Notre Dame had a nice little string of good news going so obviously it had to stop. After learning that both Tevon Coney and Jerry Tillery were coming back for their senior seasons and that Jonathan Bonner had a change of heart and will return for a 5th year, Notre Dame announced the dismissal of four players: Kevin Stepherson, CJ Holmes, Deon McIntosh, and Brandon Tiassum. Dismissals that have left Notre Dame’s running back depth chart decimated.
The dismissal of Stepherson should hardly be a surprise. After being involved in last summer’s highway arrest that led to Max Redfield’s dismissal and his early season suspension that was never officially announced, Stepherson was on the thinest of ice. So when he was picked up for shoplifting and speeding with a suspended license all in a two day period, his fate was sealed. And honestly, a dismissal was the only option here.
As for Tiassum, his dismissal comes as a surprise as there has not been any reports of issues with him in the past, but from a pure football standpoint, the dismissal will have little impact on the Irish. If Tiassum saw the field next year, Notre Dame was in trouble to begin with.
Losing Holmes and McIntosh, however, are big losses that destroy Notre Dame’s depth at running back. Without both on the roster, Notre Dame is down to just Dexter Williams, Tony Jones Jr, and early enrollee Jahmir Smith. That’s three healthy running backs for the 2018 season as the roster sits now.
McIntosh showed in 2017 that he can be a pretty good college running back too. As injuries to Williams, Jones, and Adams mounted this season, McIntosh played much more than anyone anticipated. When he played, he also played well. McIntosh racked up 368 yards on 65 carries (5.7 ypc) and 5 touchdowns highlighted by a 12 carry 124 yard 2 touchdown performance against North Carolina. His season came to a crashing halt though when he was sent home from the Citrus Bowl days before the Irish took the field.
Holmes didn’t play much in 2017 but did have his redshirt burned late in the year. Holmes was arrested along with Stepherson for shoplifting in early December and had been indefinitely suspended ever since.
Ok, so the only glimmer of good news here is that there are reports that CJ Holmes has a path back to the team depending on what he does to get back in the good graces of Kelly ala Michael Floyd in 2011. Remember, Floyd was arrested for a DUI, dismissed from the team for the spring, but had an outline given to him of things he needed to display to be welcomed back on the team. It worked for Floyd, so there is hope it works for Holmes too.
If it doesn’t, Notre Dame will need to get creative here. Playing with just three scholarship backs is a dangerous proposition – especially when two of them spent much of 2017 injured with various nagging injuries. Notre Dame does have some options though.
First, Notre Dame could give incoming freshman Tariq Bracy a look at running back. He was a dynamic high school running back and was recruited to play offense by some schools. With Notre Dame adding Joseph Wilkins and Houston Griffith at corner and still heavily pursuing Noah Boykin, they could afford to look at Bracy at RB. At 6’2′ and just 170 lbs currently though, Bracy would need to hit the weight room hard this spring to add some weight to hold up at running back.
Notre Dame could also look to the current roster for a position change. One name that comes to mind is Isaiah Robertson. It doesn’t make much sense to move a player who will be in the two deep already but Robertson played some offense in high school and might have a tough time cracking the two deep at safety. At 6’1″, 195 lbs, he has the size to hold up.
The Irish could also look at add another running back in the class. Even with the early Signing Period come and gone there are still some backs out there. It’s tough to get a recruit this late in the game, but remember, Notre Dame made a huge push last February and ended up with Jafar Armstrong, Myron Tagovailoa-Amosa, Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah, and Kofi Wardlow so it is not unheard of. Expect to hear Notre Dame being mentioned by some new recruits the next few weeks.
The last option, would be to go the graduate transfer route. Offering a running back Notre Dame isn’t fully in love with late in the game just to fill out the depth chart ends up taking up a roster spot for four years. If they can find a stop gap back via graduate transfer, the Irish could load up on backs in the class of 2019 instead to compensate.
Just to end on a positive, perhaps this will put to end all of the in-game tweets pleading for Dexter Williams to get more carries as there really will be no other option but to feed Williams the ball more in 2018 and pray he – and Jones – stay healthy.