Monday, December 10, 2007

2007 Review: Running Back

Entering the 2007 season, we knew 2 things about the RB situation at Notre Dame -- we had a lot of them, and they all did different things well. Travis Thomas, Junior Jabbie, James Aldridge, Armando Allen, and Robert Hughes formed one of the deepest RB corps in recent memory at Notre Dame. As the season unfolded, we learned a lot about the RBs collectively and individually.

Travis Thomas: As the elder statesman of the group, and a captain, Travis started the season as the feature back, with Armando mixed in. It quickly became apparent that the Irish would struggle early running the football. Travis also got passed on the depth chart by James, Armando, and eventually Robert Hughes. Travis did not have the season offensively that he expected, but he always played hard and he accepted his role really well. I will say that some of the penalties Travis took on special teams were uncharacteristic of him as a player and disappointing. The RB group was extremely close personally and Travis had a lot to do with that. While Travis' contributions on the field were not what he expected, his presence will be felt for a long time to come with his work ethic off the field and in the weight room. The younger guys really looked up to Travis.

Junior Jabbie: For much of the season, I felt that Junior Jabbie may have been the closest we had to a complete RB -- running, blocking, and receiving. Junior's problem, however, is that other guys were better at individual skills than he was. As the season developed, Junior turned into a guy the coaching staff could depend on to catch the football out of the backfield and he showed nice burst and elusiveness in the screen game.

James Aldridge: If I had 1 wish for the new year at the RB position, it would be that James Aldridge gets 100% healthy so we can see what he can do when healthy. I do not believe James has ever been 100% with his knee since he stepped on campus. His knee injury has robbed him of the power, cutting ability, and extra gear that I saw in his high school film. The good news is I really believe that talent is still there. If James can get his knee back to 100%, and more importantly trust that it is 100%, I think you would see a different guy out there. I expect one heck of a battle this spring and fall between James and Robert to be the bruising back for the Irish.

Armando Allen: Exciting. That is the best word I can use to describe Armando Allen. We all know Armando has speed and is a gamebreaker. What has me most excited, though, is the dramatic steps he took to become a complete back this year. At the beginning of the year, Armando was extremely raw and a bit rusty after suffering a season ending injury his senior year in high school. You could see the speed and ability but that was about it. By the end of the season, Armando was a much more complete football player. His blocking went from being very poor to pretty darn good for a back his size. I think the most common misconception about Armando, and I thought this way about him coming in as well, is that Armando is purely a shifty speed back. That is not the case at all. Amando certainly does not have the size of James or Robert, but he runs with power and is not afraid to take contact. I think the coaching staff will be spending a lot of time this offseason brainstorming about how to get the ball in #5's hands in a variety of ways.

Robert Hughes: In a season of turmoil, no one on the Irish team endured more heartache than Robert Hughes. To have your brother killed must have been incomprehensibly difficult to process and accept for this young man. You just have to feel good about a kid who handled this tragedy in the manner he did and bounced back to spark the Irish to a couple of victories down the stretch. I have to confess that when I saw Robert's high school film, I thought that while he was a powerful runner, I wasn't sure how he would fare at the college level since I didn't see that extra gear of speed in his game. What I learned is that Robert is a guy you really need to watch for an extended period to truly appreciate how unique his game is. We can all see the power running part of his game. What astounds me is how quick and nimble his feet are and his hands catching the ball. The cuts Robert is able to make at his size are exceptionally rare and I believe that Robert's hands catching the football are the best among the RBs, better than Armando's.

I want to throw in a few comments about the fullback position in this article. At times, the use of the fullbacks really confused me this season. I think Asaph Schwapp can be an outstanding blocker, but he never appeared to be in top condition this year. Watching him, it really appeared that he was favoring his knee and was simply too blown up with weight and muscle. He did not look quick or agile enough to adjust to oncoming blockers. If Asaph got a guy square, he was absolutely devastating. However, because of his quickness limitations, he was really vulnerable to guys shifting and making moves around him. I still believe that Asaph can be an effective FB in this offense, but I would like to see him slim down, maybe not hit the weights quite so hard, and focus on speed and agility drills. What puzzled me this year was that Charlie did not make more effective use of Luke Schmidt. Luke still struggles blocking, but he is a much more effective runner than Asaph and he is more of a threat in the passing game as well. I think there was an opportunity to take advantage of some of the things Luke does well this year and we did not do that. I am hoping Luke can be integrated into the offense more effectively next year. Finally, I think it is very interesting the Charlie does not appear to be actively recruiting any FBs this year. I see it as a sign that we are transitioning away from the FB in the program and towards more 2 TE or extra WR sets.

The future is definitely bright at RB and I can't wait to see these guys develop during the offseason. Your thoughts?

Next Up: Wide Receiver


Face Mask said...

Cannon Ball Hughes! I can't wait to see this guy bust through the line.The running game is what I'm excited to see.I agree,we have the talent,and now with this year behind them I see great things coming out of the Notre Dame Backfield.HERE COME THE IRISH!!

IrishGlory said...

I will say this, and I meant to add it to the article. I firmly believe that if James Aldridge makes it to the NFL, he will be a better NFL back than college back, ala Ryan Grant. The college game at RB is more about athleticism and ridiculous jukes and cuts and quickness. It is why Reggie Bush was able to dominate. The NFL is a very different game. The RBs that succeed there are the 1 cut and go guys -- the guys that get the ball, make 1 cut, and get downhill. James fits that mold really well.

Ted said...

If our running backs would really come of age next season, we could have one heck of a ground game to complement a passing attack. Great way to use the clock...if the O-Line does its job.