NO. 5: RB-TONY JONES JR. (RS-Fr.)
• The Journey: Jones showed flashes at the Culver (Ind.) Academies as the Irish opened the 2016 pre-season camp. But the backfield was a crowded house with senior Tarean Folston, rookie-of-the-year sensation Josh Adams, and sophomore Dexter Williams, not to mention fellow Jones Jr. classmate Deon McIntosh.
It was a pretty easy decision to red-shirt Jones because of the numbers, but he showed the ability to catch the football out of the backfield while offering some power and shiftiness between the tackles. He presented a challenge to the defense on the Irish prep teams, setting himself up for an opportunity in the spring of 2017.
• The Spring: With Folston gone, plus the arrival of offensive coordinator Chip Long, who likes the underneath/horizontal passing game, Jones has been given ample opportunities this spring.
At times, he’s put on a show.
On Saturday, March 25 in the fifth practice of the spring, Jones made a 20-yard touchdown run look easy, caught a touchdown pass from Montgomery VanGorder in the red zone, scored from five yards out, took a swing pass from Ian Book and raced 40 yards, added a 47-yard run in a 2s vs. 2s scrimmage, and then tacked on a 15-yard run in a 1s vs. 1s.
As an encore, Jones beat Rover Drue Tranquill to the edge for a seven-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Wimbush to conclude the practice and cap a spectacular performance.
Jones will emerge from the spring as a weapon in Notre Dame’s fall arsenal. He won’t beat out Adams for the No. 1 role, but he’s challenging Williams for No. 2 snaps/touches.
• The Quote: “He’s 225 pounds. He can catch the ball coming out of the backfield. He’s assignment correct, and he can run elusively and get into the second level. He’s a pretty good back. Obviously, he was noticeable today (March 25), and he got some work with the first group.”
-- Brian Kelly
Question (April 11): What does Tony Jones Jr. have to do to get in the RB rotation?
Kelly: “Nothing. He’s in it. He is well-ensconced in that rotation. He’s a guy that if at any time we wanted to call him a No. 1 (running back), we could call him a No. 1. He’s done all the things to build that trust in terms of protections, catching the ball out of the backfield…He’s earned that through his work this spring.
“Quite frankly, (he’s been that way) through the time he’s been here. Last year was a conscience decision on our part not to play him more than he wasn’t ready to play. (But now) he’s in it. He’s going to be a part of it. You’ll see a lot of him this fall.”