his way to a more prominent role if he offers something not yet seen from Mack: consistency not just on the field, but in all respects.

Can Mack finally translate his athleticism and potential into a consistent mismatch and productive threat? At his best, he could be the product of an offensive coordinator’s daydreams, but Mack has so rarely been at his best. That applies both on and off the field, considering his multiple drops in 2017 were followed by Kelly suspending Mack for an internal team matter for the Citrus Bowl before Notre Dame even headed down to Florida.

Another year of Mack spinning his wheels will result in a loss of playing time with the likes of Kmet and Tremble around. If Mack does not provide positive results in the spring while Kmet does, that shift could begin even before the Blue-Gold Game on April 21.

Fifth-year tight end Nic Weishar will provide Notre Dame not only with depth and experience in 2018, but also sure hands. That alone should give him a leg up on the other tight ends entering this spring. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Pertinent Reader Question:
“Every year a four- or five-star disappoints and every year a three-star or lower prospect surprises. My prediction is fall: Mack, rise: Weishar. I have been the lone man on the Weishar bandwagon for a few years now and really hope that this year he becomes the big receiving target we need.

What are your fallers and risers for this coming year?” — Mark H.

A logical argument can be made that “fallers” should not be labeled as such until after their collegiate careers conclude. There are so many factors that can limit a player for years before he breaks out. Consider rising senior receiver and former consensus four-star prospect Miles Boykin. As recently as New Year’s Eve, he may have been labeled a bust, but now he can lay claim to one of the most dramatic catches in Irish history and is a frontrunner for a starting role in 2018 with another year of eligibility remaining after that. He could end up with a stellar collegiate career by every measure.

Mack has had the opportunity to shine to date, and he has not done so, but he also might have two more seasons to go to change that reputation.

As for “risers,” Weishar makes sense and he certainly showcased his strong hands when given the chance in 2017, but his ceiling is likely not much higher than that. A couple touchdown catches, a handful of third-down conversions and a year of physical blocking would be a welcome success.

Notre Dame’s safeties, though, could stand out to fit the criteria laid out by Mark. If — and that is a two-letter word not to be overlooked — Navy transfer and rising junior Alohi Gilman and rising sophomore Jordan Genmark-Heath end up as productive starters for the season, then they will both have exceeded the expectations set out by star ratings.

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Mack: 19 catches for 166 yards and a touchdown, highlighted by six receptions for 38 yards against North Carolina with rising junior quarterback Ian Book starting in place of an injured Brandon Wimbush.
Weishar: Nine catches for 52 yards and two touchdowns.
Kmet: Two catches for 14 yards; appeared in all 13 games.
Wright: Appeared in 11 games, no statistics recorded.

Notre Dame gets the letter: George Takacs
Notre Dame gets the letter: Tommy Tremble

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are
Linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s linebackers, a proven two and then many questions

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Any concerns about Notre Dame’s linebackers were allayed when Te’von Coney spurned the NFL to return for his senior season. That decision, and Drue Tranquill making the same move, means the Irish do not need to replace their two best playmakers at the position from last season.

Nonetheless, defensive coordinator Clark Lea does need to figure out how to fill in for the graduated Nyles Morgan and his 92 tackles, not to mention classmate Greer Martini and his 75, good for second and fourth on the team, respectively.

Spring Roster:
— Two known and welcome playmaking veterans in Coney and fifth-year Tranquill.
— More than a handful of unproven and untested possibilities in rising senior Asmar Bilal, rising juniors Jonathan Jones and Jamir Jones (no relation), and rising sophomores Drew White, David Adams and Jeremiah Owusu-Koromoah.
— A trio of early-enrolled freshmen in Jack Lamb, Bo Bauer and Ovie Oghoufo.

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman Shayne Simon, a likely rover candidate.

Entering 2017, Te’von Coney was not even a starting linebacker. By the end of the season he was the leading tackler, and in 2018, he will be counted on as a defensive stalwart. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Depth Chart Possibilities:
Wherever Tranquill ends up — be it at rover or a more traditional linebacker position, with the latter seeming more likely — someone will need to earn the third starting role. Bilal is the front-runner for that duty, at either position, but he will need to show a quicker understanding of the game than he has in the past.

The rising senior has always been ready physically, but he has looked up the depth chart at the likes of Morgan, Martini, Coney and Tranquill. Opportunities were not readily available. Now that one very much is, Bilal will need to either seize it or get ready to be bypassed by the newcomers.

It would be a surprise for Lamb or Bauer to be named that third starter in their freshman season, but both could certainly land in the two-deep, as that entire second unit is up for grabs. Neither Jones showed much last season, and the linebacker recruiting emphasis of 2018 belied the coaching staffs’ opinions of the rising sophomores pretty clearly.

Presuming Bilal steps forward and secures the starting position, and some combination of Jones, Jones, Lamb and Bauer fill two of the backup roles, only Owusu-Koromoah stands out as an obvious rover substitute. In that respect, depth remains a concern at the defense’s second level, albeit less of one than in years past thanks to the influx of four touted freshmen.

Biggest Question:
Where does Tranquill line up against Michigan on Sept. 1? More to the current purpose, where does he line up in the Blue-Gold Game on April 21?

“My responsibility as linebackers coach is to put the best combination of people on the field,” Lea said Feb. 7. “I think everyone can see Drue Tranquill had a skillset, a talent base that can play multiple spots. Through the course of the winter and spring, we’ll take a look at different options.”

The duties at rover can be handled piecemeal, accounting for the tendencies of each opponent. When facing an up-tempo, aerial attack, perhaps even rising senior cornerback Shaun Crawford could be featured there. When facing a physical, ground-bound opponent, Bilal would make more sense.

Shifting around like that at the Buck linebacker spot makes far less sense. While Tranquill never necessarily had the speed to excel at safety, and two knee injuries only further limited him in that respect, he shined at rover in 2017. Concluding his collegiate career at linebacker is logical, both as it pertains to his development thus far and to his professional aspirations.

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Rarely can a defense lose two of its top-four tacklers and still return more than 200 tackles from starting linebackers. Thus is the luxury provided by both Coney and Tranquill bypassing the NFL for another year.

Coney: 116 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss including three sacks, and one forced fumble which he recovered.
Tranquill: 85 tackles, 10.5 tackles for loss including 1.5 sacks, one interception, three pass breakups, three fumbles recovered and one fumble forced.
Bilal: 18 tackles with 1.5 for loss.
Jo. Jones: 10 tackles with one for loss and one pass breakup.
Ja. Jones: Four tackles.

A 2018 Statistical Thought:
Presuming linebacker health, the three starters should end up as Notre Dame’s leading tacklers once again in 2018, even with the presumed drop off from Morgan to insert Bilal or Owusu-Koromoah or Lamb or … here.

The Irish defensive line will be much improved in 2018. Once upon a time, that seemed a guarantee just because the expectations for the line entering 2017 were so low, but it instead became a strength. Developing that strength and making it the backbone of Notre Dame’s defense moving forward will serve to burgeon the linebackers’ tackle totals, both at and behind the line of scrimmage.

Notre Dame gets the letter: Jack Lamb
Notre Dame gets the letter: Bo Bauer
Notre Dame gets the letter: Shayne Simon
Notre Dame gets the letter: Ovie Oghoufo

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are

A second four-star defensive lineman, Hunter Spears, joins the Notre Dame class of 2019

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When Notre Dame got five heralded defensive line recruits on campus together in January, it turned heads. When Irish defensive line coach Mike Elston offered public optimism about the possible 2019 commitments, it raised expectations.

Notre Dame has now secured a second of those five with the Tuesday commitment of consensus four-star defensive end Hunter Spears (Sachse High School; Texas). He joins consensus four-star defensive tackle Jacob Lacey (South Warren H.S.; Bowling Green, Ky.) as the early foundation to the recruiting class, now with four prospects pledged.

“Honestly, just talking with the guys today — Jacob Lacey, Mazi Smith, Joseph Anderson, Nana Osafo-Mensah, and myself — if Notre Came can land all of us, that would be the dream d-line class for Notre Dame,” Spears told Irish Illustrated. “I could see another pass-rusher or two, also.”

The other three names Spears mentioned all joined Lacey and him on Jan. 27 at an on-campus Junior Day. All five qualify as consensus four-stars, with Smith (East Kentwood; Kentwood, Mich.) a tackle, Anderson (Siegel; Murfreesboro, Tenn.) an end, and Osafo-Mensah (Nolan Catholic; Fort Worth, Texas) a possible end/linebacker hybrid.

From left to right: Osafo-Mensah, Anderson, Elston, Smith, Lacey and Spears. (Twitter: @JacobLacey6)

Landing all five may be ambitious, but it would also be the envy of most of the country.

Spears already held offers from the likes of Alabama and Michigan State, despite missing his junior season with a knee injury. The Irish extended a scholarship offer to him in June, prompting an unofficial visit to watch a 49-14 Notre Dame victory over USC in October. In a video released by 247Sports.com, Spears cited that experience as one of the three primary reasons he committed, along with the educational opportunity and the “overall tradition and culture.”

Editor’s Note: That video has since been removed from this post due to its incessant auto-play function, but it can still be viewed here.

Spears shows quickness for a defensive lineman, but not such that he would ever be considered an outside linebacker in any form. His size makes him an ideal candidate to set the edge against the run or possibly move inside when the Irish need a quicker defensive line to handle certain opponents. His agility, though, will make him a three-down threat, both a pass-rusher and an edge-setter.

Notre Dame currently has depth at defensive end, but with only one signed in the class of 2018 (Justin Ademilola) and one remaining from the class of 2017 (Kofi Wardlow), an influx will be a priority this recruiting cycle. Spears will theoretically have one season to adjust to collegiate competition before the quartet of rising juniors Daelin Hayes, Khalid Kareem, Julian Okwara and Ade Ogundeji run out of eligibility. (The first three have two seasons remaining, while Ogundeji has the possibility of three more years.)

Hence, that Junior Day emphasis and Elston’s confidence on National Signing Day.

“I’ve been at Notre Dame now going on for nine years, and I haven’t had a stronger group of underclassmen that I’m recruiting than I have this year in 2019,” Elston said. “This could be the best defensive line haul we’ve ever had here.”

Expect to read that quote again and again (and possibly again) if any of the remaining three in the above photo follow Spears’ and Lacey’s lead.

RELATED READING: ‘Accelerated’ start creates bright outlook for Notre Dame’s 2019 recruiting cycle

Spring Outlook: Notre Dame’s running backs, as few of them as there are

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Notre Dame will open spring practice in about two weeks. As always, the proceedings will be filled with positive reviews, optimistic outlooks, and an injury or two.

A quick look at each position group should lend a better understanding to those perspectives and effects, beginning with the group lacking many questions — the running backs. The biggest reason there is relative certainty around the running backs is there are just so few of them following the winter dismissals of rising junior Deon McIntosh and rising sophomore C.J. Holmes.

Spring Roster:
Rising senior Dexter Williams (pictured above)
Rising junior Tony Jones
Early-enrolled freshman Jahmir Smith
Rising junior Mick Assaf

Summer Arrivals:
Incoming freshman C’Bo Flemister

No one received more praise last spring practice than Tony Jones. He had a successful 2017, but compared to that hype, it could have been considered under-performing. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)

Depth Chart Possibilities:
At some point, either Williams or Jones will be named the Irish starter. It is quite possible that will be a distinction without much difference, as the two could certainly complement each other well in offensive coordinator Chip Long’s system, which already prefers to use multiple running backs.

Human nature, though, dictates is more likely one back receives a majority of the carries.

Biggest Question:
If Williams lines up with the No. 1 offensive unit in the Blue-Gold Game (April 21) to conclude spring practice, that will be the first genuine and tangible evidence he has improved as a pass blocker. Despite his big-play speed and seeming-ease breaking tackles, Williams’ one-dimensional game rendered him as much a liability as an asset in 2017.

Even in the Citrus Bowl victory, Williams followed up back-to-back rushes for a combined 36 yards with a blown pass protection resulting in a 13-yard sack.

“You have to be able to protect the quarterback with all positions,” Long said Feb. 7. “That dictates a whole lot if you’re going to play a lot or just be a situational guy. It’s something you have to embrace, the physicality.

“… That’s really the main thing, other than protecting the ball, that’ll keep a back off the field in our offense.”

The best ability is availability, and both an ankle injury and a balky quad limited Williams in that respect in 2017. Little blame can be cast for the natural bruises of football. Nonetheless, he will need to “embrace the physicality” if he wants to become more than a situational back.

Otherwise, Jones will be the default option. He has already shown a knack for both pass blocking and catching, making him a three-down option. Notre Dame will always prefer that rather than tip its hand to a running play every time Williams enters the game.

2017 Statistically Speaking:
Obviously, Josh Adams carried the burden in the running game last season. Behind rising senior quarterback Brandon Wimbush and McIntosh, Williams was only the No. 4 rusher on the roster in yards and touchdowns, while Jones was No. 4 in carries and No. 5 in yards and scores.

Williams: 360 yards on 39 carries, a 9.2 average, with four touchdowns. Two catches for 13 yards and one score.
Jones: 232 yards on 44 carries, a 5.3 average, with three touchdowns. Six catches for 12 yards.
Notre Dame gets the letter: Jahmir Smith
Notre Dame gets the letter: C’Bo Flemister