When Notre Dame’s running back depth chart was decimated by dismissals and early departures for the NFL, the Notre Dame coaching staff had to look to its current roster for some answers in the spring. One of those answers was sophomore wide receiver Jafar Armstrong. A few months later it looks like Armstrong will be providing much more than just insurance. He could be in line for a major role at running back this fall.
Following last season’s running explosion, Notre Dame lost Josh Adams to the NFL a year early. Then came the dismissals of both Deon McIntosh and CJ Holmes. That left Notre Dame with just Tony Jones Jr and Dexter Williams as scholarship running backs for the spring. Early enrollee Jahmir Smith enrolled early but Notre Dame needed more backs. Enter Armstrong and quarterback Avery Davis.
Notre Dame decided to cross train Armstrong as running back and a receiver and developed a “slash” role for Davis with a quarterback depth chart featuring Brandon Wimbush and Ian Book with Phil Jurkovec coming this summer. By the end of spring both were impressing in their new roles, but how much running back they would play was still a question.
The complicated status of senior running back Dexter Williams makes it at least appear like a major role could be in store for Armstrong at running back at least. Brian Kelly didn’t provide much clarification on Williams’s status on Thursday but privacy laws prevent him from commenting on any University disciplinary measures.
When Notre Dame held their first practice of the season, Williams was not getting second or third team reps though. That might be about the best indication that we will get from Notre Dame regarding Williams’s status. Rumors have floated for months now that Williams will be out for the first few games ala Kevin Stepherson last year. Friday’s splitting of the carries backs that up even though there has not been any confirmation.
Notre Dame’s been in a situation like this at running back recently. Just three years ago CJ Prosise was cross training at running back and receiver in the spring behind Tarean Folston. Folston, then a junior, was the unquestioned starter but the depth behind him was virtually non-existent. Folston tore his ACL in week one thrusting the converted wide receiver into the starting role. Prosise went on to top 1,000 yards. He parlayed that one season at running back to a 3rd round draft selection by the Seattle Seahawks.
Jafar Armstrong could find himself in the same situation this fall. Tony Jones Jr is the #1 back for the Irish right – for now. Jones has spent the last two years fighting through various nagging injuries. History suggests that Notre Dame will have to count on at least one other back to the be the top dog for a few weeks this season. With Williams potentially unavailable for the first few weeks, Armstrong could very easily end up starting at running back for the Irish in the near future.
When Prosise broke out at running back for Notre Dame in 2015, it wasn’t exactly a complete surprise. Prosise made an impact as a receiver during the 2014 season with 20 catches for 516 yards and two touchdowns. Then he flashed as a runner in the Music City Bowl with 77 yards on 3 carries including a 50 yard touchdown.
We haven’t seen that type of production from Armstrong just yet. In fact, we haven’t seen him play at all yet after he redshirted a year ago. Armstrong showed a glimpse of what he is capable of in the 2018 Blue Gold Game. He ran for 48 yards on five carries highlighted by 25 yard touchdown run. Armstrong added a catch for 21 yards as well.
Still, it wouldn’t be fair to expect to see CJ Prosise level production from Jafar Armstrong in 2018. Given the depth chart situation, however, it is fair right now to expect to see similar usage for Armstrong. At least for the first few weeks anyway.
Should that role come to Armstrong, he looks ready. Armstrong reported to fall camp at a bulked up 218 lbs – up 5 lbs form the spring. No other Notre Dame running back other than Jones checked in bigger than Armstrong. Early in camp Armstrong has also reportedly been one of the most impressive players. It should be noted though that pads are not yet on.
Last year Deon McIntosh went from forgotten man to being a major contributor at running back for the Irish. This year it looks like it will be Armstrong who will go from being somewhat of an afterthought heading into the spring to a major contributor this fall. Depending on how things work out, it is not inconceivable to think that Armstrong could follow right in the footsteps of Prosise as a converted receiver turned impact running back by season’s end.