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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 2 Dexter Williams, running back

Notre Dame v Syracuse

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - OCTOBER 01: Dexter Williams #2 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish breaks away and runs the ball in for a touchdown in the second half against the Syracuse Orange at MetLife Stadium on October 1, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.The Notre Dame Fighting Irish defeated the Syracuse Orange 50-33. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 5-foot-11, 202 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining, including the 2017 season.
Depth chart: Williams is the No. 2 running back, behind junior Josh Adams, for the time being. Sophomore Tony Jones had an impressive spring and if he continues with that momentum, he could quickly take carries away from Williams.
Recruiting: From Orlando, Fla., the consensus four-star prospect’s recruitment came down to Notre Dame and Miami, with Florida, Ohio State, USC and many others on the outside looking in. Williams visited South Bend only weeks before National Signing Day, and the trip did the trick, landing the No. 12 running back in the class, per, with the Irish. Rivals rated him the No. 21 recruit in Florida and the No. 120 overall player in the country.

If Williams was going to spend his freshman year preserving eligibility, the injury to then-junior Tarean Folston in the season-opener quickly scrapped those plausible plans. With that day’s gameplan changing on the fly, Williams took seven carries for 24 yards in his first collegiate action. He never saw too much more action — partly because Adams excelled — but he needed to be ready throughout 2015.

With Folston healthy last season, Williams remained third in the rotation.

2015: Seven games, 21 carries for 81 yards and one touchdown against Massachusetts.
2016: 12 games, 39 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns. He averaged 5.1 yards per carry.
2017’s Blue-Gold Game: 10 carries for 98 yards and one 38-yard touchdown; four catches for 36 yards.

Williams’ career nearly took an abrupt turn when he was among those arrested shortly before last season. By the sounds of it, the peril he put his future in was not lost on Williams.

“I think about it every day because that could have been my last chance, not just being at Notre Dame but playing football period,” he said following the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s on my mind daily, and I just continue to place myself around positive people and continue to stay positive.”

Among his many off-field changes, Williams has also improved his fitness at least in part thanks to the hiring of strength coordinator Matt Balis.

“I feel like I’m a whole ‘nother person,” Williams said. “My body has just changed, speed has changed. I can see a lot of things I didn’t do last year, I’m doing now. I feel more healthy.”

The prediction here is still hazy thanks to Williams’ part in the preseason escapades. But Williams can play — and if he’s not marooned by the University’s disciplinary arm, it appears Kelly is willing to handle this internally while the four young players stay in the mix. I expect Williams to make some big plays this season, and with those plays will come more opportunities.

“Josh Adams has been plagued by some training camp issues, namely a balky hamstring that’s limited Williams’ classmate all fall. Normally I’d view that as an open window for Williams, though if he’s sitting out more than a game or two, Adams will have his chance to get heathy and rolling first.

“All of this is a long way towards getting to a prediction. I’ll go with this one: Williams will be third on the team in attempts, but lead the Irish in yards per carry. I think he gets around 50 carries and will turn those into a half-dozen touchdowns.”

Williams did not lead Notre Dame in yards per carry (Adams did at 5.9 yards), but his average of 5.1 was not to be scoffed at, though it was buoyed by a 59-yard score against Syracuse. Without that boost, Williams would have averaged only 3.71 yards per carry.

But at no point last season did Williams make a misstep that would carry over to 2017. With Folston gone, someone will need to pick up those carries. Perhaps some of them go to Adams, but the rest will be split between Williams and Jones. Even if Jones gets the majority of those reps, Williams’ total will go up, as well, bringing him to that 50-carry mark, if not higher.

Irish coach Brian Kelly has often used two running backs. He has, at points, dabbled in using three. Furthermore, offensive coordinator Chip Long has a history of involving multiple running backs, keeping the ballcarriers fresh in his up-tempo scheme. There will certainly be opportunities for both Williams and Jones.

If insisting on a prediction, let’s ballpark Williams’ junior year at 50 carries and 400 yards with five touchdowns. The more important item will be staying in the mix despite Jones’ rise. Injuries happen, particularly at running back. Having proven depth will be vital both for Notre Dame and for those making up the reserves.

It is within the realm of possibility Adams runs his way into the NFL Draft this season. It is not likely, but it could happen. In that instance, suddenly Williams would be featured far more in 2018.

It is more probable Adams sticks around for a record-setting senior season and Williams remains the change-of-pace speed option supplementing Adams and Jones.

Long’s recruiting efforts have focused on larger, more physical running backs, but every offense will find opportunities for a home-run threat. Williams presents that option.

With those 88 entries, so ends the 2017 series of “99-to-2.” Hopefully its differences from Keith’s annual “A-to-Z” did not disrupt its intended purposes too much.

Tomorrow at noon ET, Brian Kelly will open training camp by addressing the media, a day before the Irish first take the practice field at Culver Academies about an hour south of campus.

2017’s Notre Dame 99-to-2
Friday at 4: Goodbye A-to-Z, hello 99-to-2 (May 12)
No. 99: Jerry Tillery, defensive tackle
No. 98: Andrew Trumbetti, defensive end
No. 97: Micah Dew-Treadway, defensive tackle
No. 96: Pete Mokwuah, defensive tackle
No. 95: Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 92)
No. 94: Darnell Ewell, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 95)
No. 93: Jay Hayes, defensive end
No. 92: Jonathon MacCollister; defensive end (originally theorized as No. 46)
No. 91: Ade Ogundeji, defensive end
No. 89: Brock Wright, tight end
No. 88: Javon McKinley, receiver
No. 87: Michael Young, receiver (originally theorized as No. 84)
No. 86: Alizé Mack, tight end
No. 85: Tyler Newsome, punter
No. 84: Cole Kmet, tight end (originally theorized as No. 90)
No. 83: Chase Claypool, receiver
No. 82: Nic Weishar, tight end
No. 81: Miles Boykin, receiver
No. 80: Durham Smythe, tight end
No. 78: Tommy Kraemer, right tackle
No. 77: Brandon Tiassum, defensive tackle
No. 76: Dillan Gibbons, offensive lineman (originally theorized as No. 65)
No. 75: Josh Lugg, offensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 73)
No. 75: Daniel Cage, defensive tackle
No. 74: Liam Eichenberg, right tackle
No. 72: Robert Hainsey, offensive tackle
No. 71: Alex Bars, offensive lineman
No. 70: Hunter Bivin, offensive lineman
No. 69: Aaron Banks, offensive lineman
No. 68: Mike McGlinchey, left tackle
No. 67: Jimmy Byrne, offensive lineman
No. 58: Elijah Taylor, defensive tackle
No. 57: Trevor Ruhland, offensive lineman
No. 56: Quenton Nelson, left guard
No. 55: Jonathan Bonner, defensive lineman
No. 54: John Shannon, long snapper
No. 53: Sam Mustipher, center
No. 53: Khalid Kareem, defensive lineman
No. 48: Greer Martini, inside linebacker
No. 47: Kofi Wardlow, defensive end
No. 45: Jonathan Jones, inside linebacker
No. 44: Jamir Jones, linebacker/defensive lineman
No. 42: Julian Okwara, defensive end
No. 41: Kurt Hinish, defensive tackle (originally theorized as No. 94)
No. 40: Drew White, linebacker
No. 39: Jonathan Doerer, kicker (originally theorized as No. 52)
No. 38: Deon McIntosh, running back/receiver
No. 35: David Adams, linebacker
No. 34: Tony Jones, Jr., running back
No. 33: Josh Adams, running back
No. 32: D.J. Morgan, safety
No. 30: Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, rover
No. 29: Kevin Stepherson, receiver
No. 28: Nicco Fertitta, safety
No. 27: Julian Love, cornerback
No. 26: Ashton White, safety
No. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)
No. 24: Nick Coleman, safety
No. 23: Drue Tranquill, rover
No. 22: Asmar Bilal, rover
No. 21: Jalen Elliott, safety
No. 20: Shaun Crawford, cornerback
No. 19: Justin Yoon, kicker
No. 18: Troy Pride, cornerback
No. 17: Isaiah Robertson, safety
No. 16: Cameron Smith, receiver
No. 15: C.J. Holmes, running back
No. 14: Devin Studstill, safety
No. 13: Avery Davis, quarterback
No. 13: Jordan Genmark Heath, safety
No. 12: Ian Book, quarterback
No. 12: Alohi Gilman, safety
No. 11: Freddy Canteen, receiver
No. 10: Chris Finke, receiver
No. 9: Daelin Hayes, defensive end
No. 8: Donte Vaughn, cornerback
No. 7: Brandon Wimbush, quarterback
No. 7: Nick Watkins, cornerback
No. 6: Equanimeous St. Brown, receiver
No. 5: Nyles Morgan, linebacker
No. 4: Te’von Coney, linebacker
No. 4: Montgomery VanGorder, quarterback
No. 3: C.J. Sanders, receiver and returner

No. 66: Tristen Hoge, offensive lineman, transfers to BYU
No. 50: Parker Boudreaux, offensive lineman
No. 30: Josh Barajas, linebacker, to transfer to Illinois State

No. 13: Tyler Luatua, tight end, career ended by medical hardship