Protecting C.J. Prosise

Brian Kelly wants to preserve C.J. Prosise after running the senior hard the past six weeks. Doing that while also improving Prosise in short yardage represents a challenge.

How much C.J. Prosise is too much C.J. Prosise?

That’s a question Brian Kelly tried to answer with his coaching staff this week, in the end deciding to elevate Prosise to protected veteran status. While Josh Adams and Dexter Williams will still take “thud” contact in practice, which is supposed to mean no tackling but often doesn’t, Prosise will get no contact.

“I definitely think it’s a good thing,” Prosise said. “Last year I’d get out of bed and I’d feel I could go play another game. Now it’s like I get out of bed on Sundays and I’m creaking … and just kind of moving real slow and getting over here to the training room as fast as possible.”

Prosise said Saturday’s soreness usually fades by the end of Tuesday’s practice.

There’s good reason why the senior has felt banged up, already overcoming a hip pointer in training camp and icing his left shoulder after most games. Prosise’s 110 carries through six games are the second-most by a starting back under Kelly during the season’s first half, trailing Cierre Wood’s junior season by just three carries.

Last year’s lead back, Tarean Folston, had just 60 carries during the season’s first six games, although he carried 108 times in the final six.

“The first couple weeks I’m real sore, not used to taking those hits,” Prosise said. “Now I’m used to taking the hits and taking less of them because I’ve learned the position a little bit better.”

Keeping Prosise’s season in perspective has been as difficult as finding a parallel to his game. He’s just the second Irish back in the past century with multiple three-touchdown games in a single season. His 600 yards rushing through four games is a single-season school record.

Yet Prosise has also struggled to establish himself in the short-yardage game despite averaging 7.1 yards per carry. In short yardage situations on third and fourth down, meaning three yards or fewer to go, Prosise has converted just once in five attempts all year. That was a four-yard gain on 3rd-and-3 against Massachusetts.

Dexter Williams converted twice against Texas. Quarterback DeShone Kizer is 5-of-6 for the season, the one miss his stuffed two-point conversion at Clemson.

“I definitely think that’s something I still need to develop,” Prosise said. “I’m still getting used to running in between the tackles and taking those short gains and knowing that every gain is not going to be like a big gain.”

Notre Dame getting into more two tight end sets might help Prosise’s cause with Tyler Luatua healthy and Chase Hounshell proving surprisingly productive in the run game. Against Navy, the Irish went two tight end on 16 rushing plays after going there just 23 times on the ground in the previous four games combined.

The Irish scored their first three rushing touchdowns out of two tight end sets last week and averaged 4.8 yards per carry with that personnel group.

“I actually really like running with two tight ends,” Prosise said. “The holes open up a little differently. With the tight ends blocking out there, things are moving a little bit slower for me.

“(Luatua) is a dog. He goes and sticks his head in there. He’ll lay out anybody. He’s just about an O-lineman himself.”

If Kelly had a real concern with Prosise it’s pad level, where the converted receiver who converted from safety can struggle to get low. At least once a game Prosise gets stuck in a rugby scrum while running high, which usually ends with the Notre Dame line shoving him forward.

“Where he started the year relative to his pad level and where he is right now has been has changed dramatically,” Kelly said. “I think he still has to work on getting down consistently. But we're seeing progress, and he works on it every single day.”

If Prosise wants to repeat his season’s first half, he has no other option but to protect himself. Kelly can keep linebackers off his only proven running back midweek, but there’s little protection on Saturday.

“I feel great. I’m not hurting or anything,” Prosise said. “I think my body has gotten more adjusted every week.”


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