Jun 30, 2011, 7:26 PM EDT
If you’re looking at the Irish roster, you’ll notice there’s one particularly important position that could use a little bit of padding. After focusing on quarterbacks and defensive ends in their first two recruiting classes, Brian Kelly and his offensive staff have spent most of this recruiting cycle identifying running backs and casting a wide net, hoping to fill a void on the roster that’s come with the loss of seniors Armando Allen and Robert Hughes.
With Cameron Roberson likely spending most of the season still recovering from ACL surgery, the Irish have Cierre Wood returning and Jonas Gray back for a final season. Behind them — well, it’s anybody’s guess.
Incoming freshman Cam McDaniel was the only running back recruited on the roster. George Atkinson, who was expected to enter as a wide receiver and played safety in the US Army All-American Bowl, will shift to tailback to help add some depth. But as the Irish head into the fall looking to fill some slots on the offensive side of the ball, they’ve targeted some pretty big names to fill the depth chart. Let’s look at a couple that the Irish have their cross-hairs on.
TOP RUNNING BACK TARGETS
Keith Marshall, Raleigh, NC: Just watching his highlight tape gives you a clue that he’s one of the most explosive backs to come out of the high school ranks in quite some time. Marshall plans on enrolling early, and he’s got the Irish in his top dozen teams.
William Mahone, Austintown, OH: A powerful back with Ohio roots, Mahone had his eyes opened by a recent Notre Dame visit. The Irish will battle Michigan State, Pitt and Penn State among other teams.
KeiVarae Russell, Everett, WA: One of the best offensive players on the West Coast, Russell has legit interest in the Irish and plans on being in South Bend for the Irish’s date with the Trojans. He could slide to the slot as well.
I’Tavious Mathers, Murfreesboro, TN: The Irish have had their sights on Mathers for months, along with programs like Alabama, Tennessee, and Ole Miss. The reigning player of the year in Tennessee rushed for over 2,600 yards during his junior year.
Byron Marshall, San Jose, CA: Marshall has most of the West Coast after him, but he took a summer Spanish course to get his credits up to speed for the Irish, a signal that Mike Denbrock is doing his job. Getting an official visit from Marshall will be next, but the Irish appear to be in great shape.
Chris Mangus, Raleigh, NC: Another North Carolina running back, Mangus looks better suited to play in space as opposed to being an every down back for the Irish. Virginia Tech and Clemson are in the running as well, but the Irish have already gotten Mangus on campus.
Drew Harris, Exton, PA: Another big back, Harris might be tough to pull out of Pennsylvania, especially after a Skype conversation with the ageless Joe Paterno. He’s got offers from Arkansas, Florida State, Miami, and South Carolina among others.
Expect Kelly and the Irish to continue chasing running backs even after they get their first commitment. If they could play it correctly, the Irish would take one pure tailback and add another guy that can play well in space, making a guy like Russell or Mangus great complimentary players as well as running back targets.