Notre Dame running backs had 18 catches in 13 games last season, but if April's Blue-Gold game was any indication, that number will skyrocket this fall.
Tarean Folston caught five passes, Cam McDaniel two and Greg Bryant one in the laid-back scrimmage atmosphere earlier this month, the culmination of a month of practices in which pass catching was emphasized with those three running backs. It wasn't the only thing coaches preached, obviously, but it was one reason why coach Brian Kelly came away from the Blue-Gold game pleased with his backfield.
"I thought you saw it today that all (four) facets — running the football with some toughness, getting on the perimeter, pass protection and catching the ball out of the backfield — I thought they hit all (four) facets of what we've really worked hard on this spring and I thought that they really checked the boxes on all those three," Kelly said.
Notre Dame will need its backfield to do more in 2014, given a relatively inexperienced group of pass-catchers for Everett Golson (or Malik Zaire) to throw to. That's not to say rising sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant have loads of experience (especially Bryant, who redshirted last year), but the goal is to get them on the field as a threat running and catching the ball.
"You saw us at times last year, we wouldn’t even have a running back on the field, we’d have four wide receivers and a tight end at times," offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said. "Having those guys and the versatility to get them out of the backfield and do some things, split them up, do some things with them, that’s going to help us."
Denbrock specifically pointed to the respective abilities of Bryant, Folston and McDaniel to beat opposing defenders one-on-one in space — which holds true especially for Bryant, who ripped off a 51-yard run in the Blue-Gold game.
There's a confidence that exists in Notre Dame's running backs coming out of spring practice, welcome news for a unit that was more inconsistent than it was explosive in 2013. And while splitting carries between three running backs may be a headache, it's a good one to have — especially since those three running backs are on board with it.
"You gotta get used to it, but it's not necessarily a bad thing to be sharing reps because it can take some of the beating off one back," Folston said. "You can last longer, you can finish out the season with very little injuries."
Said Bryant: "All of us are competitors. If I see Tarean get the ball, get a 10-yard gain, I'm gonna wanna get a 20-yard gain. If Cam get a 20-yard gain, I'm gonna wanna get a 30-yard gain. So it's like we're just so competitive amongst each other."