Monday, August 21, 2006

Notre Dame Preseason Football Preview 2006 - Part II

Running Backs

Starting Tailback
Darius Walker, Junior (three year starter)

Career Accomplishments
During high school, broke Hershel Walker's single season touchdown record for the state of Georgia.
Georgia Gatorade Player of the Year his senior season.
Holds the Notre Dame freshman single season rushing record, with 786 yards in 2004.
Eclipsed 1,000 yards in 2005 as a sophomore, and became the first player in Notre Dame history to begin the season with four straight 100+ yard rushing performances.

Fun Fact
Darius Walker is a millionaire. He received a $3 million jury award from a racial profiling incident that occurred outside a movie theater in Lawrenceville, GA while he was in seventh grade. So if you see him rollin in a pimpin' Benz with customized plates around town, it's not illegal kickbacks from boosters that paid for it.

Darius is the clear #1 tailback, with the transfer of Thomas to linebacker and Aldridge recovering from knee surgery. I like Darius a lot, and I think that Darius' vision is possibly the best I've ever seen. However, his physical tools are not the same as such elite backs as Adrian Peterson.
Next year, if Darius stays at Notre Dame, he will have a difficult time staving off the athletic talent that is coming in every year uder Coach Weis. At many positions, the players recruited by Ty his last two years are simply going to drift into depth chart oblivion as Coach Weis brings the talent level back to where it needs to be.
With Darius, that will be an intersting decision for Coach Weis, as he will have an established three-year starter that is more than servicable, is in fact very good, returning. However, Weis will also have some incredible athletic talent chomping at the bit to get in the game. However, that will be a question for next spring.
Right now, I expect Darius to have an excellent season (possibly even one of the best ever for a Notre Dame running back) with all of the opposing defense's attention on containing an explosive pass offense. However, I'm not sure that Darius will ever be the best athlete to play the running back position, although his numbers may make him look like it at the end of his career.

Backup Tailbacks
Munir Prince, Freshman
A speedster freshman from St. Louis, Missouri (DeSmet Jesuit HS), Prince came into the season expected to sit deep on a talented running back depth chart. Howeever, knee surgery on the freshman class' superstar and a position switch of last year's established backup tailback vaulted Prince to the second spot in the dept chart. He has the same personal best in the 100-meter as Reggie Bush did in high school. He needs to work on his juking ability, as he slows down to much when trying to make people miss. However, when he can hit a hole, he has gamebreaking speed.

James Aldridge, Freshman
The five-star super-prospect from right here in Indiana (Merrilville - Crown Point HS), Aldridge was expected to come in and push Darius right away for touches in the backfield. A knee injury and subsequent surgery has delayed Aldridge's development thus far. He looks like the best athlete at the running back position, and clearly has the tools to be a superstar in the future. He doesn't have the speed of Prince, but he has more than enough quickness, and has the hard-hitting ability to break tackles. If he can regain his lateral quickness, he will be the next great Notre Dame running back, and may even supplant Darius from his starting position next year.

Travis Thomas, Junior
Thomas, the incumbent backup to Darius Walker, was moved to linebacker this year to help upgrade the athleticism at that position. Coach Weis has been giving Thomas touches on offense during practice as well, and has stated that he expects Travis to be ready to run on the second offensive play if he needs him. Thomas will be an X factor in this backup battle this year.

The backup battle is not going to be over once the season starts. Prince will start the season at #2, but as Aldridge gets healthy, he will probably push for touches as well. Other players to watch include Junior Jabbie (Junior), the converted cornerback, and bruising freshman Luke Schmidt.

Starting Fullback
Asaph Schwapp, Sophomore (two year starter)

The fullback position doesn't seem to be in doubt, as Coach Weis seems to really like what he gets from Asaph. Coach Weis was quoted as saying that Schwapp "doesn't have an unselfish bone in his body" (yes, I know he misspoke, and meant to say he doesn't have a selfish bone in his body...). Schwapp doesn't care how many touches he gets, he just wants to hit someone every play. It's a pretty good sign when the defense groans when we practice short yardage runs - what Coach calls pound 'em plays. 'Cause the defense knows that they are going to have to take a hit in trying to take down Schwapp. Also, Coach Weis says that, pound for pound, Schwapp is the strongest player on the team. And considering that he weighs 250 pounds, that's a lot of power.

Backup Fullbacks
Ashley McConnell, Senior
McConnell saw some limited time last year as a reserve fullback, and doesn't seem to be much of an option for the Irish this season. If Schwapp goes down, I expect Weis to switch to single back sets with two tight ends for short yardage runs. The starter here is great, but the depth is almost nonexistent.

Luke Schmidt, Freshman
Listed as a tailback right now, this kid is a beast that looks like it won't take long for him to bulk up into a fullback. He is a work in progress, but I am predicting that he will be in the mix in fullback going forward.

Darius Walker will have a breakout season this year. With all of the focus on Brady Quinn's Heisman campaign and Jeff Samardzija and Rhema McKnight being every down deep threats, teams will be playing with lots of defensive backs on the field. While Darius does not have breakaway speed and you won't see a lot of 40+ yard runs, don't be surprised to see Darius with a bunch of 10-15 yard runs, and a couple of 200+ yard games this year. His hands also make him a legitimate threat in the open field as an outlet receiver for Brady, and despite not being as athletically talented as the likes of Marshawn Lynch or Adrian Peterson, I wouldn't be surprised to see Darius have similar numbers as the elite backs this year.

Munir Prince will be an excellent alternative to Darius at running back, as his speed can catch some defenses off guard, as they will be used to chasing Darius, a slower back. I wouldn't be surprised to see some 2-back sets to force the defense to both account for Darius' vision, shiftiness and power, as well as Prince's gamebreaking speed. James Aldridge and Travis Thomas might get some touches as well, just to give defenses another type of runner to deal with. Gameplanning this group of talents will be difficult.

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