Freshman running backs Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are going to be a part of Notre Dame’s game plan this Saturday against Purdue after playing sparingly in the first two weeks of the regular season.
Irish freshman Tarean Folston has five carries in the first two games of his college career.
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said he’ll have plays scripted for all five of his running backs and the pace of the game in West Lafayette will dictate how often the highly-touted rookies get a chance to prove themselves.
“I have no problem playing my freshmen running backs. We just have to find the right opportunities when they need to be in the game,” Kelly said.
Bryant and Folston combined for seven carries and 27 yards late in the second half of a well-in-hand season opener against Temple. Neither saw the field against Michigan in Ann Arbor last Saturday.
Notre Dame trailed most of that game and ran nearly half of its offensive plays from the empty set, giving the young running backs far fewer opportunities to get on the field. Kelly said it was the style of the game, not a lack of trust in the younger players, that prompted him to stick mostly with juniors Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson III against the Wolverines.
“[We] had a hot quarterback the other night. Devin Gardner was making a lot of plays and they were scoring a lot of points,” Kelly said. “It didn’t lend itself to playing a lot of running backs. Hopefully this week it does.”
Competition for playing time at the running back position — including the role as a hybrid slot receiver — is stiff and getting stiffer so far in September because of the amount of backs capable of playing, Kelly said. Notre Dame added a little more depth this week with the return of sophomore Will Mahone.
Mahone missed the first two weeks of the season because of a high ankle sprain, although he did dress for last Saturday’s Michigan game. Kelly said he practiced all week and is more likely to line up in the slot as a pass-catcher than in the backfield.
“It’s competitive,” the coach said. “You can’t make a mistake in practice. If you don’t know what to do on one play, you’re going to find yourself behind because there’s so much depth out there. We like them all.”
- Irish quarterback Tommy Rees bruised his knee bone during the loss to Michigan, but didn’t incur any damage to the tendons or ligaments. Kelly said he and senior receiver TJ Jones (shoulder sprain) practiced at full speed all week.
- Freshman quarterback Malik Zaire could possibly be available to play this weekend after missing the first two weeks due to mononucleosis. Kelly said he practiced during the week and will be a game-time decision for the coaching staff and the trainers.
- The team got a brief break from the focus and intensity that follows a loss in practice this week to meet the Stanley Cup champion Chicago Blackhawks. The Blackhawks are in town to start their training camp at the university’s Compton Family Ice Arena and joined the football team following a workout on Wednesday. President and CEO John McDonough spoke to the Irish team.
“They’re champions; they’re winners. We like to have winners around us, so it was great to have them at practice,” Kelly said.
- Former Notre Dame quarterback Frank Tripucka died of congestive heart issues Thursday morning at his home in New Jersey. Tripucka, 85, guided the Irish to a 9-0-1 season in 1948 under head coach Frank Leahy. Kelly said he knew of Frank’s son Kelly, a basketball star for the Irish, before coming to South Bend, but didn’t learn about the older Tripucka’s legacy until more recently.
“I met him a couple time at different events I didn’t know of his status, but got a chance to when I came to Notre Dame learned a lot more about him,” Kelly said. “Obviously a sad time for the Notre Dame football community.”