Blue and Gold Illustrated

June-July 2017

Blue & Gold Illustrated: America's Foremost Authority on Notre Dame Football

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Page 22 of 63 JUNE/JULY 2017 23 BY MATT JONES T ony Jones Jr.'s greatest skill is his versatility. Ask the 5-11, 224-pound Notre Dame sophomore to run between the tackles and he's more than capable of breaking off a long run in the process. Ask Jones to catch the ball out of the backfield and he'll put his re- ceiving skills to work, something he learned as a prep star at IMG Acad- emy in Bradenton, Fla. Ask him to protect the passer and he can do that, too, something he learned as a youngster playing little league fullback for his father. Put it all together, and the Irish have another potential star in an already deep backfield rotation. "He definitely adds another ele- ment to the group because he's a big, powerful back," junior running back Dexter Williams said of Jones. "He's a physical back. Also, if you put the ball in his hands he can make amaz- ing plays." During the limited times the me- dia viewed spring practice, or when Notre Dame athletics released a short video of workouts, Jones — who redshirted during his first year on campus — was often among the highlights. Those small snippets were evi- dently an example of the skills he showed the coaching staff all spring. "He is a guy if at any time we wanted to call him a No. 1, we could call him the No. 1," head coach Brian Kelly said of Jones. "He's done all the things to build that trust with us in terms of protections, catching the ball out of the backfield. "He's earned that through his work this spring and quite frankly the time that he's been here." How the running back pecking or- der plays out is still to be determined. Josh Adams returns for his junior season after two strong years as the Irish workhorse back. He's rushed for 1,768 yards and 11 touchdowns on 275 carries, and has rightly earned the No. 1 designation at running back. Williams and Jones are the two most likely candidates for major roles behind Adams. Williams played sparingly as a freshman, rushing for 81 yards and a touchdown on 21 car- ries. Last year, despite limited play- ing time, Williams provided a spark when he did get the ball. He finished the season with 39 carries for 200 yards and three touchdowns. Add Jones — who rushed eight times for 45 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards in the Blue-Gold Game in April — to the equation and Notre Dame has one of its bet- ter backfields since 2000, enough to prompt Tarean Folston to try his hand in the NFL than return for a fifth year. "They're all pushing each other — they're pushing Josh, too," run- ning backs coach Autry Denson said. "Nobody is set … you have to come to work every day. I made that very clear. That's the expectation. "We don't have a starter. We're go- ing out and we're competing to see who's going to be the guy that earns the most playing time." Freshman C.J. Holmes and sopho- more Deon McIntosh — who split time at receiver this spring — will enter preseason practice behind Ad- ams, Williams and Jones. Jones, a St. Petersburg, Fla., na- tive and three-star recruit by Rivals, chose Notre Dame over offers from North Carolina, Ole Miss, Kentucky, South Carolina and Florida. Playing for the star-laden Ascenders, Jones rushed for 1,285 yards and 23 touch- downs over his final two seasons. "It just felt right to me and my fam- ily. I like the tradition, the coaching, the players — it felt right," Jones said when he verbally pledged to the Irish on March 22, 2015, while on a visit to South Bend. Despite his productive high school career, Jones had to wait his turn at Notre Dame. Kelly said this spring that he had to make the conscious decision not to burn Jones' redshirt in 2016, preferring to save a year of eli- gibility rather than play a minor role. While very few NFL prospects at the running back position play five years of college football, Jones said he used the redshirt year to his ad- vantage, though it did take an adjust- ment period. "I just learned from Josh and [Folston] and Dex — just learned from their mistakes and learned what they did good," Jones said. "I just took advice from everybody and learned what college is really like. "At first, it was tough. I talked to my family and stuff, so I just started to wait and just believed that God has a plan for me." Williams said Jones handled the redshirt year well. "It gave him a chance to learn the system," Williams said. "Even though we're in a new system now, he still picked up on that. Just sitting out a year gave him a year to get big- ger, faster, stronger. "He's one of a kind. He also pushes me, Josh and Deon as well. He's a great dude. He brings a lot to the ta- ble. He's working extremely hard." ✦ READY TO RUN Running back Tony Jones Jr. is looking to make his mark on the Irish offense this fall "HE IS A GUY IF AT ANY TIME WE WANTED TO CALL HIM A NO. 1, WE COULD CALL HIM THE NO. 1. HE'S DONE ALL THE THINGS TO BUILD THAT TRUST WITH US IN TERMS OF PROTECTIONS, CATCHING THE BALL OUT OF THE BACKFIELD. HE'S EARNED THAT THROUGH HIS WORK THIS SPRING AND QUITE FRANKLY THE TIME THAT HE'S BEEN HERE." HEAD COACH BRIAN KELLY ON JONES

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