SOUTH BEND — With the recent injury to redshirt sophomore running back Jafar Armstrong, Notre Dame has done some reshuffling to its backfield.
Redshirt sophomore Avery Davis, who spent his first two seasons at running back before being moved to defensive back in the spring, has been moved back to running back as the No. 7 Fighting Irish prepare for New Mexico on Saturday.
Davis saw action in nine games at running back in 2018, rushing for a total of 70 yards while also hauling in five receptions for 30 yards. Davis is still listed as the third-string cornerback on the Irish’s depth chart, but Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said moving Davis back to offense is a permanent thing — for now.
“He is right now just running on the offensive side of the ball,” Kelly said. “Avery is a great teammate. If I was Avery, I would be sick of the head coach, too. He just wants to get on the field. We’re in a ‘need’ situation.
“He wasn’t getting a lot of time defensively, so he was anxious about the opportunity and excited about the opportunity of coming on the offensive side of the ball and seeing what he could do to help us.”
Davis made the move because of the torn rectus abdominis injury sustained by Armstrong. The redshirt sophomore had surgery to repair the muscle last week. Kelly was hesitant to set a timeline for Armstrong’s return.
“Certainly, we’ll be without him for a few weeks,” Kelly said. “That’s an injury that, you know, again I think requires some time, but to put an exact time on it, it’s hard to say. (Senior defensive end) Julian Okwara did not have surgery but had some similarities in terms of the injury. He was (out) about four weeks.”
Along with the injury to Armstrong, redshirt freshman Jahmir Smith suffered a sprained toe in a team scrimmage this past Saturday. Kelly said Smith would practice all week and they would determine if Smith was good enough to play by the end of the week.
The injury to Smith comes after a two-touchdown performance in the 35-17 Week 1 victory over Louisville. Kelly praised the young running back for his performance against the Cardinals.
“He’s a solid player,” Kelly said. “I think the one thing that he does well for us is he’s got vision, and he’s got patience, two things that are very difficult to teach. Everybody seems to have an opinion about vision and patience other than the guy that has to do it. So I think that’s a trait that he has that we can build on.”
Kelly stressed moving Davis to running back wasn’t related to the Smith injury, though.
“Avery is not a complimentary piece for Jahmir. He’s a complimentary piece for Jafar,” Kelly said.
The injuries to Armstrong and Smith should lead to an increased workload for running back Tony Jones. It was a big night for the redshirt senior against Louisville, rushing for 110 yards and a touchdown in the victory. Jones averaged 7.3 yards per carry as the Irish rushed for more than 200 yards as a team.
Jones’ career high in carries in a game came last year against Vanderbilt, when he rushed 17 times for 118 yards, also a career high. Having to carry the ball more than 17 times in a game isn’t a concern for Jones.
“To be honest, as many as coach needs,” said Jones of how many carries he’s willing to have in a game. “I was fine (after the Louisville game) until I got on the plane. Then I started cramping. But that’s it, really.”
The redshirt senior also isn’t feeling any extra pressure to fill the shoes of Armstrong on Saturday against New Mexico.
“It’s the same approach I’ve been having,” Jones said. “Just to start and lead my team in the right direction.”
Kelly commended his new starting running back for the way he doesn’t change who he is, regardless of the circumstances.
“He is comfortably fitting who he is,” Kelly said. “He’s not trying to be somebody else. He’s Tony Jones. He’s assignment correct. He’s physical at the point of attack. He’s doing his job. He’s being Tony Jones, and I kind of like that.”
It’s a perceived easier opponent for the Irish on Saturday, as Notre Dame is currently a 35-point favorite for its home opener against the Lobos. This means the likes of freshman running back Kyren Williams and redshirt freshman C’Bo Flemister could get some extended playing time against New Mexico.
“I think everybody is called on, you know, to play a role for us,” Kelly said. “So Kyren, C’Bo, we’ll see what Jahmir can give us this week, and then certainly Avery as well.”