Matt Cashore / IrishIllustrated.com

Front Page News: Running Backs

Two-year starter Josh Adams returns to lead a quartet of underclassmen in 2017.

Storyline

As much was gained as lost with the arrival of early enrollee C.J. Holmes replacing departed senior Tarean Folston in running backs coach Autry Denson’s room. Holmes brings an influx of speed to the unit, a likely upgrade from the 2016 version of Folston that was a year removed from ACL surgery. (Folston’s best could be yet to come, but it wasn’t last fall.)

Adams is the headliner, finishing strong with 517 rushing yards and five touchdowns in the final five contests following an inconsistent first seven games (416 yards, 2 total scores).

Adams’ speedy junior classmate Dexter Williams barely touched the football during Notre Dame’s 1-5 finish. He remains a complement to Adams in theory, only.

Holmes joins fellow rookie Tony Jones, Jr. as potential weekly contributors in new offensive coordinator Chip Long’s attack. Jones redshirted as a true freshman after showing great promise as a pass-catcher out of the backfield during August camp viewings.

Upside

Adams has been at his best against the likes of USC (180 rushing yards) and Virginia Tech (100 yards, 2 TD) last fall, plus Stanford (168 yards, 2 TD), and Pittsburgh (147 yards in relief) in 2015 – there’s no reason he shouldn’t enjoy success vs. the 2017 slate that awaits.

From Williams, Jones, and Holmes, the Irish offensive brain trust has ample speed, size, and pass-catching acumen with which to work.

Downside

It appears an enviable quartet, but as noted above, Williams – admittedly bereft of consistent opportunity – has accomplished little of note in two seasons of college action and both Jones and Holmes are rookies.

The lack of a fifth body could present as an issue if one among the pair were to be lost for an extended period this spring – as attrition is certain in August and beyond.

RB Options

Adams is clearly the starter, regardless of the admirable approach employed by Denson who doesn’t believe in anything but daily competition through the ranks. A true junior, Adams has already emerged as a team leader – a fitting trait for a ‘back who limped off the Los Angeles Coliseum turf last Thanksgiving Saturday after giving his all for 60 minutes for a four-win team with no hope.

Williams is purportedly a top-notch north-south runner and pass protector, plus he was one of the team’s three fastest players during its off-season drills last year. Holmes can fly as well and the squat, 215-pound Jones can catch and cut. If Notre Dame can’t get something out of this group, it’s on the staff – new and old alike.  

Highest Probability

In good health, Adams leads the team in rushing and Williams finally emerges as a 10-carry complement. Jones’ year of acclimation to the program gives him the upper hand on Holmes who then contributes largely on special teams.

Statistically, Adams seems due for a 1,000-yard plus campaign – the key is how consistently he’s complement by any member, or members, of the remaining trio.

Notre Dame averaged a full yard less in its rushing attempts (5.6 vs. 4.5) and scored 11 fewer rushing touchdowns in 2016 than it did when led by C.J. Prosise – with Josh Adams in relief – and a standout offensive line in 2015. Last year’s Irish offense enjoyed just 10 rushing touchdowns from its running backs – and half occurred during the season’s three blowout victories over Nevada, Syracuse, and Army.

More is needed when the chips are down.


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