When Brian Kelly came to Notre Dame before the 2010 season, it became clear that the pro-style offense was a thing of the past in South Bend. Not only did Kelly transform the offense, but he transformed the look of the Irish roster, as well. Gone were the days of the traditional pocket passer quarterbacks such as Brady Quinn. In were the days of the dual-threat quarterbacks like Everett Golson, Malik Zaire, and Deshone Kizer. Receivers such as Theo Riddick, Will Fuller, and Chris Brown flourished under Kelly’s wide-open attack on their way to NFL careers.
But the 2016 Irish will figure to have a slightly different look.
For the past three seasons, the Irish offense always seemed to have a deep pass to Fuller in their back pocket for whenever they needed it most. Without an experienced go-to receiver on the roster, the Irish figure to have somewhat of a wide-receiver-by-committee situation on their hands. Because of the inexperience at receiver, the Irish will be forced to utilize depth at the running back position to be successful.
On his third carry of the 2015’s opening drive, then-junior captain Tarean Folston went down with an injury. That carry proved to be his final carry of the season, as Folston was diagnosed with a torn ACL. He finished the season with 19 total yards on the ground.
As of the spring football game, Folston was full-go for the Irish and returns this season to once again be the Irish’s feature back. Before his injury, Folston racked up 889 yards on 175 carries in 2014. That’s an average of just over 5 yards per carry. At 5’10,” 207 pounds, Folston combines strength and speed to be a solid between-the-tackles runner. If Folston remains healthy, there is no doubt that he will have a big year in the Irish backfield.
Splitting some carries with Folston will be rising-sophomore Josh Adams. Adams had a terrific freshman campaign in Folston’s absence, splitting carries with CJ Prosise, who is now a member of the NFL’s Seattle Seahawks. During his freshman campaign, Adams carried the ball 116 times for 838 yards. That’s an average of a little over 7 yards per carry. Perhaps the most impressive part of Adams’ running was his breakaway speed in the open field. On long runs, Adams was often creating more space between himself and the nearest defender rather than allowing defenders to gain on him. This was something unseen from a Notre Dame freshman running back, at least in recent memory. At 6’1,” 212 pounds, Adams is more of a speed back than Folston, but still has the size to compete between the tackles.
Folston and Adams will also be joined in the backfield by rising-sophomore Dexter Williams, who will be dawning a new jersey number (2) this season. In limited work as a freshman, Williams showed promise. He carried the ball 21 times for 83 yards.
The Irish running game, of course, will be supplemented by an offensive line that figures to be one of college football’s best. In a recent article by Pro Football Focus, the Irish are ranked as the top offensive line in the country, even after losing Ronnie Stanley and Nick Martin to the NFL. Mike McGlinchey is moving from his former right tackle position to replace Stanley at the left tackle position and veteran Quenton Nelson joins McGlinchey on the left side at guard to create quite a duo on the offensive line.
With the Irish passing game in question, the offensive line and running backs will be called upon to rise to the occasion for the Notre Dame offense. Behind the running of Prosise, the Irish running game was explosive last season and hopes to pick up where it left off this year. By season’s end, don’t be surprised if the Irish have multiple 1,000-yard rushers on their hands.
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Image: Flickr – Daniel Hartwig