State of the Irish: Notre Dame Backfield
State of the Irish will be a nine-piece miniseries, analyzing Notre Dame football from top to bottom while also predicting what's ahead for the team.
Starter 1A: No. 5 Armando Allen, Junior (5'10", 200 lbs)
Over the past few years since I have been following recruiting, Allen was the one who had me the most excited offensively. When he arrived, all you heard about was his endless athleticism and quickness.
He was even being compared to the great "Rocket" himself.
But over his first two years on campus, Allen hasn't fully lived up to these expectations.
He has been somewhat productive as an underclassman, but he was rushed into the college game when he looked as if he needed time to learn and adjust.
Although somewhat disappointing—much like his quarterback—Allen has shown flashes of brilliance.
He brings a unique versatility to the Irish that the team has not had in the past.
Asking for Allen to be the featured back for the team is asking for way too much, considering he is also responsible for kick returns and is very involved in the passing game.
Now that Allen is an upperclassman, Irish fans are expecting him to reach his full potential and show the country what he's got.
Look for Allen to have a very productive year compared to his first two, finishing in the top 10 in the nation for all purpose yards.
Starter 1B: No. 33 Robert Hughes, Junior (5'11", 235)
In 2007, Charlie Weis opted to use a platoon at running back, simply because the Irish did not have a feature back at the time.
The decision was the correct one, as Allen and Hughes are beginning to complement each other nicely.
Hughes, the bruiser of the two, was a pleasant surprise to the team in his first year as a true freshman.
Although he fell into somewhat of a sophomore slump (possibly after injuring his ankle in the San Diego St. game), he finished off the season strong and showed that he deserves the carries again this year.
Hughes is deceptively quick for a big back and tends to remind me a lot of Brandon Jacobs. Hopefully one day, he will get that mean streak the Giant has, and then Irish opponents would really be in trouble.
Look for Hughes to be a force this year on short running plays, especially around the goal line.
Allen will get more looks, but Hughes is still going to play a pivotal role for this year's team.
Hughes should have one thing running through his mind at all times this season, whether blocking or getting an inch up the middle for a first down: toughness, toughness, toughness.
Backup: No. 25 Jonas Gray, Sophomore (5'10", 230 lbs)
After breaking off his commitment with the Cornhuskers, Gray proceeded to sign with the Irish on signing day.
At first, I was not too fond of the idea of adding Gray to the class, simply because I thought Notre Dame had already signed a similar back in the previous class (Hughes).
It took just a few carries in mop-up duty to show me my preconceived notion was false.
Gray is more of a blend of Allen and Hughes, mixing athleticism and the frame of a bruiser all into one. He is not a burner, but he knows how to hit the hole hard and attack, which is exactly what you want in a running back.
His role on the team this year is uncertain, and he may not be very important for another year or two, depending on the performance of the upperclassmen.
I believe that if Tony Alford, the new running backs' coach, can teach Jonas the trick to holding on to the football, Gray will begin to run wild, maybe even by the end of this season.
Jonas Gray is a true diamond in the rough in my eyes.
Reserve: No. 20 Cierre Wood, Freshman (6'0", 218)
Saying that Armando Allen was the offensive recruit I've been most excited about over the past years was pretty tough. The reason is, I was pretty excited about this guy too.
Comparing the two is very fair because of what they both bring to the table: freakish athleticism and speed.
Wood was ranked the No. 1 running back in the country last year, dropping only because of a poor performance at the All-American Bowl Game.
Ranked No. 1 or not, Irish fans should be excited about this young man's future.
Unlike Allen, Wood will get the chance to learn and ease into the college game. The upperclassmen will hopefully take the freshman under their wing and mold him into a great one for the future.
But for now, Wood will have to wait his turn, most likely serving a role similar to that of Jonas Gray last year.
Oh yeah, this guy isn't too bad returning kicks either.
Starter: No. 34 James Aldridge, Senior (6'0", 225)
Coming into Notre Dame as a five-star running back recruit, Aldridge has been dubbed a bust by many.
After the 2008 season, the Irish were left with an empty cupboard at the fullback position. Coach Weis offered Aldridge a position change in order to let him see the field more.
Aldridge agreed happily, showing that he really does have a team-first mentality.
I expect Aldridge to be used quite often this year, most of the time as a lead blocker for the running backs.
Look for Aldridge to serve a role similar to that of Rashon Powers-Neal when he was teamed up with current Packer Ryan Grant.
Next State of the Irish: Offensive Line
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