Blue and Gold Illustrated

April 2021

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 24 of 55 APRIL 2021 25 RUNNING BACKS 2021 SPRING FOOTBALL PREVIEW N otre Dame spent the last three springs without much clarity surrounding its running back picture. It found capable lead backs in Dexter Williams (2018), Tony Jones Jr. (2019) and Kyren Williams (2020) each time, but building a sustainable rushing operation is a lot easier when the Irish don't need to resort to finding late-career emergences from an unproven cast of char- acters every spring and summer. In fact, it might be a while be- fore the running back room re- sembles a quagmire again. Even if Williams departs af- ter 2021, Notre Dame can feel confident in handing the bulk of the carries to Chris Tyree, who by that point should be a long- established playmaker who can push 1,000 yards if given a larger workload. Williams and Tyree are two of the three most established of- fensive weapons in 2021, and their status as building blocks isn't going to change even when there's more clarity at receiver and quarterback. The 2021 season is the chance to make their case as Notre Dame's most produc- tive and explosive backfield tandem in the Brian Kelly era. The greatest obsta- cle to getting there might be all the change around them, namely in who's clearing running lanes. BY THE NUMBERS 2.7 Yards before contact averaged by Kyren Williams, tied for the highest among Notre Dame's five primary running backs since 2016. 3 Williams' ranking in receptions on Notre Dame's 2020 roster. His 35 catches trailed only wide receivers Javon McKinley and Ben Skowronek. He had 313 receiving yards, which ranked fifth on the team. 6 Combined runs of 40 or more yards by Williams and Chris Tyree. Half of them went for at least 50 yards. Williams took four of his carries at least 40 yards, which is tied with Dexter Williams (2018) for the most such runs by a Notre Dame running back in a single season since 2010. Josh Adams had eight in 2017. WHO'S GONE Jahmir Smith He stepped away from the team midway through his junior season to focus on his mental health, but he entered the transfer portal in January and will resume his career at Appalachian State. WHO'S BACK Senior C'Bo Flemister After missing the season opener, he settled in as Notre Dame's clear No. 3 back and ran for 299 yards on 5.2 yards per rush. He scored five touchdowns. Junior Kyren Williams He shook off a lost freshman year, won the primary running back job in a weird offseason and became Notre Dame's run-game rock, averag- ing 17.6 carries per game. He ran for 1,125 yards and 13 touchdowns on 5.3 yards per rush while adding 35 catches in 2020. Junior Kendall Abdur-Rahman He worked at slot receiver and running back in 2020, but more of the latter. His position isn't set in stone. He's a former high school quarter- back who ran for 1,135 yards in his senior season, but has seen scant action through two years. Sophomore Chris Tyree The former top-100 recruit put his speed to use right away as Notre Dame's No. 2 running back and home-run threat. He averaged a team-best 6.8 yards per carry (73 total carries) and ran for 496 yards and four scores. RUNNING BACKS COACH Lance Taylor — Third Year He also holds the title of run game coordinator and enters his third season coaching Notre Dame's running backs. In five seasons as a college running backs coach, he has had three 1,000-yard rushers. The first two, Stanford's Christian McCaffrey and Bryce Love, were NFL Draft picks. POSITION BATTLE TO WATCH There may not be a position with less suspense. No major departures, no newcomers who would threaten to take snaps away from Kyren Williams and Chris Tyree. Those two head into the spring expect- ing once again to be focal points for a consistent and frequently used rushing attack. C'Bo Flemister and Kendall Abdur-Rahman are the only other scholarship running backs in spring camp. Perhaps one of the two freshmen, Logan Diggs and Audric Estime, pushes Flemister for playing time, but neither arrives until June. Flemister can increase the distance between himself and a potential freshman challenger with a strong spring. He had only five total rushes in the final three games and five contests with three or fewer carries in 2020. Notre Dame had several games where Wil- liams and Tyree handled nearly all the work. It's also harder to run the ball more often than Notre Dame did in 2020 (438 designed runs and 418 passes). In that context, more carries for Flemister presumably means he's taking a few from Williams or Tyree. This spring is his best chance to show that pilfering a bit from their workload is a more attractive proposition than it currently seems. KYREN WILLIAMS PHOTO BY JOHN QUACKENBOS/COURTESY NOTRE DAME ATHLETICS

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