We will round out our series on the Notre Dame position groups with a close look at the offensive backfield.
The Quarterbacks consist of a very talented yet inexperienced starter, a walk on, and a handful of freshmen. In contrast the running backs have a nice balance of talent and experience spread evenly throughout the classes. Running back might actually be the deepest position on the team.
Listed below is the opening spring depth chart by position for the Quarterbacks, and Running Backs. Players with an * next to their class are eligible to apply for a 5th year after graduation. Let’s take a look.
10 Dayne Crist 6’4" 235 (Junior*)Crist has the right mix of skills, work ethic and natural leadership ability to turn into a monster in this offense, and with 3 years of eligibility remaining he will definitely get there. There is only one question in regards to Dayne. How long will it take? We will have to prepare ourselves to live with some first year starter mistakes in the first half of the season while Crist settles in, but by mid October he should be coming into his own. Coach Kelly has proven that he can get the most out of any quarterback and Dayne has better tools than anyone Kelly has coached to date. It is only a matter of time. An important side note is that Crist, more than any other member of the team, needs to stay healthy throughout the season. The gap between 1 and 2 is significant.
16 Nate Montana 6’4" 215 (Junior*)Nate is a preferred walk on that looks eerily similar to his dad, especially in that #16 red practice jersey. With three freshmen in the mix behind him this is probably Nate’s one real shot at getting game reps in the two deep. He is currently battling freshman early enrollee Tommy Rees for the #2 spot and that race will be fun to watch. If all goes well against Purdue it will be interesting to see which one of those guys makes a 4th quarter appearance during mop up time.
13 Tommy Rees 6’2" 210 (Freshman)Tommy enrolled early and has quickly picked up Coach Kelly’s system. He will continue to battle Montana for time behind Crist and I will be surprised if Tommy doesn’t eventually beat Nate out.
12 Andrew Hendrix 6’2" 218 (Freshman) Coach Kelly has praised the arm strength of Hendrix but as expected he is currently running with the Scout Team. Of the three freshmen I think that Hendrix will ultimately emerge as the heir apparent to Crist but with Tommy Rees enrolling early the learning curve was likely too steep for Hendrix to catch him. I expect that Hendrix will save a year of eligibility this fall before he pushes for the #2 spot behind Crist in 2011.
14 Luke Massa 6’4" 215 (Freshman) Luke is a tall and rangy QB that is also currently running with the scout team. Like Hendrix he will also retain a year of eligibility this fall. It will be very interesting to see how the competition between these three freshmen plays out over the next few years.
5 Armando Allen 5’10" 205 (Senior)Armando has always had great speed and done a good job taking care of the football. He also showed much improved strength as a junior. I think Armando is going to have a very big year in this offense. The only detractor for #5 is that he is going to lose some carries to rising sophomore Cierre Wood. He will make up for some of those touches as he is competing with John Goodman to return punts as well.
20 Cierre Wood 6’0" 210 (Sophomore*)As we expected at the conclusion of the spring Cierre is currently running #2 behind Allen. Cierre also has great speed and the makings of a big time playmaker. I expect he will spell Allen often which will keep both of them fresh for four quarters. This 1-2 punch should bear a lot of fruit this fall, especially in the first half of the season while Crist gets his sea legs. In addition to his duties as a running back it also looks like Wood will be returning kicks with Theo Riddick. That could also prove to be a lethal combo.
33 Robert Hughes 5’11" 245 (Senior) I have a real soft spot for Robert but I am afraid he is about to get lost in the shuffle as a senior. As of now I am curious as to whether or not Hughes will be able to carve out a niche for himself in this offense. In the spring Hughes spent some time in a fullback/ H Back role but I have yet to see a mention of Hughes, or anyone else for that matter, doing anything similar in fall camp. With reduced media exposure throughout camp we simply don’t know whether or not such a role will exist as a possibility for Hughes once the season starts. If it does not his appearances could be few and far between this fall as Allen and Wood will get the bulk of the touches.
25 Jonas Gray 5’10" 230 (Junior) Jonas is the epitome of having quality depth. He would likely be the starter in 100 other programs but as it stands he will be fortunate to get a few touches each week.
31 Cameron Roberson 6’0" 218 (Freshman) With four other running backs stacked up in front of him Cameron will most likely retain a year of eligibility this fall and get ready to compete for time in 2011.
It is a little scary to think about what might become of the season should Dayne Crist miss any significant time. While it might be the ultimate test of Brian Kelly’s coaching acumen I would rather not find out.
I expect that Crist will have a very good season overall while the young QBs continue to develop. There will hopefully be a few games that allow Montana and Rees to get some live reps as well. That will collectively create a much healthier QB situation entering 2011.
With everything else going on the running backs might actually end up stealing the show this fall. While defenses are keying on Crist and the receivers Armando Allen and Cierre Wood may often find themselves busting through a hole with plenty of room to maneuver at the next level. The end result should be a lot more big plays in the ground game than the Irish faithful have grown accustomed to. As our own Eric Murtaugh has already pointed out 2,000 yards rushing isn’t out of the question. This is going to be a very exciting football season for Notre Dame fans. Six more days.
If you missed the first five installments of this series you can find them at the links below.