From a recruiting standpoint, running back is one of the positions where a true freshman can come in and compete for playing time. Darius Walker earned carries as a true freshman, and Notre Dame's last great running back, Julius Jones, also played as a true freshman.
The Irish appear to have a good number of running backs already on the roster, but that could quickly change if some of these running back candidates are moved to other positions.
Walker is already entrenched as the Irish starter at this point and has two years of eligibility left. Senior Travis Thomas will also have two years of eligibility if granted a fifth year. The question is, will he be granted a fifth year?
Most would consider him a lock to be granted a fifth year of eligibility, but if Thomas can't nail down the No. 2 running back spot this spring and fall, I wouldn't say it's as big of a lock as some might think.
The time is now or never for junior running back Justin Hoskins. Hoskins will have to make a move now or he likely get lost in the shuffle at running back. But Hoskins could move to another position this year, as there appears to be a logjam at running back currently, and three more talented players will be added to the mix this fall. Hoskins has two years of eligibility left and might be tried at corner or even receiver if things don't work out at running back.
Notre Dame will add two halfbacks to the mix next year. Freshman James Aldridge is already enrolled in Notre Dame and will compete for playing time starting this spring. Aldridge, a Scout.com five-star prospect, is expected to compete with both Walker and Thomas for playing time in 2006. Aldridge already has the size (6-0, 210 pounds) to play early, and learning the system likely will be the only obstacle Aldridge has to overcome to see the field in 2006 because he's vastly talented as a runner.
St. Louis, Mo. native Munir Prince will also try to find some carries in 2006. The freshman speedster will bring an extra gear to the backfield and could make a push for playing time. But will Prince remain at halfback? Some suggest he might be a great corner prospect or maybe even an inside slot receiver candidate.
When you look at the halfback position you see a lot of candidates in Walker, Thomas, Hoskins, Aldridge and Prince. But what if Aldridge secures the No. 2 spot early next fall? Will Thomas return for a fifth year as a third-string running back? Will Hoskins remain at running back? What will happen with Prince? Five prospects could potentially be whittled down to two by the end of the season with one of the prospects in his final year of eligibility. I doubt we'd see both Hoskins and Prince moved to another position, but I certainly can see one of them being moved.
My scenario is purely hypothetical, but also could be likely if Aldridge is as good as advertised. Running back could actually be considered a need position next year in recruiting depending on how all of this plays out. How many running backs the Irish take in 2007 will likely depend on how well Aldridge and Prince compete for playing time this season.
Fullback is another position that appears pretty set for the near future. Sophomore Asaph Schwapp appears to be entrenched as the starter for 2006 with backup senior Ashley McConnell providing depth to the position.
McConnell has two years of eligibility if he's invited back for a fifth year. Schwapp will have three years.
The interesting factor at fullback will be the addition of freshman Luke Schmidt.
Schmidt is already 6-4, 240 pounds and one has to wonder if he'll stop growing. Schmidt obviously has the size to be an effective fullback, but he's also never played the position.
Schmidt has been the featured back in his high school offense his entire career and hasn't been asked to do many of the things fullbacks do in a Weis offense such as block and catch the ball out of the backfield.
His senior season alone he rushed for 2,200 yards and 33 touchdowns. Schmidt might be more of a one-back player or even used as a big back in the Irish offense. The lingering question with Schmidt is can he be a fullback?
Schmidt's play and ability to adapt to the fullback position might decide the fate of McConnell and a fifth year in 2007. If McConnell isn't granted a fifth year in 2007, the Irish will likely be in the market for a fullback for the 2007 recruiting season.
As you can see, the numbers can be confusing. How many players the Irish coaching staff will pursue at the running back position will likely depend on how well the three freshmen running backs perform this fall.
If Aldridge shows the potential many think he has or Prince shows the burst and ability to run inside many hope he has, the Irish might be in the market for more running backs than people think.
My best guess is the Irish will likely take two halfback candidates with another "athlete" that could play the position, but as I've said, it's purely a guess as this point as we just don't know how these young freshmen will perform.