Friday, September 22, 2006

1-2 punch?

I recently received an e-mail asking about the running back situation here at Notre Dame, to the effect that we need a 1-2 punch at running back to be effective, and that Darius lacks the power and explosiveness of an elite back.

I disagree.

While James Aldridge looks like he could be a game-changing type back, I wouldn't rush him through rehab and onto the field this year. Darius is a great running back, who is patient and wits for his blocks to set up before exploding through the hole. Because he is so patient, he often looks slower than he actually is when the hole doesn't develop. However, Darius' acceleration is one of the best in the country, and I have seen him flat out beat some of the best linebackers in the country (H.B. Blades, Paul Posluzny, A.J. Hawk, etc.) simply by turning on the jets.

Granted, Darius lacks top-end speed, and therefore doesn't break 60+ yard runs. Also, he isn't that pound-em type of back that will get 3 yards and a cloud of dust no matter what. However, Darius is a great back because he forces the defense to play disciplined on every single play. He has great vision, and the moment a defense allows a hole to open up, he will break a 20-30 yard run. Also, even when the defense does everything right, if his blockers make their blocks, he'll run for 7-10.

Also, Darius is far underappreciated by many people who look at his rushing statistics (which are better than many people realize) and ignore what he brings to the passing game. He is a sure-handed receiver that is excellent at finding holes in a defense to give Brady a check-off receiver to throw to, and he can be very shifty and difficult to tackle in the open field. Also, his blitz pickup is excellent, giving Brady more time to find an open receiver down the field.

The solution to the offense's problems are not to bring in someone else to go with Darius.. What we need is simply improved blocking on the offensive line.

To be quite frank, nobody except Ryan Harris has achieved to expectations, much less their potential, this year. The interior line has been porous, allowing far too many blitzers and inside pressure.

The worst blocking I've seen thus far this season (and I hate to kick a man when he is down...) is from Bob Morton. I'm not sure that Bob has his head in the game, with all of the emotional turmoil he is dealing with from his father's death. I know firsthand how devastating that can be, and until he can focus on the game at hand, he should be replaced by Brian Mattes.

Now, much like Charlie, I'm not into sacrificial lambs after a big loss. However, Morton has had three straight games where he just hasn't been blocking with the consistent level of intensity required of him, and I'm of the opinion that he either needs to shape up or ship out.

The rest of the line hasn't been very good either. While Harris has largely shut down some of the best pass rushers in the country, far too many blitzes are not being picked up. This is a veteran line, and there is no excuse for failure to recognize blitzes and communicate the blocking scheme to teammates.

So, despite all of the clamor that Darius lacks the speed and power of an elite back, I have to disagree. Darius is a lot like Emmit Smith of Cowboys fame. He isn't flashy like Barry Sanders, he isn't slippery like Sweetness. He isn't a bruiser like Bettis. He simply goes out there, lets his O-line open up a hole, and then he runs through it. He is durable, dependable, doesn't fumble, and doesn't make mistakes. Just because he doesn't break the big runs does not make him a sub-par back.

I'll take Darius on my team any day.

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