Position Analysis: Tailback and Fullback

Notre Dame has talent and experience returning at both fullback and tailback this year. Darius Walker is the headliner but will any other players will step up their games? Recruiting appears to be done for the year with James Aldridge, Munir Prince and Luke Schmidt all joining the fold during the spring.

The starting tailback position is now Darius Walker's to lose. Walker is reportedly up to 210 pounds and is ready for his sophomore season. Redshirt sophomore Travis Thomas struggled mightily during his inaugural season, but has plenty of talent. He will be counted on to produce this fall or Notre Dame head coach Charlie Weis may have to allot more double-duty to starting fullback Rashon Powers-Neal than he would like. Powers-Neal is expected to play tailback in addition to his fullback responsibilities to begin with, but how much is too much?

Walker's classmate Justin Hoskins is an intriguing player due to his explosiveness. He has the ability to hit the home run if given the opportunity. Hoskins' talent is likely to be utilized with screen passes and he will play wide receiver as well. Redshirt junior Jeff Jenkins will have to battle for playing time.

Powers-Neal is the starting fullback, but he will play tailback occasionally as previously mentioned. Powers-Neal is a solid inside runner that could see a lot of carries when short yardage situations arise. His biggest responsibility will still be blocking linebackers at the point of attack to help slip Walker and the other tailbacks past the line of scrimmage and into the secondary.

The backup fullback position is a good bet to go to redshirt sophomore Ashley McConnell. He is a load at 245-250 pounds, and fits the mold of a traditional I-Formation fullback. Incoming freshman Asaph Schwapp is another big body for the fullback position. It is just hard to say how much if any playing time he will receive this fall. Schwapp could be a candidate to redshirt and preserve a year of eligibility.

The 2005 season should see a revitalized running game for the Irish. Walker has NFL talent and Powers-Neal would start for the vast majority of DI teams at fullback. The determining factor could well be Thomas. Will he be cured of his fumblitis that plagued him early and often last season? Coach Weis was renowned for best utilizing the talent he had while coaching the Patriots, so look for him to find ways to place the ball in Hoskins hands that will best allow him to make plays.

The biggest impact of all could come from coach Haywood, the new running backs coach at Notre Dame. A former Notre Dame player and graduate, Haywood has an excellent reputation as a coach who teaches fundamentals. Look for the Irish running backs to improve in all aspects of the fullback and tailback positions, especially pass protection, which was horrendous numerous times over the past few seasons.

Recruiting - With James Aldridge, Munir Prince and Luke Schmidt already in the fold there probably won't be another "true" fullback or tailback recruited this year. The only scenario that could potentially come into play is if another fullback or tailback recruit is willing to potentially play another position once he reaches South Bend next summer.

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