I asked from some opinions on the running back battle this spring after writing an article on the homepage about all those involved. Here are some of your thoughts from the football forum:
I started a thread on this but when I was done typing it there was already one up but heres my take. The article made me curious, because I felt differently on some parts of it, so I went to nbc and watched some game replays to rethink some things. The MSU game especially stands out.On offense, our line wasnt too bad, and our 3 running backs were healthy and I feel best showcased their own personal style againt a tough opponent. Heres what I saw for the season out of the 3 guys
James was the most well rounded and when lanes were opened he found them. He has great vision and showed he can break tackles for yards, run by guys for yards, or bend the facemask of anyone who wants to stand in front of him. His downside, he is too patient, he was handed the ball with no lanes opened and didnt move forward, he did what darius did and waited than would be hit in the backfield. I think he shows better speed and agility in 08 with another year from injury, I think he still runs upright too early in the hole, but he has shown he knows when to drop the shoulder, and he hits with the force of a car. Side note, his role in pass blocking/recognition was the best of the 3, and throughout the season did not see some of the nice lanes Hughes was given. I think he is underestimated in this position battle because he is not as flashy, he doesnt have armandos speed and doesnt drag entire defensive lines behind him. However he is the best mix of size and speed, as well as great vision, he breaks arm tackles, and is solid in pass blocking. Total package who got banged up but played tremendous against bowl caliber opponents in our early games when the team was not gelling. His consistency,and vision should allow him to put up big numbers this year if the line plays well so we can open the passing game and get guys out of the box. I think he has 1000 yard season.
Hughes had some nice runs too, to me he definitely shows better cutting ability than aldridge,he has great lateral movement but he loses too much speed on his cuts, which is why out of the 3 backs he is suited for redzone play.When holes open hughes finds them, when they arent, he makes them, ridiculously strong lower body where its less punishing blow than James, but unbelievable second effort drive with his legs to move the pile. I think next year he continues to do what he did for us this year, and that is beast his way into the endzone and force defenses to bring more guys in the box when we are in the redzone to either A.be run over by Hughes. B.leave kamara 1on1 outside and get jumped over. C.get pushed of yeatman so he can make the easy grab. or D. not notice luke on play action and he gets the underneath route for a td. I think Hughes is slightly over hyped in this race.Im trying to pick my words carefully because I too am super excited about this kid and think he is awesome. However his best moments were against low level teams when our offense was showing signs of life and our starter was injured, so he left a good taste in the mouths of ND fans at the end of our season. He was 100% going into 07 and now going into 08 which is a huge upside for him not battling serious injury he has a year of speed and strength gain, and not recovery. Unless JA gets injured, I dont see Hughes starting. Huge contributor, will lead the irish in td’s.
Allen had some screens,draws and outside runs that he looked good on, he doesnt take long to control the ball and become a runner after the catch or pitch, and as he gets stronger will turn those small gains into larger ones. I take into strong account that he broke his leg and missed his senior year, and how big of strides he made in the strength department by the end of 07. I expect him to look like travis thomas standing still, and blur like rocket when he runs. He can pack on some more size without losing speed, I think 08 he still plays that 3rd down back role, but he is going to get some looks, this kid is going to be special over the years. He isnt the typical speedster track star that is put on the field just for his speed, he knows the game very well, and as he gets more physical he will be outright dangerous. Should lead the backs in avg yards per touch this year.
Very good breakdown of all 3. I agree that Aldridge starts off the season as the #1 guy and if he can hold off Hughes, there isn’t a reason why he can’t top 1,000 yards as fightNYirish suggests.
It will be interesting to see how the OLine plays into all this. What would it be like for Aldridge to be making contact with defenders at the line or better still past the line of scrimmage and not fending off two or three in the backfield at the point of hand off and trying to gain yards from there? He seemed tentative trying to discover the ball and defenders often last year at the same moment. Not a good position for a RB to be in.
Good article. Read it this morning.
I still like the way Hughes handled himself and believe he’s the number one back. However I can see Allen being there, he just needs some leg strength like you said.
Jim is right that all of this comes back to the OL. If the OL is not improved and doesn’t start pushing people around, none of these backs will be overly effective.
My vote is with Aldridge, he has the tools and hopefully an good OL this year will allow him to display them. The big knock is if he can stay healthy. We saw flashes on his ability last year at times, but even the best backs in the country would have saw their yards drop by 25% or more with that OL
Again, can’t argue that the OL probably prevented us from getting a fair look at all of the backs last year.
I still think Aldridge is the top back right now. I disagree with you in that he was going down easy last year. I remember him getting hit in the backfield and making it into a gain on a few carries last year. He could possibly get better at it, but I don’t think it is a weak point in his game, he runs hard.
The TD stat you quote for Aldridge vs Hughes is also not exactly a fair stat to look at. I know we all love TD’s, however, we seemed to always put Hughes in once we got inside the 20, and TT was the goal line back. Kinda like Jones in Dallas with Barber. For awhile Jones was the between the 20’s guy and Barber got the redzone carries.
I agree that Aldridge did well to break tackles in the backfield, but once he got passed the line, he would go down fairly easily to some arm tackles. He didn’t have the strength in his legs to run through tackles that a back with his size should be able to. Another year removed from his injury and in the weight room should fix that.
I still go back and watch Aldridge highlights from high school to remind me what he is capable of. I do not think it is fair to evaluate Aldridge from last season due to our pathetic o-line. I still have a question about his knee. It may be completely healed, but does it function as it did before the injury occurred during his senior season in high school? If Aldridge does not start to shine in the first half of the season look for Hughes to start getting the majority of carries. Let us also not forget about Jonas Gray. He is a pounder like Hughes, but has a lot more speed. I am sure Gray will not see much action in the beginning of the season, but if Aldridge does not step up, look to see Gray get some snaps the second half of the season.
I still do not know what to expect out of Armando Allen. All we heard about before the start of last season was his breakaways speed. The problem was once the season started, it never showed up. I know our o-line has a lot to blame for that, but there were a few times last season where I expected Allen to kick on the afterburners but did not. I just hope Allen hit the gym hard this offseason to add a little strength to help break tackles.
Overall, we are in great shape at the RB position for years to come, I just hope one of them stands out and becomes are go-to guy
Not sure how soon we will see Jonas Gray. With the talent we have at running back, Gray is going to have to come in and dominate to see much action in 2008. He has the potential to be an outstanding back, but unless Weis has no choice but to play him, I don’t think we’ll see much of him. A year to learn to offense and pick up the blitzes will do Gray well.