August 15, 2006 // Notre Dame Football

Position Analysis: Running Back

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Heading into the season, the Irish find themselves with one highly established running back, two extremely talented freshman, and a converted cornerback to carry the load at tailback. Darius Walker returns as the starter after a successful 2005 campaign and is joined by freshmen James Aldridge and Munir Prince and converted corner Junior Jabbie. Last year’s backup, Travis Thomas, has been moved to linebacker this summer and appears to be staying there which has opened up the backup running back position wide open.

We’re going to split the fullbacks and halfbacks up for the position analysis articles so players like Luke Schmidt and Asaph Schwapp would could line up in a one back set or at running back will be discussed in detail in the full back article which will be published tomorrow.

Darius Walker (Jr) – 5’10”, 208
Walker, a true junior, is entering his third year as the starting tailback for the Irish and is coming off his first 1,000 yard season in 2005. As a sophomore, the Georgia native ran for 1,196 yards on 253 carries (4.7 ypc) and reached the end zone 9 times on the ground. As a runner, Walker is a solid back who can run through arm tackles and make people miss, but lacks elite speed. Walker is not the kind of back that will take a hand off off tackle and explode through a secondary into open space. Walker is the kind of back however that will take a handoff, spin off a linebacker, and run through an arm tackle from a defensive back for a 10-15 yard gain when other backs would get stuffed for a short gain.

Att

Yds

Avg

TD

LG

Rec

Yds

Avg

TD

LG

2004
185
786
4.2
7
40
10
74
7.4
0
22
2005
237
1106
4.7
6
38
36
314
8.7
2
51
TOTAL
422
1892
4.5
13
40
46
388
8.4
2
51

Walker started off the 2005 season with four straight 100 yard games with 100, 104, 116, and 128 yards over the span for an average of 112 yds/game. Over his next four games however, Walker would fail to register another 100 yard game with 80 yards on 23 carries at Purdue, 72 yards on 19 carries vs USC, 17 yards on 7 carries vs BYU (both season lows), and 62 yards on 15 carries vs Tennessee. During this stretch Walker averaged just 57.75 yards a game. Furthermore his average yards/carry dropped to 3.6, a full 1.1 yards/carry lower than his season average.

Highest Individual Season Rushing Yards

Player (Season) Yards (YPC)
1. Vagas Ferguson (1979) 1,437 (4.8 ypc)
2. Allen Pinkett (1983) 1,394 (5.5 ypc)
3. Reggie Brooks (1992) 1,343 (8.0 ypc)
4. Julius Jones (2003) 1,268 (5.5 ypc)
4. Autry Denson (1997) 1,268 (4.8 ypc)
6. Darius Walker (2005) 1,196 (4.7 ypc)
7. Vagas Ferguson (1978) 1,192 (5.6 ypc)
8. Autry Denson (1996) 1,179 (5.8 ypc)
9. Autry Denson (1998) 1,176 (4.7 ypc)
10. Allen Pinkett (1984) 1,105 (4.0 ypc)

Walker’s sophomore campaign would end on a high not however. Over his final four games, Walker averaged 129.25 yards/game while scoring 6 of his 9 touchdowns on the season. His yards/carry average during that stretch? 5.4.

Against Stanford, a game the Irish nearly lost, Walker was at his best. Walker recorded career highs with 35 carries and 186 yards. He would add the game winning touchdown from six yards out and then added a two point conversion with a direct snap out of the shotgun formation. His heroics earned him the USA Today Player of the Week and showed he is capable of carrying the team if need be.

As a receiver, Walker set a Notre Dame record for catches by a running back with 43 receptions for 351 yards and two touchdowns. Walker is a great receiver out of the backfield and is one of the best on screens. Walker can follow his blocks extremely well and waits for the screen to develop as good as anyone.

Entering his third year, Walker is sitting in position to challenge Autry Denson’s all time rushing record which is fitting because the knock on Denson was also a lack of elite speed. Walker has a bit more speed and power than Denson and if he stays healthy could break Denson’s record if the talented group of incoming freshman don’t take too many carries from him.

Unfair Comparison – Emmitt Smith. Why Smith? Smith, the NFL All Time leading rusher, generally gets skipped over when the top NFL running backs are discussed for names like Payton, Brown Sanders, Sayers, etc. Still, Smith played behind a great line and knew how to use his blockers and like Walker never really had “home run speed.” Smith was an all around back who was tough to tackle and he used those skills to run for more yards than any other running back in NFL history.

Munir Prince – (Fr) – 5’10, 175
Of all of the incoming freshman, Prince slid under the radar without much fanfare until recently. It started a few weeks before camp when people started to get excited about his speed and quickness. Once he hit campus and started practicing he was gaining the attention of the coaching staff as well. There is not a back on the Notre Dame roster that posses the quickness of Prince. He has the potential to be a legit game breaking type of running back. His “40” time coming out of high school might not have been awe-inspiring, but his football speed is impressive.

One week into camp Prince is already figuring to be the second running back on the depth chart when the Irish roll into Atlanta. With James Aldridge banged up and Travis Thomas moving to linebacker, Prince has risen to the occasion.

Prince brings some versatility to the position. With his speed and quickness, Weis can send him in motion and move him into the slot and create major match-up problems if a linebacker ends up covering him. He could also be a very dangerous receiving target out of a shot gun formation where he again can exploit a defense with his quickness.

Prince also figures to be a factor in the kick return game. The Irish have not had a game breaking kick return man in some time and Prince along with fellow freshman George West will push for time on the return team with David Grimes, Terraill Lambert, and Junior Jabbie.

Unfair Comparison – Rocket Ismail. This one is easy since Prince was given #25 by the Notre Dame coaches. While it’s tough to judge how a freshman will play just on his first week of practice it looks like Prince has that big play ability. It’s also doubtful Prince has the kind of speed Rocket had since not many human beings have that kind of speed, but he looks like he is a player.

James Aldridge (Fr) – 6’0”, 209
Aldridge was a five star recruit out of high school and enrolled early at Notre Dame this winter. He competed in Spring practice and was poised to challenge for the #2 running back position before getting injured. His status is not season ending, but the talented freshman might not be ready for the season opener. When healthy, Aldridge is an all around back with power, speed, and the moves to match. He is basically a hybrid of Walker and Prince. He doesn’t have quite the speed and quickness of Prince or the moves of Walker, but he has more than enough of both to have Irish fans very excited about his future.

Aldridge is participating in non contact drills and is running conditioning drills, but has been held out of any contact situations. He definitely has the talent to play this year and give the Irish quality carries. Getting to Notre Dame this winter accelerated his understanding of the offense by giving him a full spring practice so missing camp is not as disastrous as it would be for a normal freshman who just reported to campus.

While Prince has Irish fans excited about his speed, Aldridge has Irish fans excited about his all around talents and ability to be an every down, work horse running back. Aldridge will be a big time back for this program, he just might have to wait a couple weeks into his freshman year to start making his mark.

Unfair Comparison – Adrian Peterson. Like Peterson, Aldridge is an all around back. Peterson is a big play back who can run over, around, or passed a defense, but isn’t a “speed” back like a Reggie Bush. Peterson however gives you a work horse type of back that can handle the ball 25, 30 times a game and still change the complexion of a game with big plays. You won’t see either Peterson or Aldridge take a hand off and run left, stop, spin, give a juke move to a linebacker then turn around and run right around a defense like Bush, but you will see them take a hand off and burst through a hole into a secondary where they can use their speed and power to take it the distance.

Junior Jabbie (Jr) – 5’11”, 190
The forgotten man in the running back mix is definitely Jabbie. He left the team breifuly after last season, but returned this year in time for fall camp. Specifics were not discussed, but Weis did make sure to mention he showed up a bit out of shape in a recent press conference.

Jabbie moved to running back last year after spending his freshman season at cornerback, but did not record a carry as a sophomore so it’s tough to tell what he is capable of. He possess enough speed to have played corner as a freshman which is a plus, but it’s tough to tell how he will do with college sized linebackers hitting him around on an everyday basis.

He has shown enough however for Weis to mention that he is in the mix for playing time at both tailback and kick returner.

Unfair comparison – Any. Any comparison I make here will be completely unfair because I just haven’t seen enough of him to make any judgments. At least with the freshmen, I’ve seen a bunch of video of them at tailback to make some comparisons. No so with Jabbie so I’ll reserve judgment for now.

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