With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field in primetime Sept. 4 against Texas at Darrell K. Royal Stadium. Today: The running backs.
1A. Tarean Folston (Redshirt junior)
1B. Josh Adams (Sophomore)
2. Dexter Williams (Sophomore)
3A. Justin Brent (Junior)
3B. Deon McIntosh (Freshman)
3C. Tony Jones (Freshman)
In Adams and Folston, Notre Dame should have a dynamic 1-2 punch out of its backfield this fall. Adams broke Autry Denson’s freshman rushing record with 838 yards last year. The lightly-recruited Pennsylvania native showed excellent speed, vision and running back instincts — the latter of which were even more apparent in comparison to those of greenhorn back C.J. Prosise, who nonetheless rushed for over 1,000 yards last year.
Folston suffered a torn ACL on his third carry of the season against Texas, which robbed him on a chance to build on his 889-yard sophomore season. He developed into a well-rounded running back in 2014, answering Brian Kelly’s challenge to improve his pass protection skills and catching 18 passes out of the backfield that year.
While Adams and Folston are clearly atop the depth chart, Williams impressed coaches during the spring not so much for his burst and agility, but for his ability to grind out an extra yard or two after contact in the trenches. Kelly said Williams could be utilized as a short-yardage back this fall, though the former four-star recruit should have a few opportunities to showcase his explosive playmaking skills, too.
Biggest question: Can Tarean Folston improve off 2013 and 2014?
Folston was the first offensive player to go down with a serious injury last year (defensive lineman Jarron Jones and defensive back Shaun Crawford both were hurt during preseason camp) and only had three carries for 19 yards. It wasn’t in the least bit the kind of season Folston hoped for.
The Cocoa, Fla. native thought a big 2015 season could vault him into NFL Draft consideration following his junior season. After putting together solid freshman and sophomore campaigns, Folston’s hope was to cement himself as Notre Dame’s feature running back and be a big part of a successful offense.
Those efforts were delayed a year when Folston blew up his knee trying to bounce outside against Texas. The fact that Folston even participated in spring practice — even though he wore a non-contact jersey during March and April — was a positive sign, and Notre Dame expects him to be 100 percent for the start of preseason camp. If Folston can finally build off his first two seasons, it’ll provide a nice boost to the Irish offense, even if it’s a year behind schedule.
Jones and McIntosh were both rated as three-star recruits by Rivals coming from Bradenton and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., respectively. Ideally, Notre Dame won’t have to force either into action with three players ahead of them on the depth chart, but given the attrition that happened at this position last year, Jones and McIntosh aren’t guaranteed to redshirt this fall.
The most important thing either player can do to get on the field quickly is pick up Notre Dame’s pass protection responsibilities. That’s a big part of why Adams, not the more highly touted Williams, played as a freshman in 2015.
They said it
“Just going into practice with that appreciation — not saying I never had it, but you know, day in and day out knowing that I’m getting the opportunity to do what I love and not sitting at a table rehabbing just watching or on the sideline, freezing, just watching.” — Tarean Folston on returning to practice during the spring