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Notre Dame 99-to-2: No. 33 Josh Adams, running back

USC v Notre Dame

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 17: Josh Adams #33 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs for a 26-yard gain against the USC Trojans in the first half of the game at Notre Dame Stadium on October 17, 2015 in South Bend, Indiana. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)

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Listed Measurements: 6-foot-2, 220 pounds
2017-18 year, eligibility: Junior with two years of eligibility remaining, including 2017
Depth chart: For the first time in his career, Adams enters the season as the unquestioned starter, even with talented reserves ready for playing time behind him in junior Dexter Williams and sophomore Tony Jones, Jr.
Recruiting: A three-star recruit, Adams tore his ACL his junior year of high school, limiting much of his recruitment process. He committed to the Irish before his senior season, turning down offers from Penn State, Pittsburgh and Stanford. Adams then validated the faith in his recovery by rushing for 1,600 yards in only 10 games to close his high school career before an ankle injury again cut his season short.

Adams began his college career buried on the depth chart, but by the end of the season-opener, he had two touchdowns already to his name. With then-junior Tarean Folston out for the season, Adams’ role only increased from there, though then-junior C.J. Prosise bore the load as the primary threat.

Prosise rode that strong year to the NFL (now with the Seattle Seahawks), but Folston returned healthy last season, clouding Adams’ status as the lead ballcarrier. Before long, performance made the pecking order clear, though Folston still contributed throughout the season, as did Williams.

Adams’ total of 1,768 yards in his first two seasons has been exceeded by only three Irish running backs in history, including current running backs coach and all-time Notre Dame rushing leader Autry Denson. His four-year total stands 2,550 yards ahead of Adams’ to date.

2015: 13 games, 117 carries for 835 yards and six touchdowns, a 7.1 yards per carry average.
2016: 12 games, 158 carries for 933 yards and five touchdowns, a 5.9 yards per carry average.

2015 receiving: seven catches for 42 yards and one score.
2016 receiving: 21 catches for 193 yards and one score.

Let’s keep this simple with a quote from Irish offensive coordinator Chip Long discussing the variety of options he has at running back.

“It’s not difficult, because we run them a lot,” he said the day before the Blue-Gold Game. “It’s who can stay out there the longest, really. We utilize two of them a lot of the time, so having depth [at running back] is critical so we can keep them all fresh throughout the game. We’re pushing a lot of plays, and it’s going to start with the run. Keeping each other fresh helps a lot.

“But you want to start with a guy like [Adams]. There’s no doubt about it. Then you’ve got Dexter and Tony Jones and [sophomore] Deon [McIntosh], guys who can come out there, change the pace of play.

“Josh has elite speed, but he has size. Then you bring another guy in who might be a little bit different, find out what they do well, that’s hard for the defense. You can’t have enough running backs in this offense.”

Pencil me in for a ho-hum 1,000 yard season and 10 touchdowns. And that’s assuming that Tarean Folston has a nice year and Dexter Williams finds a role in this offense as well.

“Of course, Adams has to stay healthy, and if we’ve seen anything these past few years, it’s that one Notre Dame running back is going to get bitten by the injury bug. But with a full calendar year in the strength program, and maturity and confidence that position coach Autry Denson praised this spring, Adams is going to be one of the faces of the offense this season, especially as the Irish look for answers in the passing game to replace Will Fuller, Chris Brown and Amir Carlisle.

“Depending on how optimistic you want to be, it’s not inconceivable to think that Adams could find himself in elite company next season. While he won’t likely climb into the Fournette, McCaffery conversation at the top of the heap, he’s got potential that’s not far off that.

“Not sure of that? Just go back and look at the numbers and game tape. A freshman season averaging over seven yards a carry and with speed to take a 98-yarder to the house? Adams could turn in a work horse season and explode statistically — especially if the Irish offense turns to the ground to move the unit.”

If the 99-to-2 entry for McIntosh seemed harsh in sentencing him to a season spent returning kicks and if the entry for Jones seemed filled with tempered optimism, do not forget to consider Adams as a limiting factor for the underclassmen. If anything, Adams may be underrated at this point.

Falling 67 yards short of an even 1,000 yards rushing can mellow some enthusiasm, as illogical as that may be. With one more broken tackle, Adams quickly could have found himself only a few scores from Keith’s “ho-hum 1,000 yard season and 10 touchdowns.” One should note, such a season would never be ho-hum.

Yet, that is exactly what Adams has done. His production has been steady from day one, so steady it fails to draw appropriate notice.

Whether or not carries are split this season will not ultimately alter Adams’ trajectory. When push comes to shove, the Irish will rely on him. Even if the offense leans toward capitalizing on junior quarterback Brandon Wimbush’s arm, that weapon will be best utilized after defenses have been forced to account for the run. Adams will be the best bet to force such recognition.

In an offense like Long’s, a running back rotation will be as much about tempo as it is about carries. Rotating in a fresh back to keep the offense snapping as quickly as possible will serve Long’s intentions well. In that regard, having a number to choose from will be ideal, but make no mistake, Adams will lead the way. If Keith was ready for 1,000 yards and 10 scores a year ago, perhaps 1,200 yards and eight scores could be a happy medium this fall. Such an uptick may seem Pollyannaish, but it seems only fitting when recognizing the experience of the offensive line compared to a year ago, now returning four 12-game starters. The uptick is even less of a bump if presuming Notre Dame reaches a bowl game. (Adams averaged 77.75 rushing yards per game in 2016. In a 13-game season, that pace would have totaled 1,011 yards, a 121 percent increase over Adams’ freshman year. Another increase at that rate would, in fact, equal 1,224 rushing yards.)

This space attempts to moderate expectations. When it comes to Adams, that seems somewhat foolish. He may not yet be regarded as an NFL prospect this spring, but neither was Prosise entering 2015. One strong season resulted in him hearing his name called during the third round. A third consistent season for Adams could lead him to consider heading up a league without using up his collegiate eligibility.

Considering how the NFL views running backs’ value against their age, no one could argue with such a move.

But there is a non-zero chance Adams returns for the 2018 season. At that point, an assault on the Irish record books will be fully underway. As it stands now, Denson’s career mark is the approximate ceiling for Adams’ final totals, and those numbers are obviously heavily influenced by the offensive scheme.

Given health — and that should not be disregarded, considering Adams’ injuries in high school, even if the last two years have featured nothing more than a nagging hamstring — Adams will make those numbers worth knowing. To this point, Adams has been the complete package as a running back. There is no reason to expect that to change now.

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. 25: Jafar Armstrong, receiver (originally theorized as No. 87)

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