Notre Dame sees depth and potential in its running backs

Notre Dame sees depth and potential in its running backs

August 28, 2013, 9:30 pm
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- When camp began, Notre Dame had one clear starter and five players vying for time at running back.

Not a whole lot has changed with only a few days left until Saturday's season opener.

George Atkinson is listed as Notre Dame's starting running back, but behind him are three players listed in the in-name-only two-deep: Amir Carlisle, Greg Bryant and Cam McDaniel.

Freshman Tarean Folston wasn't part of that group, while Will Mahone won't play against Temple as the redshirt freshman continues to recover from a high ankle sprain.

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"When you have six, everybody has to accept what that role is," coach Brian Kelly said when camp began earlier this month.

The four backs who appear to be in line to play an on-field role on Saturday, though, bring their own distinct sets of advantages and drawbacks.

Atkinson is the most explosive back of the bunch, but hasn't proven to be anything but a swing-for-the-fences option -- although the Irish think he can be more of a north-south, between-the-tackles guy. 

As a junior, Atkinson said he's more mature than he was earlier into his career. He saw exactly zero carries in the BCS Championship, something he said would've irked him in the past, but doesn't anymore.

"I don't really get into that that much," he said. "Maybe my freshman year, being more immature as a player and as a person, but I just make sure I'm doing the best I can with what I got." 

Carlisle has excellent playmaking ability as both a traditional running back and a guy who can split into the slot, but has yet to play a down at Notre Dame due to an ankle injury last year (he also missed much of spring practice with a broken collarbone).

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The USC transfer worked with wide receiver DaVaris Daniels on routes and poured over the playbook in the offseason, picking up the route running and blocking concepts that come with playing the slot. 

Bryant may wind up being the best running back of the bunch, but is still a freshman trying to learn the in's and out's of the Notre Dame offense. 

McDaniel is a tough, physical runner and a fan favorite -- but has only garnered adulation through a handful of garbage-time carries.

Unlike the last few years -- where the Irish had Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray splitting carries, then Wood and Theo Riddick -- there doesn't appear to be two marquee running backs in this bunch. It's sort of the same view Notre Dame takes with its pass-catchers -- there's no Michael Floyd or Tyler Eifert, but they like the depth in the unit.

"They're not all going to get 20 carries, right, so they're going to get their chance and they're going to have to make the best of their opportunity," Kelly said. "But I can tell you this: That at some point at some time in the season, you're going to get a chance to see all those guys play."