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September 8, 2009

Aldridge out for Michigan

Notre Dame's offense won't be at full strength this weekend.

After sustaining a right shoulder injury against Nevada, fullback James Aldridge will miss Saturday's showdown at Michigan and could be out longer, according to Charlie Weis. Notre Dame's head coach delivered the news during his Tuesday press conference, also breaking down how the Irish plan to make up for the loss of Aldridge at fullback and on special teams.

Aldridge carried three times for 13 yards against Nevada, production that included a 4th-and-1 conversion on Notre Dame's opening drive. He also served as counsel for freshman Theo Riddick on kickoff returns, working as the upback in front of a player seeing his first collegiate action.

"You know, (the doctors) tell me a week to two weeks, so he'll be out this week and he'll be somewhere between questionable to doubtful next week," Weis said. "But he won't play this week."

Weis said Robert Hughes will move into Aldridge's fullback position and that this week won't be the first time the junior cross-trains in that role. Hughes was suspended for the first half of the Nevada game after his ejection last season against USC.

"We've had him practicing halfback and run back sets, so we'll also have a fullback and two-back sets," Weis said.

The special teams solution appears more uncertain and figures to feature some unfamiliar names.

"The way we practice is it will start off with Barry Gallup back there with Theo, and we have a number of guys that are involved in the mix," Weis said. "As I told you last week, I'm not comfortable about putting two freshman back there, you know.

"We've worked Shaq (Evans) back there, (John Goodman) back there, Robert Hughes back there, so there is a number of guys we've worked back there, but I think that having somebody kind of take charge back there is important to me because most of the time we're going to end up with the ball in Theo's hands, by our design, regardless of what they end up doing."

In Aldridge, Notre Dame had a facsimile of Rashon Powers-Neal, a converted tailback who embraced the fullback role in his final college season. Powers-Neal played in just five games that year before disciplinary issues ended his college career, but he finished third on the team in rushing yards with 31 carries for 100 yards and six touchdowns.

Aldridge, a former five-star recruit and first big get of Weis' tenure at Notre Dame, should surpass those numbers, even if his right shoulder needs a multiple weeks to heal. Even when Aldridge doesn't get the ball, he provides Notre Dame with an athletic upgrade to past seasons with Asaph Schwapp.

Schwapp carried just one time for two yards last season.


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