SOUTH BEND — Tony Jones is OK with being one half of a one-two punch in the Notre Dame backfield.
"Teams have a one-two punch everywhere. All the good teams have it. And so I think ours is going to be really good," Jones said. "I can't be worried about myself when I have to be worried about the team."
The redshirt junior and fellow tailback Jafar Armstrong are expected to carry the bulk of the running attack for the Fighting Irish in 2019.
Both Jones and Armstrong had strong 2018 seasons for Notre Dame. Armstrong was the opening game starter against Michigan, rushing for two touchdowns in a 24-17 victory over the Wolverines. The redshirt sophomore finished with 383 yards and seven touchdowns in 10 games.
Armstrong was making the transition from wide receiver to running back last fall. This year, though, he enters the season as only a running back. This has made the offseason easier for Armstrong.
"I know the plays this year. I'm not making that transition. I'm still in here every day, you know ... still a position that you have to learn at because I haven't played it my whole life," Armstrong said. "But now it's just, you know, I know where the blocks are going, so now it's just Stage 2 and 3, making the second level miss and learning how to extend plays sometimes."
Head coach Brian Kelly has noticed a level of comfortability for Armstrong this year as opposed to this time last year.
"Just a cleaner transition in the sense that he knows he's playing running back. We were kind of one foot in, one foot out. Is he ... where's he playing? So this is a full commitment to the position," Kelly said. "(Running back coach) Lance (Taylor) has done a great job. He's in Lance's room every day. There's a relationship there that has been building. Yeah, it's a totally different place than where we were last year at this time."
Jones noted Armstrong made the transition fairly easy last year. Now, it's about becoming a more complete back in Jones' eyes.
"(Armstrong) never looked not uncomfortable to me, to be honest. From wideout, (you) catch the ball and still run the ball. It's kind of the same thing, but it's just the small things that you have to tie into it, and he's doing that now," Jones said.
Armstrong has leaned on the more experienced running backs on the Irish roster to help him develop into a starting running back at the college level.
"I've learned from (Jones), tried to take some things from him. He's been here for a while, and it's just great to be out here with guys who know the game really well," Armstrong said. "Coach Taylor, too, and the rest of the guys in the room. I try to learn things from them, too. So it's just great to have so many good backs in our room."
Jones became the third-string running back for Notre Dame last year behind Armstrong and the now-graduated Dexter Williams but still saw playing time in all 12 regular-season games. He had a two-touchdown rushing performance against Ball State and 118 yards against Vanderbilt. He finished with 392 yards and three touchdowns in 2018.
Kelly said Jones does a lot of the small things that help his team win football games.
"Tony had an incredible play on a third-down situation which we converted across the middle to Chris Finke. (Jones) stepped up in the 'A-gap' against a blitzing linebacker, which is indicative of the kind of skill set that he has that's going to help us win football games," said Kelly, referencing a play during Saturday's practice at Notre Dame Stadium. "I know it doesn't sell subscriptions, but he does, for coaches, a lot of the little things that win football games.That is Tony Jones."
Together, Jones and Armstrong hope to bring a physical presence to an offense that rushed for 182.9 yards a game in 2018.
"I think we both bring a physicality and speed to the game. I feel like we try our best to not have one emphasis for our running back game. I think we try to hone in all things," Armstrong said. "Me and Tony, as well as the other running backs, try to do a great job of being above average and excelling in all phases of being a running back."
Austin Hough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 574-533-2151, ext. 325. Follow Austin on Twitter @AustinHoughTGN