The annual Blue and Gold game tends to produce some spring all-stars every year who never end up parlaying their spring performances into fall production so it’s never a great idea put toooo much stock into the results. That said, one of the biggest take aways from yesterday’s annual scrimmage was the undeniable potential of sophomores Avery Davis and Jafar Armstrong – a pair that both made the transition to hybrid running back/receiver this spring.
Notre Dame entered the spring with some serious questions at running back after the dismissals of both CJ Holmes and Deon McIntosh left the Irish with just three scholarship running backs on the roster. That lack of depth forced the Notre Dame coaching staff to get creative. As a result, they may just have found a couple of playmakers in the process.
A year ago, Jafar Armstrong came to Notre Dame late in recruiting process and spent his freshman season as a slot receiver. Davis meanwhile came as the only quarterback in the class of 2018. Neither played as true freshmen last fall, but if Saturday is any indication, that could change quickly.
Jafar Armstrong was compared to Theo Riddick by Brian Kelly at the beginning of the spring. On Saturday, he certainly looked like the current Detroit Lion in ripping off a 25 yard touchdown run in the 2nd quarter of action. Armstrong had a ton of space to work with but also made a nifty little move in the open field to reach the endzone for the score. On the day, Armstrong finished with 48 yards on five carries and another 21 yards receiving.
What made Armstrong’s performance even more impressive yesterday was the fact that he wasn’t quite 100% according to Brian Kelly. “Armstrong was a little bit hobbled with a high ankle sprain, but we saw a physicality in his ability to run. He’s strong. He’s really got some pretty good instincts and can catch the football,” Kelly said.
Davis did a little bit of everything running for 30 yards on 11 carries and adding 24 yards on two receptions while completing both of his pass attempts for another 26 yards. While his average per rush wasn’t overly impressive, he looked athletic and to steal the most overused word of the day from Doug Flutie, “slippery”.
Now, it is entirely possible that both Davis and Armstrong go the way of Junior Jabbie. Remember him? He was MVP of the Blue Gold game a little over a decade ago before falling back into obscurity the following fall. Both, however, showed enough versatility and athleticism to force Brian Kelly and Chip Long to at least consider getting them on the field this fall.
“I think they are definitely pieces to this offensive system that we missed at times last year,” Brian Kelly said of the duo after the Blue and Gold game yesterday. “I think it gives us, as you saw, the ability to go with some split backs, which gives us a lot of options.”
Long term Davis still could figure into the mix at quarterback, but he still needs to develop further before he is ready to be a factor there. “He doesn’t want to give up his ability to play quarterback down the road, but in the meantime, you know, you need to play this year and so this gives him that opportunity,” Kelly said yesterday.
When fall practice starts Notre Dame will have four scholarship backs with C’bo Flemister joining Tony Jones Jr, Dexter Williams, and Jahmir Smith. Davis and Armstrong figure to be in that mix now and if they are able to translate their spring success into roles in the Irish offense, they could give Notre Dame some very interesting flexibility.
Both Davis and Armstrong showed good hands and receiving ability. Pairing either of them in a two back set with Tony Jones Jr and a quarterback like Brandon Wimbush would give Notre Dame some really interesting options with the zone read game. Davis especially given his ability to the throw the football.
If nothing, else, Notre Dame learned that they have some potential in the backfield that they didn’t know they had when the spring started even if they end up not needing to call on either Davis or Armstrong. Given the depth charts ahead of them both at their original positions and the skills they flashed yesterday, though, it’s hard to imagine either moving back to the original positions full time anytime soon.