Grant started off the season with some very strong running. He played injured most of the year with a bad shoulder. When Powers-Neal went down, that left Marcus Wilson—also banged up—to carry some of the load. Did the Irish just suffer some bad luck last year with all three backs getting hurt? In the physical game of football, you better have three backs that can get the job done.
Powers-Neal will likely be heading to fullback this year. He is the only known candidate for the position so the Irish will need to find a solid backup for him. The signing of Ashley McConnell was very important and should add depth to the position. As a true freshman, McConnell will be asked to play quite a bit unless someone else is moved to the position. McConnell has the needed size—5-11 and 240 pounds—but will not know the offense when he steps on campus. He will have to pick up the offense quickly if he is going to make an impact early.
The staff cannot go into spring practice with just one fullback so I expect someone to be moved to the position. Jeff Jenkins looks like a likely candidate. Jenkins' film of his senior year showed a very physical runner who made his living running between the tackles. He never shied away from contact and seemed to really enjoy it. He is a pretty big kid and looks like he can add another 20 pounds to handle the punishment. If I had to guess, I think Jenkins will move to the fullback or blocking back position.
If these players move, that will leave Ryan Grant, Marcus Wilson and Nate Schiccatano as possible backs to carry the load. Grant has obviously proven himself. Wilson showed glimpses of promise but had a problem hanging onto the football. Schiccatano on film didn't seem like a natural running back. He is obviously a gifted athlete and can run well for his size. He didn't appear to have that natural running style you like to see in a running back. He could move to fullback or maybe to an H-back position and throw to him in the slot or out of the backfield.
If Schiccatano moves to another position, the Irish will only have Grant and Wilson as the main backs. Travis Thomas was a big signing for the Irish. Thomas should report to Notre Dame weighing at least 200 pounds. His high school coach said he has never had a player work harder than Travis in the weight room so he could be as heavy as 210. His size is important because he will need to be physically ready to handle the pounding. Thomas should have plenty of size to give Grant a rest when he needs one. Thomas is also a physical runner who loves to run inside the tackles so he will be a nice addition to Grant.
The interesting thing to watch this fall will be where Isaiah Gardner ends up. Gardner should report around 190 pounds; which will be enough size to take some punishment but he will also add some speed, quickness and lateral movement to the position if he starts out at running back. Gardner could give the Irish the burst that seems to be lacking and some good feet to make people miss. I bet he starts out at running back.
We can't be sure what will happen here but if you see Powers-Neal, Jenkins and possibly Schiccatano switching positions in the spring, I think that Gardner and Thomas will be the reason why. Notre Dame should have plenty of talent to be successful at running back next year. Gardner would add another threat to the backfield.