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Football: Hughes to take over for injured Aldridge at fullback

Matt Gamber | Thursday, September 10, 2009

A shoulder injury that will hold senior fullback James Aldridge out of Saturday’s game is just another shuffle of the deck that is the Irish backfield.

Junior Robert Hughes, who entered fall camp as the backup tailback behind Armando Allen but was then passed by sophomore Jonas Gray, will start at fullback against Michigan. That seemingly makes freshman Theo Riddick the No. 3 halfback behind Allen and Gray.

Got it? Good.

Despite all the depth chart movement, the Irish backfield still appears to be a position of strength on an offense full of weapons. Part of that is Allen’s constant presence at the top of the list, though the depth behind him – while ever-changing – is another major advantage Irish coach Charlie Weis has noted.

Even during the Brady Quinn era, the Irish run attack was fairly one-dimensional, with only Darius Walker a major threat.

“Now we got extra guys,” Weis said, comparing this talented backfield to the shallow pool of backs he inherited in his first year. “When you see the next guy come in, Armando goes out and Jonas goes in, you don’t see a big drop-off in performance, and that’s the difference.

“If you have one guy and you keep on feeding him, you better get production out of him, or else you’re going to have a long, hard day.”

There isn’t much doubt that if Notre Dame were to have a clear-cut feature back with no timeshare, Allen would be that guy. But the talent behind him gives Notre Dame the luxury to split carries – something it seemed Gray was aware of when he decided to join the Irish.

“One thing about recruiting, sometimes in recruiting players look at depth charts,” Weis said. “And when they look at depth charts and see how quick can I play but then there is the players who don’t care about the depth charts because they figure they’re going to come in here and play well enough they’re going to move by people, and that was his attitude. Jonas didn’t care who was here.”

And now Gray will have the opportunity to shine in front of a hometown crowd. The Detroit-area native carried nine times for 50 yards in the opener, showing a burst Irish fans didn’t see quite as often during Gray’s freshman campaign in limited action.

With Hughes – who seems built more like a fullback than Aldridge – thrown into the mix now, the backfield rotation will offer combinations of power and speed that Notre Dame has lacked in recent years.

As for Weis’ concerns about Hughes filling in at the fullback position?

When asked at his press conference Tuesday whether Hughes had any experience as a fullback, Weis effectively brushed off the question.

“Uh huh,” Weis said. And that was the end of it.

Moral of the story? Notre Dame’s backfield, even with position movement and injuries, should be pretty darn good.