By: Kyle Gibson

We started our look into Notre Dame’s 2016 roster with the QBs and WRs, now we turn our attention to the other playmakers on offense.

Running Backs
Lost: CJ Prosise
Tarean Folston (Sr)
Josh Adams (So)
Dexter Williams (So)
Tony Jones Jr (Fr)
Deon McIntosh (Fr)
?Justin Brent (Jr) ?

What a crazy ride this position has been lately. This time last year it was about the Folston/Bryant show before Bryant was handed a suspension at the start of Fall camp which led to a transfer and Folston’s season ended as quickly as it began in game one. It’s already faded from memory how hyped Irish nation was for Folston to take over the show and how many labeled the rising star as a “couldn’t lose” player. As luck would have it the, the Irish still went on to have their best rushing season in years with a converted WR and true Freshman running the show. It may have been a bit disappointing to see Prosise leave with another eligible year on the table especially since we only got one season to enjoy his exciting and physical running style but it could be a blessing in disguise. With Folston returning from injury and the emergence of Josh Adams each player’s carries would dwindle with Prosise in the mix in an attempt to have all three equally involved. Instead the Irish will have two primary backs getting a better chance to showcase their abilities with more opportunities.

Folston’s presence in the backfield is all about versatility. He’s a well-rounded RB with the triple threat ability of blocking, receiving, and running. Folston isn’t a bruiser but he’s got good size and runs physical while also being light on his feet with some very solid moves that can get him to an opening. He’s a much more natural and a prototypical looking RB both with his running style and his size at 5’10, 215lbs. Adams on the other hand can look a bit awkward standing at almost 6’2. Despite the bigger frame the kid just knows how to run. He doesn’t have the flashy moves but he sees his blocks and the field extremely well which enables him to hit holes at the right time for big gains. It’s that vision that puts him in position to turn on his deceptive break-away speed and make him a home run threat.

Many feel that Adams should bulk up this off-season and try to provide the Irish with a better short yardage runner, something that was an issue last season but I’m not sure he’s the best candidate. His height prevents how low he can get his pad level and you really don’t want extra weight taking away from his speed. Dexter Williams on the other hand seems perfect for the job. Stuck behind Folston and Adams the best chance for Williams to get on the field more is to provide something different. He was listed last season at 5’11 200lbs and likely ended the season heavier than that. If he’s capable of adding more weight and puts emphasis on strengthening his legs and developing a stronger base I think he could be very physical running between the tackles. He really didn’t get too many opportunities last season and many forget that he came in with more hype than Adams. What separated Adams was his vision and how quickly he picked up the offense which is rare for a true Freshman. Williams will have a much better understanding of the offense and his role in his second season and will get a chance to prove that he shouldn’t be overlooked. His best shot will be in Spring camp when the options at RB are limited. Folston is on the back-end of his rehab and could likely be held out of contact in the Spring. With the Freshmen not arriving till Summer it will be Adams and Williams splitting nearly all of the carries in live drills/scrimmages. That situation could mean Justin Brent stays taking reps at RB like last Fall but he never seemed to gain much traction at the position and the WR depth will be much thinner this Spring so there’s no real telling what his role will be this year.

Of the two Freshman, Tony Jones Jr. has the best chance to avoid a redshirt. He will arrive on campus already possessing an ideal size at 5’11, 215lbs and growing. He blocks very well for a young back which helps his chances of seeing the field early. He’s very strong and uses his size well both blocking and as a runner. He runs through contact extremely well and that could make him a candidate for short yardage situations but he’s most certainly an all-purpose back with his ability to get to the edge quickly and makes very good moves without making too many. There’s not a lot of wasted energy when he runs and he catches the ball well also. He has the looks of a future star, he just may have to wait before he gets a real chance to shine. McIntosh will be a project for a year or two. He’s thin at 5’11 175lbs and desperately needs more size and strength to play RB at the college level. I wouldn’t even be surprised to see a position change down the road.

Tight Ends
Lost: Chase Hounshell, Tyler Luatua
Durham Smythe (Sr)
Nic Weishar (Jr)
Alize Jones (So)

The Irish don’t lose much in terms of production from this unit but they do lose some big time blocking ability and look scarily thin. Houshell moved to TE last season mainly to justify giving him a fifth year by finding a position group he could contribute to. Luatua on the other hand was a rising Junior that could have continued to play a unique role blocking both in pass protection and for run support. He also could have seen his use as a pass catching TE expand but he chose to transfer. That leaves the Irish with a trio of TEs that will all be utilized in 2016.

The group is led by Durham Smythe who was poised for a break-out season last year but suffered a season ending injury in week 2 against Virginia. Smythe is the most complete TE of the group with his ability to fulfill all the needs of the position. He may not be a Tyler Eifert in waiting but he could be a very productive weapon for the Irish and may surprise the many fans who still haven’t been given a chance to become too familiar with him and his abilities. Last Fall camp this unit was battling through some nagging minor injuries which gave Nic Weishar a big shot to showcase his ability. There was one practice session open to the media when Wieshar created a ton of buzz after reeling in a handful of catches in the end zone but we didn’t see that during the season. That doesn’t mean the ability isn’t still there. The problem is that while he excels as an athlete and as a receiver he can be a liability as an in-line blocker. That will be his biggest point of emphasis this off-season and will determine how much time he gets playing a meaningful role in ’16. The best pass catcher of the group could be young Alize Jones. The supremely athletic TE was honestly more of a big WR than a TE his Freshman season but the Irish need him to put on some more size and dedicate himself to developing as a blocker. Evolving into a complete TE needs to be his goal not only to maximize his potential at Notre Dame but for his NFL aspirations as well.