James Aldrdige had a promising beginning to his career as fullback on Saturday. Unfortunately for Aldridge, he suffered a fourth quarter shoulder injury that will keep the senior fullback on the sideslines this weekend when the Irish travel to Ann Arbor to take on rival Michigan. Filling in for Aldridge will be Robert Hughes – another former tailback who will make his first career start at fullback this weekend.
“He will be out this week,” Charlie Weis said in reference to Aldrdige. “You know, they tell me a week to two weeks, so he’ll be out this week and he’ll be somewhere between questionable to doubtful next week, but he won’t play this week,” he added.
Tuesday’s news was not a big surprise considering Weis mention on Sunday that he was unsure of Aldridge’s status, but that he did have a plan B ready in case the former five star recruit was unable to suit up this weekend. That plan B as it turns out is isn’t backup Steve Paskorz. It’s another former tailback who like Aldridge has never taken a snap at fullback in a game – junior Robert Hughes.
“Well, in the backfield we’re going to plug Hughes into that position. Obviously Robert couldn’t play last week for the first half of the game, and by the time he was able to play in the game last week, the game was pretty well in hand,” Weis told the media Tuesday.
While Hughes may not have played any snaps in a game at fullback, Weis said that the staff has had him taking reps at the position in practice prior to Aldridge’s injury. “We’ve had him practicing half back and run back sets, so we’ll also have a fullback and two-back sets,” said Weis.
On paper the move seems almost too obvious. Hughes is by far the biggest running back on the team at 5’11”, 244 lbs and had begun to be buried on the depth chart at tailback behind talented youngsters Jonas Gray and Theo Riddick on top of starter Armando Allen. In practice though, it will be interesting to see how Hughes handles the blocking assignments that will be thrust upon him this week as the full back.
Hughes athletic ability certainly gives Charlie Weis some options as a playcaller for this weekend. Weis has long stated that Hughes has the best hands out of the backfield of any of the running backs. Hughes, however, hasn’t been able to duplicate the late season success he had as a runner during his freshman season over when he ran over, around, and through the Duke and Stanford defenses.
For Aldridge, this is just the latest in a line of setbacks that have nearly derailed his once promising career. Coming out of high school Aldrdige was seen as one of the top prep running backs in the country. A serious knee injury suffered during his senior season, however, slowed his transition upon his arrival to Notre Dame. By the time Aldridge was back to 100%, he was getting pressed and eventually passed on the depth chart by both Allen and Hughes.
Tuesday’s news that Aldridge would miss at least this week’s game was made all the more disappointing considering that his move to fullback last weekend was widely seen as a success.
Hopefully for Aldridge’s sake this is just a minor setback and he’s back on the field next week. For this weekend, however, Hughes has a chance to stake his claim for additional playing time this season if he can fill in capably for Aldrdige.
I’ll have more notes from Weis’s weekly Tuesday press conference later tonight.
Barry Gallup Replaces Aldridge on the Kick Return Unit
James Aldridge was paired with freshman Theo Riddick on the kick return unit this past weekend. In his absence, Weis said on Tuesday that Notre Dame will likely use senior Barry Gallup as the lead blocker/calming presence on the return unit. Weis has said that he doesn’t want to place two freshmen back there at the same time so they will start with Gallup as Riddick’s return-mate. Notre Dame has also worked Shaquelle Evans, John Goodman, and Robert Hughes on the return unit as well.