Notre Dame is one of seven teams in the country that are averaging over 300 yards per game on the ground.
The Irish rank 7th nationally with 301.4 yards per contest.
Even with a talented core of running backs with Josh Adams, Tony Jones Jr., Dexter Williams and Deon McIntosh, another running back may enter this mix on Saturday: freshman tailback C.J. Holmes.
The 6-foot, 208-pounder had been recovering from a shoulder injury he suffered in March which put him out until the summer, but is now healthy and ready to roll. He may get his chance against the Tar Heels.
“We brought him up with us with the intent we think he can contribute,” Brian Kelly said on Thursday evening. “Our eye and focus is getting him involved on the running teams, special teams and see if we can get him involved in our offense. He’s a skilled player, got some talents. We still look to play eight more games, that’s a lot of season left.”
During his senior season at Cheshire (Conn.) Cheshire Academy, Holmes rushed for 1,169 yards and 13 touchdowns on 142 carries. Kelly sees some skill in Holmes that will allow him to contribute if called upon.
“We wouldn’t bring him up with us if we didn’t feel like he was ready to play physically, didn’t have the skill set necessary to win with him,” Kelly explained. “Our intentions are — we’ll see how the game plays out — he’s with us to contribute this year and help us win.”
Holmes ranked as the No. 5 running back and No. 203 player nationally last cycle.
MORE ON RUNNING BACKS
A few of Notre Dame’s running backs have experience some injuries this fall, but nothing major.
Adams, Jones Jr. and Williams have all dealt with ankle injuries this fall to go with a helmet-to-helmet collision for Jones Jr. against Miami (Ohio).
But Kelly is expecting all four to be ready to play this week against the Tar Heels.
“Much better,” Kelly said of the quarter health wise. “I think Josh had a good day today. I’d say if I was rating them in terms of guys that, you know, after coming back from ankle sprains. Tony looked really good today. In terms of him and Dexter, I think Dexter is going to be able to play. But I think Tony is probably a little bit ahead of him right now. You still have Josh who’ll be the starter and Deon [McIntosh]. We’ve got CJ some reps there as well. We have plenty of guys.”
“The team we’re playing — God bless them. I’ve been in their shoes. They’ve lost a ton of starters. I mean, we are healthy. Yeah, we have an ankle here and a bump here and bruise here. But, we’re a healthy football team. I’m happy with where we’re at. We’ve been at a lot worse strengths than we are right now.”
Kelly also sympathizes with North Carolina and their injury plagued season which has cost them a multitude of starts.
“The team we’re playing — God bless them,” Kelly said. “I’ve been in their shoes. They’ve lost a ton of starters. I mean, we are healthy. Yeah, we have an ankle here and a bump here and bruise here. But, we’re a healthy football team. I’m happy with where we’re at. We’ve been at a lot worse strengths than we are right now.”
Earlier this year Kelly had the Notre Dame captains take a leadership/personality test to identify strengths of each player in those areas, so each player could be the best leader possible with his teammates.
Kelly touched on the subject again Thursday night and his reasoning for implementing the tests.
“I wanted to help in leadership development,” Kelly explained. “It was something I had done previously way back in terms of helping our leaders find what their strengths were. I had met with the captains a couple of times and they all had similar questions. What are my leadership qualities? What am I good at?
“I’ve always had this leadership test as a kind of a go-to for kind of vetting out what their strengths are, personality strengths as a leader. So, I went to that. It really kind of helped them know where their strengths were and allowed us a discussion point as to what they could cultivate and go to for their type of leader.
“I did it [at Cincinnati]. I did it when I was a coach at Grand Valley. Just not had the contact with our captains as much in their need to have that question answered before …”
LOCKER ROOM CHANGES
Changes were a big talking point for the Irish and the media during the offseason as the team prepared for the 2017 campaign.
But most of those talks focused on the field and in the weight room as well. Kelly also decided to switch things up in the locker room at the Gug and rearrange how players were grouped.
Originally they were done so by position groups. But Kelly decided to go against that to help build team unity and camaraderie.
“I just felt like we were not as connected outside of our position groups,” Kelly stated. “Our offensive line is a real close group, and they have great leaders. But they all lockered together. So, that leadership group was not affecting the rest of the locker room. I needed to break the offensive linemen and get them interacting with others.
“Obviously, what grew from there was that we have other great leaders that needed to be with other players. It just grew from there, and I’ve shuffled them twice now. We’ve moved the lockers twice since January to make sure that we get great interactions with all players across positions.
“I know this — I’ve learned a lot and I’ve had many years of being a head coach. I’ve learned a lot about how important it is to help players communicate with each other and not do it through text messaging and their cell phones. When they have somebody new next to them, they communicate with them. If it someone they know and go to meeting with them and practice with them, they have a tendency to pick up their cell phone and they almost don’t talk to each other. I think it is something I’ve learned about the players that I’m coach that it’s something I’ll continue to do.”