If you google Notre Dame running back Dexter Williams and click on the videos tab, you’ll find a clip from NBC Sports of Williams showing burst, speed and power on a 13-yard touchdown run against Duke.
Williams certainly has more exceptional highlight runs in his collegiate and prep career, but this particular run is of the sort that reputations are built on as a starter. And that’s the challenge Williams faces now at Notre Dame.
For three years now, Williams was a change-of-pace back — a guy you’d turn to a few times a game hoping one big play to change the complexion of a game. And he provided that nicely with 641 yards and 8 touchdowns on 99 career carries.
However, when Josh Adams declared for the 2018 NFL Draft and Deon McIntosh and C.J. Holmes were dismissed from the team, Williams’ role changed. In 2018, he and Tony Jones will be the only returning running backs on a roster that will only carry four scholarship running backs barring a transfer addition or a walk-on given a full-ride.
And so suddenly Williams is facing the very real possibility of being the primary option in a Notre Dame offense that requires they run the football effectively. So the first-down marker on how success is measured has moved.
Breaking off big runs certainly won’t be discouraged and that dynamic ability will still be expected, but the sorts of runs like we see in the video above will be expected more frequently. Williams will have to keep Notre Dame ahead of the chains and he’ll have to finish tough runs.
He’ll have to prove he’s a well-rounded back who can win with speed and power when necessary. He’ll need to find some yardage against all odds when things break down.
Fans often remember a running back by their splash plays — the highlights. However, those in charge of creating a gameplan remember running backs based on who plays the most mistake-free and they divvy up the workload accordingly.
The dynamic runner might get a few touches in hopes of striking it rich. The consistent runner who understands the power of positive yardage and picks his spots to attack is rewarded more regularly.
Ideally, the traits of explosiveness and patience aren’t mutually exclusive. But finding the balance isn’t always easy and that the challenge facing Williams this spring.
If he answers the call, Notre Dame probably won’t have to think much about a running back depth chart that only goes four deep and features two true freshmen. If he doesn’t, the issue becomes glaring.