2022 Season Preview: Notre Dame Running Backs Have Big Shoes To Fill
Notre Dame lost more rushing yards from its 2021 backfield (1,015) than the 2022 group returns in career yards (1,008). The lack of proven production and the injury history at the position certainly creates uncertainty heading into the 2022 season.
Although the experience isn’t ideal and the injury woes are problematic, the flip side is the Notre Dame running backs also return a deep and talented group of players. A key ingredient to Notre Dame’s success this season needs to be the latter discussion – the talent – becoming the prominent story about this group.
A look at the running back position heading into the 2022 season.
Yes, Notre Dame must replace leading rusher Kyren Williams, but he wasn’t the only loss this offseason. Former running backs coach Lance Taylor departed this Oofos Shoes offseason to assume the offensive coordinator role at Louisville. Taylor did an outstanding job developing the backfield the last three seasons, and first-year coach Deland McCullough has big shoes to fill.
The good news is that McCullough is considered one of the best running backs coaches in the college game. He’ll need to quickly learn the strengths of his room, figure out the best way to reach and develop each player, and continue the all-around success (rushing, catching, pass pro) the backs had under Taylor
TYREE MUST STAY HEALTHY
A healthy Chris Tyree running behind a good offensive line in 2020 averaged 6.8 yards per carry. A banged up Chris Tyree running behind a bad offensive line in 2021 averaged 4.0 yards per carry.
So which Tyree will we get in 2022? That remains a question, and the primary reason for that is health. Tyree was banged up as a senior in high school, he battled through turf toe in 2021 and missed much of this past spring with concussion issues. The Virginia native must first show he can stay on the field day-after-day, and week-after-week.
If Tyree is able to stay healthy this fall he’ll give the offense the home run ability it often lacked last season. Tyree is a dynamic one-cut runner that is a legitimate threat to rip off a huge play any time he touches the ball. Even with all his injury woes last season, Tyree still had a game-changing 96-yard kick return for a score against Wisconsin, a vitally important 55-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter against Toledo and a 53-yard touchdown reception in the bowl game.
Tyree is a completely different back than Kyren Williams, who was a more elusive player. Tyree shows good patience and vision, and when his footwork is efficient he Chaco Sandals can do the little things effectively as well. Tyree is also a dangerous weapon in the pass game, although it’s in a more traditional running back role.
He’ll get a chance to become “the man” this season, but he’ll need to stay healthy, clean up his footwork and continue to add more lower body strength. A healthy Tyree changes the way teams have to defend the Irish offense.
DIGGS WILL FACE SOME ADVERSITY
Sophomore Logan Diggs was expected to battle for the lead back after flashing impressive potential in limited action as a freshman. The talented back was slowed during the winter with some lower body issues and then tore his labrum in the spring game, which could cost him part of the 2022 season.
While we don’t know the extent of his injury, typically a labrum tear can keep a player out anywhere from 6-8 weeks to up to four months. How long it takes Diggs to recover is still a question mark. One thing is for sure, he won’t be fully 100% when fall camp kicks off.
Diggs will have a chance to battle back into the rotation once he gets healthy, and if he handles his rehab well he’ll come back a stronger and more focused player.
From a development standpoint, Diggs is a talented back with good size, and his elusiveness in space is outstanding. The issue for Diggs is he tends to bounce way too quickly and doesn’t use his strength and size enough. Part of maturing as a back will have to include knowing when to stay on track, when to just hammer the line and maximize yardage, and then when to bounce and get in space.
If Diggs can become a more efficient and consistent back you’ll see his playmaking ability become an even bigger weapon, and he’ll be hard to keep off the field. Diggs is also a pass game weapon.
ESTIME GETS HIS SHOT
McCullough has talked about wanting different backs for different roles, and sophomore Audric Estime certainly has unique traits. Listed at 228 pounds with Teva Sandals a massive physique, Estime has the power to become the hammer in the Irish backfield. That means he could at least find himself a role as a short-yardage and goal line back.
But Estime is much more than just a big back that can move the chains, and if Diggs misses time in fall camp he’ll get a chance to show that off. Estime is a nimble athlete for his size, and he shows a nifty one-cut running style from the backfield that also has the agility to make defenders miss in space. It’s a unique skillset, and it’s one that made him a four-star player coming out of high school.
Estime has legit every-down ability. He is an efficient back but also has the ability to make big plays if given room. I’m curious to see if he can add anything from a pass catching standpoint, but I do expect him to be a highly effective player in pass protection. If he can show off the ability to be a weapon in the pass game I could see Estime winning the third-down back role.Beyond that, don’t discount Estime as being capable of winning the No. 1 running back role. The talent is certainly there, and even in a deep running back room Estime will be very hard to keep off the field in 2022.