Navy vs Notre Dame

Notre Dame running back Jafar Armstrong runs the ball during the Fighting Irish’s 52-20 victory over Navy on Nov. 16, 2019, in South Bend.

SOUTH BEND — Notre Dame only had one spring practice before everything was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic. So where do these cancellations leave coach Brian Kelly’s squad?

Let’s take a look at each position and see how the Irish fare heading into a summer without spring practices.

The first installment looked at the quarterback position. The next position to look at is running back, which has anything but clarity throughout the depth chart:

THE RETURNERS

Notre Dame’s running game in 2019 can best be described as inconsistent. The leading rusher was Tony Jones, who finished the season with 857 yards and six touchdowns. Jones had one year of eligibility left but decided to enter the NFL Draft instead. He was an undrafted free agent signing by the New Orleans Saints.

The next two leading rushers for Notre Dame last year aren’t true running backs, as quarterback Ian Book was second with 546 yards and wide receiver Braden Lenzy added 200 yards on 13 carries.

This leaves redshirt sophomore Jahmir Smith as the Irish’s top returning running back from last year with 180 yards rushing.

Those numbers are skewed a little bit, though, due to the injury of Jafar Armstrong. As a redshirt sophomore last year, Armstrong injured his ribs on the first series of the season against Louisville. Armstrong missed five games due to the injury, and when he returned against USC, he played a limited role.

A converted wide receiver, Armstrong also struggled in the receiving game. His 2019 totals were 46 rushing attempts for 122 yards and one touchdown, plus 13 receptions for 97 yards.

Injuries have plagued Armstrong, as he missed part of the 2018 season due to a knee injury. This leaves a lot of question marks surrounding Armstrong as he enters his third season as a running back for Notre Dame.

When healthy, Armstrong is a dynamic player who can both run and catch the ball effectively. If he’s able to stay on the field, he could be a huge asset for the offense.

Behind Armstrong is Smith, who showed some flashes in his redshirt freshman year. He recorded his only two rushing touchdowns of the season in the first game against Louisville but still managed to average 4.3 yards per rush.

Redshirt sophomore C’Bo Flemister had 48 rushing attempts for 162 yards and five touchdowns. Mostly a power back, Flemister’s longest touchdown run was 11 yards against Virginia.

Three of his rushing scores were 1 yard, and the other was 2 yards. Flemister has proven he can get the tough yard or 2 to get across the goal line. Now it’s a matter of if he can turn into a complete running back.

The final returner is redshirt junior Avery Davis, who was used sparingly in 2019. Davis — who was recruited as a quarterback, then turned into a cornerback before eventually settling at running back — only saw action in six games.

He had a 59-yard touchdown reception against New Mexico State and a 7-yard touchdown catch against Bowling Green. He only mustered 6 rushing attempts for 10 yards, though, leaving Davis as one of the biggest question marks in the Irish backfield.

Having a spring practice season could’ve helped define Davis’ position a little more, but that won’t happen now until at least the summer.

NEW BLOOD

To make the backfield even more crowded, the Irish are set to welcome four-star recruit Chris Tyree to the roster sometime this summer. An all-purpose back from Chester, Virginia, Tyree was the No. 25 overall player and top all-purpose running back prospect in the country last year, according to 247Sports.

In nine games last season as a senior in high school, Tyree tallied 655 rushing yards and nine touchdowns, along with 184 yards receiving and two receiving touchdowns.

At 5-foot-9 and 179 pounds, Tyree is smaller than the four returning Irish running backs. His speed and versatility, though, could land him some serious playing time in his true freshman season.

Austin Hough can be reached at austin.hough@goshennews.com or at 574-538-2360. Follow him on Twitter at @AustinHoughTGN.

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