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Running back recruiting gets tougher with full house

Jun 19, 2012, 2:18 PM EDT

HSSN120911 Clement 1

Notre Dame took its lumps in a few key recruiting battles at running back this week when two top prep backs committed to different schools. The Irish lost out on top target, Tampa’s Ryan Green to Florida State, while Paul Chryst and Pitt picked up South Jersey’s Corey Clement, who ran for 2,500 yards last season and had an impressive offer list.

Don’t expect the Irish to stop their recruitment of either prospect. Green’s commitment won’t stop Notre Dame from pushing the Florida product to take an official visit, and there’s no love lost between the Seminoles and Irish staff after the schools split high profile recruiting battles for Aaron Lynch and Ronald Darby. Tony Alford has developed a terrific relationship with Green and his father Vader, and while family pressure and geography played a major role in Green pledging to Jimbo Fisher, the Irish will chase the Florida speedster until Signing Day and still feel confident that the Tampa native is a great fit both on and off the field.

The Irish also had Clement high on their recruiting board, but Clement’s visit to Pitt and time with new coach Paul Chryst was enough to convince him that he should be a Panther.

“It just felt like it was the right place for me,” Clement told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It was wearing on me a little bit. I thought I would jump the gun and make this decision, and it feels like I made the right one.”

Again, Clement hasn’t closed the book on recruiting and said he still planned on taking official visits, so this could be just another case of a verbal commitment merely signaling an early leader in the clubhouse.

Still, news like this grinds the teeth of Irish fans. After also missing on Joliet Catholic’s Ty Isaac, the Midwest’s top running back prospect, it’s hard to be optimistic about the Irish picking up a game-breaking back from the top of their recruiting board after missing on three big names (for now). That said, after having William Mahone and KeiVarae Russell pledge to a backfield with nothing but questions behind Cierre Wood, recruits are now looking at the Irish backfield in a vastly different light.

Finding your way onto the field doesn’t seem like such a simple proposition any more. While some don’t expect Wood to play out his eligibility, he does have two seasons remaining, with a potential fifth year set for 2013. While Theo Riddick enters his final season in South Bend, the emergence of George Atkinson has Irish fans excited about a potential power back who just so happens to be one of the fastest players in college football. Add to the mix Amir Carlisle, who had the inside track for the starting running back job at USC as a freshman before injuries got in the way, and you start to understand the type of competition that exists in the Irish backfield.

There’s going to be competition at every school, but after not having enough bodies to take carries last spring, the Irish now look to have a depth chart that stacks up with just about any BCS program:

Running Back Depth Chart (seasons of eligibility remaining)
Cierre Wood (2)
Theo Riddick (1)
George Atkinson (3)
Amir Carlisle (3)
Cam Roberson (3)
William Mahone (4)
KeiVarae Russell (4)

This group could easily feature Cam McDaniel, who switched to cornerback this spring after Tee Shepard left school before practices started. It could also include a guy like Davonte Neal, who has spent a lot of time in the backfield during his record-setting prep career.

With a depth chart that looks unchanged with the exception of Riddick in 2013, the Irish can be incredibly selective when chasing a running back in the upcoming recruiting class. According to, Notre Dame has offers to David Williams of Philadelphia, Taquan Mizzell of Virginia Beach, Craig Lee of Redlands, California, and Tarean Folston of Cocoa, Florida. All four of those backs are highly rated with impressive offers. With James Onwualu already committed — an offensive player that can work as a running back as well — there’s no need to reach simply to fill a spot in a recruiting class that’s already in a place where it can be selective with 14 commitments and around eight spots left.

  1. bernhtp - Jun 19, 2012 at 2:58 PM

    Keith: I would love to see you analyse/predict the RB depth chart and the relative number of snaps received by Wood, Riddick, Carlisle and Atkinson. Also, which of those will also play in the slot receiver spot. Riddick is an obvious one, but how about the others?

    Finally, with the RB/slot positions clogged up, where do you expect Neal to play (besides ST)? Given his size, would Kelly/Martin put him in the wide-out X position anyway?

    Besides QB, this is the most intriguing set of coaching choices of this summer season. We want your take on this.

    • Keith Arnold - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:39 PM

      @Bernhtp — I’m waiting until I hear a little bit more out of camp to weigh in on this officially. That said — I think there’s a chance we see some radical changes to this offense, and they have the opportunity to shock some people with their ability to do a lot of what made Stanford so successful.

      As for splitting carries — good question. I’d feed the ball to the good Atkinson we saw in the spring game, but not the bad one that fumbled and coughed it up. Wood could easily turn into a 1,500 yard back, but he seems to tire out as the season goes on. And Riddick? I’m still waiting for him to be a gamebreaker, and I can’t get the image of him being chased down by a Navy DB out of my head. We shouldn’t discount Carlisle, who was a USC RB (that should count for something), but was out with an injury this spring.

      As for Nude’s poke — If this offense was to rely on a solid ground game and multiple tight ends on the field, you may hate to hear it but Rees as a playaction QB isn’t a terrible option.

      Fire Away.

      • nudeman - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:49 PM

        “but Rees as a playaction QB isn’t a terrible option”

        Yes it is

        We’ve seen that movie too many times
        Will beat Lower Southeast Tennessee State (barely)
        Will beat Navy, Army, Upper Montana by maybe 10 pts ea

        Will fumble and throw INTs and get sacked by slow, 400 lb linemen and overall be terrible against Michigan, USC, MSU and Stanford

        Would rather lose with someone new
        Or put a crown of thorns up my a**

      • bernhtp - Jun 20, 2012 at 1:02 AM

        Keith, I expect Tommy to sit a couple of games. Do you hear any different?

        We have the first two (ostensibly easy) games to figure out if we have a new QB that can get the job done or we need to return to the one who couldn’t.

        I do agree that we will see Stanfordesque two-TE sets; maybe a bunch. I expect to see a lot of rushing. Here’s what I saw at the BG game:

        – Wood: looked really good. Was making better cutbacks than I remember last season.
        – Riddick. First of all, he looked ridiculously ripped. He’s clearly spent considerable time with Longo and company. He looked very good running after he got warmed up.
        – Atkinson. We all saw what he could do – amazing – except when he was mysteriously dropping the ball without even getting hit.
        – Carlisle. He was standing right in front of me (I was in the front row). I felt really sorry for him. He looks small and unimpressive on the sidelines with his crutch, but I’ve seen his USC video and he really is good. Amazingly quick and elusive. He is the X factor as far as I’m concerned. They have to find ways to get him on the field.

        I bet that Theo spends more time back in the slot. It will be interesting to see which other RBs play there. We have a lot of real playmakers in the offense.

      • domer77blowsgoats - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:10 PM

        Albeit the skill in the RB/slot/TE is look quite formidable, Rees is not the answer.

        “Isn’t a terrible option” is a 100% unacceptable justification for a starting QB at Notre Dame

        Given the threats at the aforementioned positions why wouldn’t we throw a QB back there that can run? We don’t need a game manager.

        Given Rees TO history, even if the Golson had the same TO, wouldnt we be in a better position overall considering his ability to turn busted plays into positives and the increased pressure on the D to account for his mobility?

      • nudeman - Jun 20, 2012 at 3:29 PM

        Welcome back. Gave you a first ever thumbs up.
        If “not terrible” is what we’re looking for then let’s not even tee it up this year.

        That comment of Keith’s ranks with “if TR throws a better long ball this offense will be just fine” as among the least credible observations ever on this board

  2. cameronemclaughlin - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:10 PM

    After his impressive work during the Blue and Gold game, I’m wondering if Atkinson is/should be no lower than #2 on the depth chart behind Cierre.

  3. gtizzo - Jun 19, 2012 at 4:53 PM

    Interesting thoughts Keith,

    Wood is the every down back, and he should be. He had a great season last year and should have another one this year. My thought has always been who is going to fill the Robert Hughes/Jonas Grey roll? A power back for those 3rd and inches type plays or down close to goal line. Mahone could be that guy in the future with Amir Carlisle and George Atkinson splitting snaps as more speed backs. Running back by committee seems to be the norm these days and the Irish should view the position the same way. New England put a tight end in the back field and gave him the ball to run with. Florida under Urban Meyer never really had an “every down” or “power” back. Maybe the position as a whole is over rated. Since the backs coach is the same as the slot receivers coach why not just cross train and give up recruiting backs all together. Whatever works is what they should do in my view.

    • nudeman - Jun 19, 2012 at 7:25 PM

      Just don’t start Tommy

      • irish4006 - Jun 20, 2012 at 2:33 AM

        Nude is only hatin’ since he can’t stand the fact that TR is a starting quarterback at ND while nude is not even in the practice squad, although skill/talent wise they may be at the same level. Tsk, tsk, Nude… get over it, bro.

      • gtizzo - Jun 20, 2012 at 4:39 PM

        TR has put himself in an awful situation and yet Nude goes on. I have learn to ignore it and move on. The article was about running backs after all.

  4. joeschulz - Jun 20, 2012 at 12:38 PM

    While I agree with the idea that with our line, our tight ends and the existing backs we should be able to to run, run, run. I would also like to seamlessly shift to pass, pass, pass. Such an offense can’t be stopped. So, Tommy is out, simply because he can’t be trusted with the ball. Certainly Hendrix and Golson will also make mistakes; but they also will make plays that simply aren’t in Tommy’s repertoire..

    • irish4006 - Jun 20, 2012 at 3:59 PM

      Couldn’t agree more.

      Making mistakes is fine (even Peyton Manning throws interceptions) as long as it’s not too many, but the inability to do anything even when one is not making mistakes; is what the #1 criticism is for TR (way too many turnovers being a distant second). I am not sure why it is so hard for some people to understand.

  5. 25kgold - Jun 20, 2012 at 7:21 PM

    I’ll say this, no matter what our record is by seasons end we’ll definitely have the attention of all FBS and our rivals! They’ll know that BK has this team on track and poised to make a strong run in 2013-14+! All idiot ND haters know this, that’s why they say the dumb crap they say. Even if we finish 9-3 that’s a major win with this schedule. If Michigan had our schedule they’ll be 7-5 at best (6-6 more likely). I agree with what one writer said, this year is just setting the table for the years after… BK knows what he’s doing. We settle in on a QB (and stick with him; no more QB controversies in the off season) we’ll turn around quicker! There’s been lots of teams in the past that have made runs with a so-so defense, WR’s, running backs etc… But pretty good QB play and made great runs in their seasons. This is a horrible example, but you can even look at Michigan (although Denard can’t throw the ball in the ocean, and had 15+ INTs/turnovers last year) they still went onto the “Show Us The $$$ and You Can Play” Sugar Bowl! Bottom line, I’m hyped up about having a scrappy BK team competing this year!

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