SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Through Notre Dame's first three games a year ago, Amir Carlisle had 30 carries. In Notre Dame's final 10 games, he had just 17.
It's hard not to point at Carlisle's nearly-costly fumble in Week 3 at Purdue as the turning point of his season. With Notre Dame clinging to a seven-point lead in the fourth quarter, Carlisle coughed up the ball at the Irish 41. It didn't come back to bite Notre Dame, but it was his final carry of the game and he barely saw action in the coming weeks after it.
With Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant comprising the Irish backfield this year, Carlisle was moved to slot receiver in the spring and, by all accounts, has developed nicely in that role.
"I think we've settled him into a particular position where I think he's really going to thrive," coach Brian Kelly said. "We kind of had him half in and half out of running back, slot receiver (last year). We have settled in on that position, so I would say that now that he has settled into that slot receiver position, you're really going to see him flourish. He's had a really good preseason, and I think he's going to make a lot of big plays for us."
Notre Dame was weak at slot receiver last year with the team struggling to replace expected starter Davonte Neal, who transferred to Arizona in the spring. But Notre Dame coaches are confident they have something in Carlisle and C.J. Prosise to solidify that position.
"The slot position is something that hasn't been as dynamic the last couple years as we needed it to be," offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said. "I think both of those guys possess the kind of ability to kind of make explosive plays out in space. … I don't think there's any limit as to the kind of things we can do with those guys -- screens, letting them break down safeties."
Denbrock said he saw Carlisle get in his own head a year ago -- it wasn't just that he struggled running, but he had some issues catching passes too. But with an offseason to clear his head and cement himself as a receiver, Denbrock said Carlisle is in a position break out this fall.
And it's not just talk. During practice last Tuesday, Carlisle zipped past Notre Dame's safeties and caught a touchdown from Everett Golson, flashing the kind of potential that's instilled such a level of confidence in his coaches.
"We've worked to try to find the best place to position him that we could so that his talents kind of could come out, and I think he finally feels like he found a home," Denbrock said. "I think he feels comfortable and over the course of the spring and the fall he's kind of gained the knowledge necessary to really play fast and kind of cut it loose and it's been pretty exciting."