So far, Preston's backs haven't had much of an opportunity to shine. Both Jones and Grant had solid games against Washington State but didn't find their feet in the Michigan game. "The thing we have to do is not make mental mistakes," said Preston. "Be consistent in what we're doing out there and not turning the ball over. We'll do those things, I feel real confident we'll be OK."
One are the backs struggled last year was pass protection. Preston says he thinks his backs have improved in this area so far this year. "We've done a good job. We're aware of what we have to do and the main thing is to go out there and get it done."
The offense has sputtered and really hasn't got on track. Opposing defenses know the Irish want to run and load up to stop the run before the backs can find a crease to make plays.
We asked Preston if he thought the offense had to pass the ball before they would be able to run this year. "I don't think that's totally the case. A lot of it is just our inability to do some things in a lot of ways, running the ball and passing the ball. We just need to be consistent--every player out there executing his assignment, sustaining it and not getting into lulls. We need to not panic, not get frustrated and stay focused and make things happen."
Preston and his backs worked a lot in fall camp on catching the ball out of the backfield—something we haven't seen much from the offense this year. "We haven't been consistent enough to allow much of anything to happen right now. We're hoping that now we're starting to understand and we're hoping everything will come together so we can be effective in all aspects."
Both Julius Jones and Ryan Grant have featured-back type qualities. Preston says they bring something different to the offense and that gives the offense flexibility. "They both bring different styles of running, different styles of physicality; I think it gives us a nice blend and a nice support system along with Marcus Wilson and Jeff Jenkins. At any time we can come at you with a different look and when you have that it gives you a really effective running game."
Walk-on Josh Schmidt found his way on the field in both the Washington State and Michigan game. Preston says he did what he had to do to see the field. "He performed. He just performed. That's the bottom line for any player in this program, whether that is a scholarship player or a walk-on, is perform. If you want the playing time, you have to perform. When opportunities come to you in practice, you have to perform. When opportunities come to you in a game, you have to perform and that is what he did. He was very effective in doing what he needed to do."
Ryan Grant seems much more comfortable and confident running the ball this year. Preston says Grant has matured and good things should happen for him in the future. "I think the thing is he's a lot more comfortable with what he's doing. When you become a lot more comfortable and confident, it becomes a lot easier. For Ryan last year, he hadn't really expected mentally to be the guy. All of the sudden he was the guy and that was a big chore. Its maturity, having everyone healthy, they're competing and guys are hungry to show their stuff."
Preston also has the job of balancing playing time amongst Grant and Jones. Many fans want to see Jones get more carries because he can make big plays but Preston says Grant makes big plays too. "It's not tough, Ryan's made big plays too contrary to what some people think. Sure, Julius is faster but Ryan has had some big plays where he ran away from people. The main thing is making sure you're keeping them fresh and making them doing the things that they're effective with. If a guy's got a real hot hand, you let him ride that hot hand out."
Preston says he'll stick with the guy with the hot hand depending on what plays the offense is going to run. "A little bit of hot, a little of bit of how I see where we are at that point. Who's going to be more effective for what we're calling at times. It's a combination of a lot of different things."
Regardless of which player plays, the Irish will have to get some mileage out of both Jones and Grant to move the football on offense. Grant and Jones should have great years for the Irish once they solve some of the problems that exist on offense.