Class Struggle

IrishEyes breaks down its No. 4 rated position unit heading into training camp – the running backs.

Note: Each position is ranked according to my view of the groups entering the 2010 season. I've accounted for 2009 performance, apparent spring improvement, 2010 developed depth, and my own projection for 2010 (with an emphasis on the starters) as the determining factors.

For our No. 1 rated position unit and a detailed explanation of the rankings, click here.

No. 2 Wide Receivers

No. 3 Outside Linebackers

Running Backs

  • IrishEyes' 2010 Pre-Camp Rank: No. 4 behind the team's TE, WR, and OLB
  • 2009 Pre-Season Ranking: No. 5
  • 2009 Post-Season Ranking: No. 5
  • Highest ranking I can envision at season's end: No. 1 – Prediction No. 7 in our summer series (forthcoming) suggests the Irish will run more than they'll pass in 2010. If Notre Dame escapes September without a loss, the Irish running game will be the team's first month MVP.
  • Lowest ranking I can envision at season's end: No. 6 or No. 7 – In 2007 and 2008, Notre Dame's backfield was limited by poor play from the offensive line. The O-Line was decent last season, as were the running backs. Expect a solid effort, at worst, from this versatile group in the new spread offense.

Pre-season National Acclaim: Armando Allen ranks as Phil Steele's No. 22 overall running back while the RB unit as a whole rates at No. 20 on Steele's list.

Position Coach: Tim Hinton – Hinton enters his 30th season as a football coach, 14 of which were spent as an Ohio high school head man with 15 collegiate seasons to his credit. Hinton served as Brian Kelly's running backs coach at Cincinnati over the last two seasons; he tutored Kelly's linebacker in 2007, the head coach's first year at the helm. Hinton preceded Kelly in the Queen City, coaching Bearcats running backs from 2004-2006.

Starter: 5'11" 201-pound senior tailback Armando Allen (362 carries, 1,630 yards, 6 touchdowns; 102 receptions, 695 yards, 3 touchdowns; 1 KR TD, 1 Passing TD)

Backups: 6'0" 210-pound sophomore tailback Cierre Wood (redshirted as true freshman in 2009); 5'10" 225-pound junior tailback Jonas Gray (55 carries, 209 yards, 0 touchdowns; 4 receptions, 54 yards); 5'11" 245-pound senior tailback/fullback Robert Hughes (253 carries, 1,092 yards, 13 TD; 36 receptions, 303 yards); 6'2" 245-pound senior tight end/fullback Bobby Burger (2 receptions, 10 yards last season; 0 career carries).

Incoming Depth: 6'1" 220-pound freshman tailback Cameron Roberson ('s No. 2 ranked fullback prospect. Roberson is expected to compete as a solo-back/spread tailback in the new Irish offense).

Quote to Note: "I would say that the running back position is one that I feel really good after this game about the depth and the ability of that position." – Head coach Brian Kelly following the Blue Gold Game.


Depth, experience, leadership, varied skill sets…for all of the knocks on the Irish ground game during the final three seasons of the Weis era, its hard to deny the former coach left the current regime in good hands at the running back position.

Armando Allen won the job in the spring and is expected to do so through August camp. After that, may the best man win – each week. Expect Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar to go with the hot hand which, sooner rather than later, will likely mean talented sophomore Cierre Wood. Withheld from action last season, Wood is an elusive, smooth runner with enough power and a nice burst to excel as Notre Dame's top back.

Allen has earned the respect of his teammates and two coaching staffs – he'll be difficult to supplant if he begins 2010 in the same manner he started 2009: 66 rushes/catches from scrimmage totaling 381 yards while accounting for four touchdowns including a halfback pass vs. Michigan State. Allen fought through an ankle injury suffered late at Michigan to account for more than 100 yards and two touchdowns vs. the Spartans, but missed four of the next nine contests.

Allen was the team's best short-yardage runner last season, converting 8 of 12 3rd and short opportunities into Irish first downs.

Jonas Gray appeared to be the perfect compliment to Allen early, playing well vs. Nevada (9 carries for 50 yards), Michigan State (4-24 yards) and Purdue (2 receptions for 43 yards). He received just 9 carries over the final two months of the season, 8 of which occurred in mop-up time in the blowout vs. Washington State. Gray has the best combination of power and straight line speed on the team. Coupled with reliable hands in the passing game, Gray could intermittently emerge as the team's top back in 2010.

Robert Hughes has three of the team's four longest runs from scrimmage over the last three seasons (James Aldridge has the other). Don't expect Hughes – now in a combo role of tailback and fullback – to disappear from the attack. He won't lead the Irish runners in attempts, yards, or receptions, but he'll be a factor in each respect and could remain the team's chief red zone running option (Hughes has 13 of Notre Dame's 35 rushing scores over the last three seasons…the players accounting for 16 of the 22 remaining rushing scores have graduated or left the program).

Truly gifted runners generally find their way onto the field as true freshman (Irish fans hope Cierre Wood is an exception to this rule). If he can handle the mental responsibilities of the position, freshman Cameron Roberson could make a dent in the deep, but inconsistent depth chart. If not, expect Roberson to see the field as did Jonas Gray as a true freshman – filling a key role on the Irish special teams.

Bobby Burger might be the best lead blocker at the school since fullback Tom Lopienski graduated in 2002. Burger's hands, while only average for a tight end, could prove valuable on occasion as a receiver out of the backfield.


Cierre Wood's Blue Gold efforts notwithstanding, the unit lacks proven game-breaking ability, as Allen and Hughes have combined for 615 college carries with the longest TD run a head-shaking 16 yards...Jonas Gray has yet to score a touchdown entering his junior season…Wood's inability to get on the field last season does not bode well, historically (see detailed Pre-Camp Assessment linked below)…While tough, reliable and determined for the first 10 yards after receiving the handoff, Allen has shown the worst open-field balance I can remember for a starting running back at the University…

Each of the returning trio of Allen (end of Connecticut game), Gray (deep in Michigan territory last season), and Hughes (each of his three career fumbles have occurred inside the opponents' 10-yard line) have suffered crucial, and in two cases, game-changing fumbles over the course of their careers…Gray is one more costly fumble short of being labeled "a fumbler" with four sloppy turnovers in just 61 career touches…Gray is untested in short-yardage situations while Hughes has been sub par, converting just 13 of 28 short-yardage opportunities…Wood's maturity will be put to the test following his first fumble or public discipline (removal from a contest) by the coaching staff…Unless handled expertly by Coach Hinton and Coach Kelly, one of the four Irish ‘backs will likely check out mentally or be rendered ineffective due to lack of touches from scrimmage over the course of the season.

Entering August

I expect a tail of three seasons in the Irish offensive backfield: the first month should see more runs than passes, with Armando Allen the star and rushing leader. Look for Wood to emerge in October, providing the burst and open field magic missing from the unit as a whole over the course of the last seven seasons. The stretch run could see the emergence of the Irish passing attack, as Kelly's offense begins to hit its first-year stride.

Michael Floyd and Kyle Rudolph are the team's best weapons, but the Irish runners should show the greatest improvement (from 2009) with more room to roam in the team's 2010 attack.

August will serve as an additional proving ground for Allen, Wood, and even Gray, as the team's best back inside the LaBar Practice Complex in August will likely be its best on Saturdays in September.

Note: Pre-Camp Assessments for the entire Irish backfield can be found at the links below:

Armando Allen

Robert Hughes

Jonas Gray

Cierre Wood

Tight end/fullback Bobby Burger's assessment can be found here. Top Stories