With a mobile quarterback and pair of highly-talented underclassmen around him, Notre Dame senior running back Cam McDaniel has a lofty goal.
"We have the ability to have one of the best running games in the nation this year with (quarterback Everett Golson) being back as a dual threat and with the talent we have in the backfield," McDaniel said Monday. "I'm just excited for what we got going on the gameplan we got. I feel like it's going to be a great opportunity for all of us."
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McDaniel returns as Notre Dame's leading rusher, topping the Irish with 705 yards on 152 carries with three touchdowns last fall. But he's just one part of a three-way battle for carries, with freshmen Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant poised to shoulder a larger share of the load this season.
Those three players will split carries throughout the year, without anyone earning a designation as a feature back.
"At running back, everybody talks about a No. 1 guy — you're going to have two or three guys that are going to play for you," coach Brian Kelly said. "You never have one guy and feature one guy."
Most of the talk is centered around Folston and Bryant, two explosive playmakers who came to Notre Dame with blue-chip recruiting ratings. McDaniel's skill is a known quality — he's a tough, physical runner who can effectively salt away games by carrying nine or 10 times late in the fourth quarter.
Folston saw limited action in 2013, though he came on strong late in the season (79 carries, 401 yards, 3 TDs in Notre Dame's final six games). Bryant took a redshirt year, though he's already made a positive impression on Kelly early into spring practice.
"I know our guys don't like to tackle him," Kelly said. "He's physical, he's got all the tools to be a premier running back."
"He's very violent when he runs," McDaniel added. "…He's going to be explosive when he gets the ball in his hands."
Notre Dame lacked that explosiveness out of its backfield last year. George Atkinson ripped off a few big runs but didn't emerge as a consistent threat, and Amir Carlisle was buried after the third week of the season. The Irish averaged 4.46 yards per carry last year, middle of the pack among FBS teams, and only scored 12 rushing touchdowns in 13 games.
The hope, obviously, is those numbers change in 2014. Golson's running threat will open up option plays, and if Folston and/or Bryant develop into big-play threats McDaniel's best-in-the-business coach would very well come true.