Be Ready For The Call

As Notre Dame continues to try and form its identity as a power-running team this Saturday against Purdue, any one of the five Irish running backs could hear his number called at any time.

That's what has happened in the previous four games this season, as head coach Charlie Weis tries to efficiently utilize his deepest offensive position.

"When you look into our offensive backs, there is a multitude of different styles of runners," offensive coordinator and running backs coach Michael Haywood said. "You have James Aldridge and Robert Hughes, who are more physical downhill runners. Then you have guys like Armando Allen who are more speed guys, Travis Thomas who fits into that speed category along with Junior Jabbie also. We're trying to play more of a physical downhill game and those guys are running the ball a little bit better downhill now."

It couldn't get any worse.

The Irish (0-4) went into last Saturday's 31-14 loss against Michigan State, ranking last in the nation in rushing yards at minus-14 yards per game. Teams loaded up against Notre Dame, knowing that with seven new starters including a freshman quarterback on offense, Weis would try and run the football in setting up the pass. Ranking at the bottom or near the bottom nationally in every other offensive category, Weis and his staff upped the intensity in practice last week, making things a lot more physical, tackling to the ground, and against the Spartans, they were able to run the ball a bit.

Aldridge, who was used sparingly the first two games, and only in mop-up duty in the third game against Michigan, was the featured runner last Saturday. The 6-foot, 222-pound sophomore answered the bell to the tune of 18 carries for 104 yards, including an outstanding 43-yard carry he bounced outside and streaked down the sideline with in setting up a score. The freshman Hughes figured into the mix six times, and carried Spartans defenders on his back for 33 yards and his first career touchdown. Allen changed the pace three times for 13 yards. Thomas had a one-yard touchdown run on his only carry, and Jabbie entered the game in the fourth quarter when the Irish had to start throwing the ball.

"Everybody has a role," Haywood stated. "You can tell in various situations. It might be a down-and-distance situation or maybe personnel substitution. Everyone has a role, and the good thing about it, everybody is accepting their role. It provides better harmony and better camaraderie between the guys on the team."

With that, all five will remain in the game plan on a weekly basis. All five will likely have their number called against Purdue (4-0) on Saturday.

"I think what it does is it keeps backs fresh," Haywood said. "When you're having multiple players going in, you're keeping them fresh, and at the same time they feel a part of the team in understanding each one of their roles."

***The roles of the Irish receivers have changed a bit in this year's offense. With Brady Quinn at the controls last season, the offense was balanced, and Weis let it rip through the air. Through four games this season, Notre Dame has thrown just 96 passes while running the ball 146 times. With that, the receivers are being asked to block more.

That wasn't always an easy thing to do for sophomore receiver Robby Parris. In high school, he wasn't asked to block much. Being able to block is a must if you're going to see the field in Weis' offense. As a freshman, Parris struggled to get a hat on or prevent teammates Tom Zbikowski and Chinedum Ndukwe get to the ball carrier in practice.

"Last year it was definitely sometimes a little scary when I'd see those guys because I knew their reputation, and I saw how big they were and I was a lot smaller too," Parris explained. He is now the Irish's No. 3 receiver. "This year is a lot different. It comes with a whole new attitude."

One that is preached.

"(Receivers) coach (Rob) Ianello talks about it all the time, being a complete receiver," junior David Grimes said. "Complete receivers catch, they block."

"It gets the team just as fired up if you go and make a diving catch," Parris said.

***When Irish quarterbacks have dropped back to pass this season, they are typically greeted with a lot of pressure. The line has three new starters and has struggled to gel. Notre Dame came into last Saturday's game against Michigan State with 23 sacks allowed. That was good for the most in the country. The Irish only allowed 31 in all of 2006.

Between Jimmy Clausen and Evan Sharpley, the Irish threw 20 passes against Michigan State. Clausen was sacked three times, and Sharpley once. A slight improvement.

"I think we have to do better," left tackle Sam Young said. "Four sacks is still inexcusable. All those sacks could've been prevented one way or the other. It's a step up from how ever many sacks we've had. But we've got to get to a point where Jimmy or Evan or whoever the quarterback is, feel comfortable back there. Just enough to set his feet, look down field and deliver a throw. Because if the quarterback has time, he's going to be able to complete a ball."

***Though it's not surprising that sophomore tight end Konrad Reuland decided to transfer from Notre Dame, it shocked classmate Will Yeatman when Reuland told him.

"I didn't really see it coming," the other sophomore tight end stated. "But whatever he felt like he needed to do, I'm going to support him.

"He's probably one of my best friends on the entire team. I spent everyday with him since I've been here. It will certainly be different with him not being around. But it's something you've kind of got to move on with."

Reuland appeared in seven games last season, logging 18 minutes and 14 seconds of playing time. The highly touted prospect out of San Juan Capistrano, Calif., played minimally in three of four games this fall. He slipped to fourth on the Irish depth chart behind John Carlson, Yeatman and freshman Mike Ragone. On top of that, the Irish have commitments from Scout.com's top-rated tight end Kyle Rudolph, and four-star player Joseph Fauria.


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