Notre Dame star running back Josh Adams made the decision that seemed inevitable for months on Friday when he announced that he would be leaving Notre Dame a year early for the NFL. Adams, an elite running back who nearly broke the Notre Dame single season rushing record, seemed like the most likely of Notre Dame’s four juniors with NFL decisions to leave for the NFL so the news should be hardly a surprise for Notre Dame. The Irish, however, now face the reality of replacing him on and off the field in 2018. The latter of which might prove more difficult.
On the field, Josh Adams will go down as one of the most dynamic running backs in program history. Starting with his freshman season when the very first carry of his career resulted in a touchdown to this past season when he ripped off one of the most prolific seven week spans in Notre Dame history, Adams has only ever been slowed down by injuries. Opposing defenses? They had a hard time stopping him whenever he stepped on the field.
Adams will leave Notre Dame with the freshman rushing record to his name. He came up just 8 yards short of the single season rushing record this season and he will finish his Irish career ranked 5th all-time in rushing yards in program history. A series of nagging injuries that he largely managed to play through the last two seasons were the only things that kept him from even loftier status in the Irish record books.
Replacing Josh Adams on the Field
Notre Dame has a lot of question marks in the backfield heading into 2018 now. The Irish have a bevy of raw talent at the positions but also have a number of backs with checkered injured histories and now a checkered past with suspensions. Here’s a look at the 2018 backfield as we project it to be today.
- Tony Jones Jr – The junior to be would seem like the most likely to start 2018 as the #1 running back for the Irish given how many times we’ve heard how he might have been the most complete back on the team this year already. Like Adams though, he had a hard time staying healthy and his impact wasn’t felt much this year.
- Dexter Williams – When he gets the ball he is one of the most explosive and dynamic ball carriers Notre Dame has ever had. Problem is he doesn’t get the ball much reportedly because of his deficiencies in pass protection. If he can get dedicate himself to improving in that department this off-season, a lot of carries are on the table for him.
- Deon McIntosh – Not much was expected of him this year but the injuries to Adams, Jones, and Willaims at different times thrust him into a bigger role than expected. His season, however, ended on a major sour note when he was sent home from the Citrus Bowl for violating team rules. His status is up in the air.
- CJ Holmes – Holmes had his redshirt burned at the end of the season and then had his year end prematurely when he was arrested for shoplifting with Kevin Stepherson in December. His status is even more up in the air than McIntosh.
- Jahmir Smith – Smith signed his letter of intent last month and will be enrolling early this month. With uncertainty ahead of him on the depth chart, Smith could find himself in the mix much sooner than anyone imagined when he originally committed to Notre Dame.
Replacing Josh Adams off the Field
While it won’t be easy to replace a back that ran for nearly 1,500 yards this year won’t be easy, Notre Dame does have talent. Do they have a back that will break tackles at the line and then hit wide open spaces and run 60-70 yards with ease? Maybe not. Then again, maybe Dexter Williams sees a starting job up for grabs and it motivates him this off-season. Even if that doesn’t happen, between the backs Notre Dame does have, they have a more than competent backfield talent wise.
Where Notre Dame might miss the most in the leadership department. How many times during the year did we see the video of Adams from off-season workouts during telecasts? Adams was a leader in the locker room, the weight room, and on the practice field. He was the consummate leader both on and off the field. With Notre Dame losing Adams along with Quenton Nelson and Mike McGlinchey as captains this year; the Irish will retain just one captain – Drue Tranquill – heading into 2018.
Notre Dame has some candidates to replace them but that is a lot of offensive leadership to replace – especially for an offense that struggled mightily for the final five games of the season. Leaders will emerge soon enough as winter workouts begin, but there isn’t anyone on the offensive side of the ball right now that jumps off the page. Brandon Wimbush perhaps, but the senior to be has a lot on his plate if he wants to retain his starting position so that might be a lot to ask of him.
There are a lot of questions to be answered this off-season for Notre Dame now that the Irish are in search of a new defensive coordinator, but finding out who their leaders will be on offense next year has to be at the top of the list. On Monday the off-season to do list for Brian Kelly looked pretty simple compared to last year. Since then he’s added finding a starting quarterback, hiring a new defensive coordinator, and finding some new leaders on offense. Fun times.