Getty Images

5 Days Until Spring Practice: A Look at RBs


It is a matter of concern when only one tested running back returns, but that concern is somewhat mitigated when that back has proven himself both durable and consistent over the last two seasons.

Josh Adams has not missed a game in his career, and last season the junior carried the ball at least 10 times in all but one game—the 17-10 loss to Stanford in which quarterback DeShone Kizer and running back Tarean Folston combined for 19 attempts. Adams finished with eight rushes. Expect that usage to only increase, especially without Folston around to provide Adams spells of rest.

Assuredly, running backs coach Autry Denson hopes junior Dexter Williams or sophomore Tony Jones can allow Adams to catch his breath, but neither has proven that ability yet. Jones spent last year on the sidelines, fourth on the depth chart and preserving a year of eligibility. Williams, meanwhile, tallied only 39 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns, his most-prolific output coming in Notre Dame’s 50-33 win over Syracuse when he finished with eight attempts for 80 yards and a score.

In many respects, Williams could provide a better complement to Adams than Folston did last season. It should be noted here, Folston may not have been at his peak after tearing his ACL in 2015’s opener. Either way, he was not the bruising yet agile runner last year he shined as in 2014.

Williams, known for his speed, could force defenses to change gears whenever he steps in for Adams. At least, that is the theory.

Early enrollee C.J. Holmes, also a regarded blazer, will force Williams to perform in order to earn that dynamic role.

There will be carries available for whomever fills the position directly supporting Adams, but expect the starter to be the bell cow. Adams increased his rushing attempts by 41 last season in one fewer game and is already on pace to finish in the top three of Notre Dame’s career rushing yards leaders. The record-holder? None other than Denson with 4,318 yards. Adams currently stands at 1,768, including the 835 in 2015 that set the Irish freshman record.

Nothing would please Denson more than to see Adams enter his senior season with a viable chance at breaking his coach’s record. Doing so would likely also indicate an overall improvement on last season’s team rushing production. As noted in Wednesday’s look at the offensive line, Notre Dame finished with 2,123 rushing yards on 410 attempts for an average of 5.18 yards per carry when removing sacks and the yards lost from them—the NCAA counts sacks as rushes, despite how they can inappropriately distort rushing statistics.

Certainly, the offensive line’s performance will greatly affect the Irish rushing attack, but this quartet of running backs will inevitably receive the praise if the ground attack were to flourish. That will start with Adams. The question is, no matter how durable and consistent Adams may be, who will provide the needed influx in conjunction with him?

The primary impetus in determining the Notre Dame depth chart at running back will be production in the rushing game, but another factor should develop into a notable aspect this season.

When discussing the hiring of new offensive coordinator Chip Long, Irish coach Brian Kelly noted Long’s inclusion of the backfield in the passing game, in more than a blocking capacity.

“I wanted the offense to look a specific way,” Kelly said. “Chip gives me, clearly, something that I saw that will resemble what I see through his offense. It’s going to be the inclusion of the backs and the tight ends in the passing game.”

In his one year as Memphis’s offensive coordinator, Long’s running backs caught 51 passes for 477 yards and five touchdowns. Last year, Adams, Folston and Williams combined for 33 catches for 275 yards and one score.

Looking closer, though, one notices the snaps Long will reward a back with if the ball carrier has demonstrated a penchant for catching the ball. While Memphis’s leading rusher, Doroland Dorceus, caught 10 passes for 77 yards and a score, three other running backs caught as many or more passes:

Darrell Henderson – 20 catches – 237 yards – three touchdowns
Patrick Taylor, Jr. – 11 catches – 37 yards
Sam Craft – 10 catches – 126 yards – one touchdown

If, for instance, Jones establishes himself as a passing game threat but Williams is indeed the more dynamic runner, Jones very well may end up at quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s side on many third downs.

Josh Adams 2015: 117 rushes – 835 yards – 7.1 average – six touchdowns
Josh Adams 2016: 158 rushes – 933 yards – 5.9 average – five touchdowns

Dexter Williams 2015: 21 rushes – 81 yards – 3.9 average – one touchdown
Dexter Williams 2016: 39 rushes – 200 yards – 5.1 average – three touchdowns

Positional Group Spring Preview Schedule:
Wednesday: Offensive Linemen
Thursday: Tight Ends/Receivers
Today: Running Backs
Saturday: Quarterbacks
Sunday: Defensive Backs
Monday: Linebackers
Tuesday: Defensive Linemen
Wednesday, March 8: Spring practice begins

84 & Counting: A Scholarship Chart

Getty Images

After signing 21 incoming freshmen last week, Irish coach Brian Kelly quickly indicated the Notre Dame roster may not yet be done growing. In a radio interview on Weekday Sportsbeat, Kelly spoke of a possible transfer to Notre Dame, likely a graduated senior taking advantage of the NCAA’s stance on graduate student’s having immediate eligibility.

“We’ve put a scholarship aside,” Kelly said. “We think we’re in a very good position with one right now that we’ll be able to close on within the next couple of weeks.”

Before rampant speculation about just who that may be gains too much steam, it is prudent to consider where such a player may have an imminent impact. A look at the Irish roster as currently constructed—categorized by both class and position—may indeed help narrow that speculation. Hence, the below. First, some notes regarding the below:

  • All classes are listed as they will be next season. For example, quarterback Brandon Wimbush is currently a sophomore at Notre Dame, but below lists Wimbush as a junior since that will be his standing come fall.
  • Today’s best guesses at starters are listed in italics.
  • Asterisks next to seniors names indicate that player will have a fifth-year of eligibility after this season. The chart only notes seniors with that possibility, rather than marking all players who have preserved a year to-date. Predicting such for years in the future often bears little-to-no resemblance to what reality transpires once injuries and other events are factored in down the road.
Position 5th-Yr Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
QB M. VanGorder B. Wimbush I. Book A. Davis
RB J. Adams T. Jones C.J. Holmes
D. Williams
Receiver E. St. Brown K. Stepherson J. Armstrong
C. Finke J. McKinley M. Young
C.J. Sanders C. Claypool
M. Boykin D. McIntosh
Tight End D. Smythe N. Weishar* A. Jones B. Wright
T. Luatua C. Kmet

Bringing in two of the top-three tight ends in the class of 2017 presents an interesting quandary of, will one red-shirt this season? Four upperclassmen at the position only increases the likelihood of such. Since Brock Wright enrolled early and will thus take part in all of spring practice, he is the more likely of the two to see the field in 2017, though do not be surprised if Cole Kmet’s talent forces new Irish offensive coordinator and tight ends coach Chip Long to deploy him, as well.

Position 5th-Yr Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Tackle M. McGlinchey A. Bars* L. Eichenberg A. Banks
T. Kraemer J. Lugg
Guard H. Bivin Q. Nelson* T. Hoge P. Boudreaux R. Hainsey
J. Byrne* T. Ruhland D. Gibbons
Center S. Mustipher*

Spring practice will provide a better handle on offensive line coach Harry Hiestand’s latest alignment. The biggest question is not who will start, but where will the back-ups cross-train. Hiestand has often relied on only three or four actual second-stringers, believing a player or two was his best secondary option at multiple positions. Barring a rash of injuries—and the offensive line is perhaps the only position group to avoid that epidemic in recent years—this strategy holds up just fine.

Position 5th-Yr Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
Def. End A. Trumbetti D. Hayes K. Wardlow
J. Bonner* J. Okwara MacCollister
J. Hayes* A. Ogundeji
K. Kareem
Def. Tackle D. Cage J. Tillery K. Hinish
P. Mokwuah * E. Taylor Tagovailoa-Amosa
M. Dew-Treadway D. Ewell
B. Tiassum
“Rover” D. Tranquill* A. Bilal J. Owusu-Koromoah

Simply learning who new Irish defensive coordinator Mike Elko trots out at his “rover” position (a safety-linebacker hybrid of sorts) will tell us the most about this spot’s role and future. He has also mentioned senior linebacker Greer Martini as a possibility there, but the need at linebacker may be too great to give Elko a genuine chance to try Martini at the rover.

Position 5th-Yr Senior Junior Sophomore Freshman
LB N. Morgan T. Coney Jo. Jones D. Adams
G. Martini J. Barajas Ja. Jones D. White
Corner N. Watkins* S. Crawford J. Love
A. White T. Pride
S. Perry
D. Vaughn
Safety N. Coleman D. Studstill I. Robertson
N. Fertitta J. Elliott J. Genmark-Heath
D.J. Morgan
PK J. Yoon
Kickoff J. Doerer
Punter T. Newsome*
LS     J. Shannon

Notre Dame preps for NSD with homepage

Getty Images

Many times throughout the recruitment process, various media outlets break news regarding a prospect’s visit schedule, which school(s) he is most interested in and perhaps even his commitment. On National Signing Day, however, those with access to the proverbial fax machine have the edge. Thus, and WatchND will put together an entire day of programming presented by Vivid Seats for tomorrow’s events, beginning at 7 a.m. Eastern time.

At that point—yes, (long) before the sun rises— will go live as the home for all your 2017 National Signing Day needs. If you are impatient and head there early, you can get a refresher on last year’s class of recruits.

The “Fighting Irish Board” will update with each received official letter of intent. Spoiler alert: They are rarely faxes anymore. It is 2017. They are emails.

Jack Nolan will host the coverage, also available via Facebook Live. Notre Dame director of athletics Jack Swarbrick will host the “Jack Swarbrick Radio Show” in the morning, and throughout the day, guests will pop in to supplement Nolan and Swarbrick, including Irish coach Brian Kelly, assistant football coaches, current players, former players and perhaps even some of the early enrollees (safety Isaiah Robertson, running back C.J. Holmes, tight end Brock Wright and offensive linemen Aaron Banks and Robert Hainsey).

Naturally, once each “fax” arrives, highlight reels of each commit will also be available alongside biographies of the high school seniors.

Kelly will host a press conference at 1:30 p.m. ET to discuss the completed class. It is worth noting that is 8:30 a.m. in Hawaii, possibly giving three-star defensive lineman Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa a chance to swipe the snooze once or twice before sending in his letter, should he end up with the Irish.

As of now, Notre Dame’s class of 2017 includes 18 commits, though there is both room and a growing expectation for a few more. For example, four-star defensive back Russ Yeast, a Louisville commit, teased the world with a tweet quickly retweeted by both Kelly and recruiting coordinator Mike Elston. In this era and industry, tweets are the best tea leaves around.

Around these parts, we will likely focus on those few last-minute additions, though there will also be updates after each set of letters arrives at the top of the hour, with the most expected shortly after 7 a.m. Eastern and then a handful more at 8 a.m. Eastern.

Get some sleep tonight. Get the pot of coffee ready. It will be an early and busy morning. At least you won’t have to be camera-ready by 7 a.m. Tough break, Mr. Nolan.

Three days from Signing Day, a look at offensive recruits

Getty Images

Yesterday featured a quick look at defensive recruits. Some guy on Twitter joked today would bring a quicker glance at special teams recruits.

That attempt at humor pointed out there are no special teams recruits in Notre Dame’s current 2017 class. (Both kicker Justin Yoon and punter Tyler Newsome should be back handling those responsibilities in 2017.)

There are, however, nine offensive recruits with the increasingly likely potential of adding an additional receiver—or, though unlikely, two receivers—before Wednesday’s National Signing Day.

Coach Brian Kelly and his staff landed the commitment of Michael Young (Destrehan High School; Destrehan, La.) back in July, but Young remains the only receiver in the class. Former Missouri-commit Jafar Armstrong (Bishop Miege H.S.; Roeland Park, Kan.) spent this weekend on campus and announced on Twitter his de-commitment from Missouri on Sunday morning. He appears to be Notre Dame’s best chance at adding another outside play-maker this cycle, especially with that de-commitment coming in such short order from his visit with Kelly and, presumably, new offensive coordinator Chip Long and receivers coach Del Alexander.

Depending how much faith one puts in a peer’s influence on a teenager, picking up Armstrong’s prep teammate Colin Grunhard as a preferred walk-on offensive lineman this week could have played a part in Armstrong’s wavering.

If Armstrong did indeed reopen his recruitment with intentions of ending up with the Irish, Notre Dame will still look to Penn State-commit Mac Hippenhammer (Snider; Fort Wayne, Ind.) or Oliver Martin (West; Iowa City) with hopes of a Signing Day surprise and a third receiver in the class of 2017. Hippenhammer, a three-star recruit who should be noted for his five-star name if nothing else, made the 2 ½-hour drive to South Bend early last week shortly after receiving an offer, but an official visit to Penn State before Wednesday may bode poorly for Irish chances.

Martin, meanwhile, has defied the norms and kept his cards close to his figurative vest throughout his recruitment. Come Wednesday, he will delight the fans and coaching staff at likely Michigan, Michigan State or Notre Dame. Until then, well, stay tuned.

Theoretically, Kelly & Co. still have a chance at Jordan Pouncey (Winter Park; Winter Park, Fla.), but the receiver de-committed in December during the Irish coaching staff upheaval. He has supposedly kept Notre Dame in consideration, but let’s follow precedent and presume the Irish spurned.

Aside from receiver, the offensive half of this recruiting class has been set for some time, including four commitments—two tight ends and two offensive linemen—dating back to 2015.

QB: Avery Davis
RB: C.J. Holmes (early enrollee)
WR: Michael Young
TE: Brock Wright (early enrollee), Cole Kmet
OL: Aaron Banks (early enrollee), Robert Hainsey (early enrollee), Dillan Gibbons, Josh Lugg

Report: Tarean Folston won’t return for fifth year


Tarean Folston will declare for the NFL Draft. The senior running back, who has a fifth-year of eligibility available after a medical redshirt in 2014, will instead turn his focus to preparing for the professional ranks. Irish Sports Daily’s Matt Freeman broke the news, confirming the decision with Folston.

The departure wasn’t totally unexpected, though Folston was also a candidate for a graduate transfer. But after running for 1,712 yards over four years, the 214-pound back will hope an NFL team takes a shot on him, likely looking at tape of Folston the underclassmen to make their evaluation.

The Cocoa, Florida native burst onto the scene as a freshman against Navy when he ran for 140 yards on 18 carries in the Irish’s 38-34 win. He was Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2014, running for 889 yards and 5.1 yards per carry  and six scores in 2014.

Expected to do big things in 2015, Folston’s season lasted just three carries, a torn ACL suffered against Texas in the season opener. After Josh Adams emerged that season, Folston fell behind him in the depth chart, getting just 77 carries in 2016.

The move clarifies a depth chart that looked to be unchanged heading into next season. But with Folston’s exit, rising sophomore Tony Jones will join Adams and Dexter Williams in the rotation. Fellow sophomore Deon Macintosh and incoming freshman C.J. Holmes will also compete for playing time.