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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 34 Tony Jones, running back

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 224 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Sophomore with four years of eligibility remaining including 2017
Depth chart: Jones is either option 2A or 2B at running back along with junior Dexter Williams. Junior Josh Adams is the clear-cut starter, though there should be enough carries for at least two ballcarriers, if not even all three.
Recruiting: A rivals.com three-star prospect, Jones chose Notre Dame more than 10 months before National Signing Day, perhaps shortening his list of offers in the long run. Nonetheless, he turned down the likes of Oklahoma, Florida and Miami. A U.S. Army All-American, rivals.com rated Jones the No. 21 running back in the class of 2016 and the No. 75 recruit in Florida.

CAREER TO DATE
Jones preserved a year of eligibility in 2016 and then took eight carries in this past Blue-Gold Game for 45 yards. Not that spring practice statistics are the most applicable foreshadowing of fall action, but the number of reps alone was a positive sign for Jones’ prospects this season.

QUOTE(S)
Every indication points to Jones seeing genuine playing time this fall, including the blunt assessments from both Irish coach Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Chip Long this spring.

“He is well-ensconced in that rotation,” Kelly said when asked what improvements Jones needed to make in order to have a chance at carries. “He’s a guy that if at any time we wanted to call him a No. 1, we could call him a No. 1. He’s done all the things to build that trust with us in terms of protections, catching the ball out of the backfield. He’s earned that through his work this spring.

“Quite frankly, [he’s earned that] through the time that he’s been here. That was a conscience decision on our part not to play him [in 2016] more than he wasn’t necessarily ready to play.

“He’s in it. He’s going to be a part of it. You’ll see a lot of him this fall.”

Seeing a lot of the third-string, or even second-string, running back may seem to be a stretch. In Long’s offense, though, rotating in a fresh back aids the up-tempo approach.

“You can’t have enough running backs in this offense, there’s no question,” Long said the day before the Blue-Gold Game. He then noted Jones is the best pass-catcher of the running back stable, furthering the offensive options when he takes the field.

WHAT KEITH ARNOLD PROJECTED A YEAR AGO
Find me some snaps for Jones and you’ll have a depth chart ravaged by injury. With [then-senior] Tarean Folston, Josh Adams and Dexter Williams, Notre Dame’s three-deep is all but set, making a redshirt the right decision if all goes even somewhat according to plan.

“But Jones has all the skills Notre Dame’s staff wanted in a back in this recruiting cycle. He’s capable of running with power between the tackles and has enough speed to attack the outside and break big plays down field. Throw in a nice set of hands and a willingness to block and Jones has a nice future ahead of him.”

2017 OUTLOOK

Running back depth charts can be turned inside out quickly. Just take a look at the last couple seasons in the Irish backfield. Obviously, an injury to Adams would thrust Jones into the spotlight, while also increasing Williams’ role as the speedy alternative.

But Jones could take over as the primary back even without an injury. Simply enough, if he capitalizes on the opportunities he is given, more will come his way. Typically, pass protection difficulties can limit a young back even if he is quite productive. Kelly insisted Jones has excelled at pass protection — Jones credited his time in youth football playing fullback for that strength. Taking that at face value until proven otherwise, Jones is only a stretch of consistent performance away from frequent chances.

More likely, however, given Adams’ past successes, Jones will serve as a respite for the bell cow. That role alone could result in a few hundred yards and multiple scores for Jones.

DOWN THE ROAD
It is unlikely Adams declares for the NFL this season, but it is not unreasonable to acknowledge that as a possibility. If he did, Jones would rise to the top of the depth chart as more of an all-around back than Williams.

If Adams returns in 2018, Jones’ role will still increase with experience. Every offensive coordinator in the world would rather have two physical threats at running back than one. Limiting the wear-and-tear on each not only helps on a game-to-game basis, but it also betters the chances of them not being ground down in November.


2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

TRANSFERS
No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

INJURIES
No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship