Spotlight: James Aldridge
Also Returning: Armando Allen, Jonas Gray, Robert Hughes, Steve Paskorz
Lost: Eras Noel, Nikolas Rodriguez, Asaph Schwapp (graduation), Barry Gallup, Jr. (position change - wide receiver)
Gained: Bobby Burger, Mike Narvaez (walk-ons), Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood (freshmen)
Charlie Weis's spotlight is on James Aldridge, and so is ours. Facing a lack of depth at fullback, and a growing amount of talent at halfback, Coach Weis has asked Aldridge to become a blocker back in his senior year. Comparisons were quickly made to Rashon Powers-Neal, who had a very productive start to the 2005 season as a blocker, receiver, and short-yardage back. Since then, Notre Dame has struggled to find any of those threats out of its backfield. Is Aldridge, a player with zero touchdowns coming into last year and 11 career receptions the answer? Only time will tell.
But who, if anyone, will line up in front of Aldridge on short-yardage situations? Outside of employing a walk-on, or stealing from an already-thin tight end corps, the choice seems to be converted linebacker Steve Paskorz. Paskorz is already in his second year on the offensive side of the ball, and as Junior Jabbie proved, the move from defensive player to blocking back isn't an impossible task.
At halfback, Armando Allen has established himself as the starter. Allen's numbers may not be gaudy, but he does find a way to keep the ball moving down the field, both as a runner and as a pass catcher. Behind Allen is classmate Robert Hughes, who enters 2009 at an impasse. Hughes is a big back who dances like a small back, and his approach brought little success in 2008. Challenged by his head coach to lose weight or start running like a bigger guy, Hughes has chosen the latter, and hopefully that will return him to the flashes of success he saw in 2007. After Allen and Hughes are a trio of young, unproven backs. Jonas Gray saw a good amount of garbage time in 2008, and responded with a few good runs but a few too many fumbles. Gray will need to learn to protect the football if he wants to make a case for future playing time ahead of freshmen Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood.