The Numbers Game

IrishEyes continues its initial look at the Irish offense with a focus on the 2010 rushing attack.

"We're here to win all our games. I don't know if anybody knew that. We're here to win them all. And to win your games, you have to run the ball." – Head Coach Brian Kelly

At some point, my guess is early evening September 4 – or September 11 at the latest – the inquiries regarding the value of Notre Dame running backs in the spread offense will cease.

Until then, Brian Kelly and offensive coordinator Charley Molnar will likely field scores of questions regarding the apparent glut of depth in the RB unit. Armando Allen, Robert Hughes, Jonas Gray and Cierre Wood will do the same.

"We talk ad nauseam; you're in the spread offense, you run the ball," Kelly noted Friday. "You can't win unless you run the ball. If you just throw it, you're not going to win all your games."

Makes sense to me, then again, I'm on record stating the Irish will run more than they pass in Kelly's first season at the helm.

That prediction may not come to fruition, but Notre Dame will move the ball on the ground more consistently this fall than any Irish offense has since at least 2006 (Darius Walker's final season).

Give and Take

Offense coordinator Charley Molnar has expressed his affinity for the pass. That doesn't mean the 2010 Irish have morphed into Texas Tech North.

"We like to say ‘we run with the numbers' so if the defense is playing pass coverage then we run the football, and we'll run it effectively," Molnar said.

"One of the things that we do is judge our run-game efficiency. We have a standard that we set and we have a formula that we utilize; the formula is pretty standard throughout the business but everybody tweaks it in their own way," he explained, before adding that Friday's gathering was hardly the medium to break down said formula.

"Sometimes it doesn't come down to rushing the football for 175 yards in a game but its being 55 percent efficient in our run game based on the criteria that we set." (Down, distance and field position are included in the equation.)

If a quartet of Irish ‘backs are to reach or exceed the staff's expectations, they'll do so via differing modes of transport.

"Each one of them starts with a unique ability to run the daylight. Some are faster than others, some are stronger than others," Kelly assessed. "Each one of them can do things in our offense and complement what we do. We will try to insert those players when we're obviously running schemes that we think that fit them best. But we've got four different styles at the running back position."

2010 Committee Members

"I think all four of our running backs have the potential to be a starting running back here in the 2010 season. Each one of them brings specific strengths to the table, and so each one is going to have opportunities to play through the season."

If you're scoring at home, the key numbers to look for on Notre Dame Football Saturdays this fall will be 5, 33, 25, and 20.

Kelly on Armando Allen (#5): "He is the most complete of the running backs. He's not necessarily the fastest, but he has great vision and balance. He has proven to us, in practice at least, that he's got excellent ball skills and is also adequate to above adequate as a pass protector."

Note: I was a bit perplexed by the "balance" comment. Regardless, Allen has been and remains my choice to start Game 1 and more important, Game 3 – the first ND road contest of the season. Armando Allen Pre-Camp Assessment.

Kelly on Robert Hughes (#33): "You look at his body and we all kind of stereotype him as a big back and really he is. His greatest strengths right now are getting the tough yardage inside the tackles. He's an excellent pass protector. He can't go as many plays in a row say as Armando because he is really carrying around 40 more pounds, but he has experience and a great attitude and he really has adapted very well to our system."

Molnar on Hughes: "We heard good things about him coming in. The one thing I knew right from summer workouts that he would fit in somewhere. He had such a great attitude and really worked hard; had a great work ethic. I figured he would find a role somewhere in our offense. He continues to carve a niche for himself. It may not be just in carrying the football but he certainly is going to find roles to help Notre Dame win football games in 2010."

Robert Hughes Pre-Camp Assessment.

Kelly on Jonas Gray (#25): "Jonas Gray is a little bit of a wild card. He's got all of the physical tools to really be a great running back at Notre Dame in his career. He got better as the spring went on and as his confidence grew. I really see him vying for more and more playing time as camp goes on."

Jonas Gray Pre-Camp Assessment.

Kelly on Cierre Wood (#20): "Then of course Cierre (Wood) has just got great athletic talent; great speed and quickness. Sometimes he is his own worst enemy because he goes too fast and will miss a cut or will miss a read. He needed to improve his strength in the spring, so I'm interested to see where he's at when we get back to work. All four of those guys are going to contribute at running back for us and also on special teams."

Of Note: Both Allen and Wood are listed on the team's preliminary depth chart at KR (joined by former running back Theo Riddick) while Allen is also listed as a potential punt returner.

Cierre Wood Pre-Camp Assessment.

Running to Daylight

Despite three seasons of statistical evidence to the contrary, Irish fans suspected the RB unit possessed a wealth of talent in the final stages of the Charlie Weis era.

While no ‘back distinguished himself since Walker's early departure following the '06 season, the opportunities for running room were admittedly limited, at least until last season when Notre Dame's porous offensive line improved incrementally.

With less than a month to prepare for Purdue and 2009 Irish-killer Ryan Kerrigan, how does the front wall stack up?

"They're a highly talented group, but as you know in our tackles, we have four guys with no career starts among any of them," Molnar offered. "That's going to be a challenge to make the guys play like veterans right from game one."

There's an axiom in professional football, "If you have two quarterbacks, you don't have a quarterback." In South Bend, the Irish apparently have 10 offensive linemen for five spots (Kelly hyperbolized the team had 10 that could "play championship football."

Depth is assured…proven, distinguished performers have yet to step to the fore.

"It would be cleaner if we had five great offensive linemen and five very good offensive linemen. Then it would separate itself," Molnar answered when asked about the difference between competition and failure to separate from the pack. "But I think as we develop our football team, guys that are starters today won't be starters in the first game.

"We're going to find out how guys want to compete and want to win a championship for Notre Dame. So as we go through practice, I think some of the guys are going to separate themselves. The cream always rises to the top and we have our way of separating guys; what we demand of them physically and mentally; how they will sort themselves out by position."

Four running backs; 10 offensive linemen; the nation's best TE/WR tandem in Kyle Rudolph and Michael Floyd; a head coach and offensive coordinator in lockstep…

Irish Football 2010: Pick your Poison.

Note: (IrishEyes will have separate features on the offensive line as camp progresses).

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