Notre Dame's crowded backfield was thinned out a bit when George Atkinson decided to declare for the NFL Draft in January, but heading into spring practice there's still a logjam.
Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston and Amir Carlisle return and Greg Bryant is added to the running back mix. There's plenty of talent there, though last season talent didn't necessarily equate to success from this position.
On a depth chart loaded with former blue-chip recruits, it was Cam McDaniel -- a less-heralded three-star recruit from Coppell, Texas -- who led Notre Dame in rushing attempts (152) and yards (705), and it wasn't particularly close in either of those categories.
Folston's late-season emergence was encouraging, though. Seventy-seven of his 88 carries and all three of his touchdowns came in Notre Dame's final six games, in which he rushed for 401 yards. While McDaniel proved to be a durable, tough back who can sustain 15-20 carries a game, Folston's tantalizing upside should make him the early favorite to top Notre Dame's running back depth chart 2014.
But Bryant can throw a wrench in that if his five-star pedigree begins to show through in spring practice. He redshirted last year as he dealt with a knee issue and the adjustment to college life, but earned a positive projection from coach Brian Kelly back in December.
"(We're) really excited about where he can be next year," Kelly said. "I think we did the right thing with him not playing this year because I can see his development and how he's going to help our football team next year. He's a dynamic player."
Lost in the shuffle may be Carlisle, who had 30 carries in Notre Dame's first three games but was relegated to sporadic touches after a late-game fumble at Purdue. But he did emerge as a kick returner in place of Atkinson for the Pinstripe Bowl, and that may wind up being where he makes the greatest impact on the Irish this fall.
Most likely, spring practice will be a showcase for McDaniel, Folston and Bryant. McDaniel, a senior this fall, carries plenty of in-game experience and won't easily acquiesce to Folston and Bryant. But the pair of freshmen running backs have loads of talent, and they'll each get a good chance to put those skills on display over the next few weeks.