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Spring Solutions: Running backs

Mar 15, 2013, 2:47 PM EDT

Miami v Notre Dame Getty Images

With the departure of Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood from the Irish backfield, Notre Dame’s running game will look drastically different in 2013. Gone is the impressive steadiness that Riddick brought to the Irish offense, the ability to run tough between the tackles while also being a weapon in the passing game. Also departing (early, according to Brian Kelly) is Cierre Wood, a runner with great natural talent, who put up impressive numbers while still giving most of us the feeling that the best was yet to come.

With the Irish saying goodbye to their two leading ball carriers, this spring will go a long way towards deciding who gets the first shot to take their place. While that position battle will add two dynamic options in the fall with Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston joining the fold, until then, there’s plenty of work to be done.

Let’s take a look at the running backs on campus, as a wide open depth chart should be part of this spring’s fun.


1. George Atkinson, Jr.
2. Amir Carlisle, Jr.
3. Cam McDaniel, Jr.
4. Will Mahone, Soph.


George Atkinson: Usually 7.1 yards per carry would have you feeling rather confident about the future. Yet Atkinson’s sophomore season felt like a step backwards, or at the very least far too few flashes of brilliance. On the ground, the sophomore provided the home run potential from the backfield, but looked less comfortable handling the day-to-day duties that come with being an every-down running back. While Chuck Martin and Brian Kelly did their best to scheme for Atkinson, his touches never came.

Part of a big-play back’s job is to force the touches to come, and that’s something Atkinson didn’t do last season. He was timid on special teams, too, after an impressive freshman season returning kicks and just too often got lost in the wash as a running back.

Entering his third year, it’ll be up to Atkinson to capitalize on his opportunities. His game breaking speed is an asset not many have. But he’s going to need to show the dedication to his craft this spring and take charge of a position group that’s his to win. That he’s stepping away from track this spring is a step in the right direction. But getting Atkinson to take charge will be the coaching staff’s main priority.

Amir Carlisle: Lingering nerve damage after a broken ankle robbed us of seeing Carlisle in his debut season wearing blue and gold. So expect the Southern Cal transfer to burst out of the gates, making his presence in the Irish backfield — and potentially in the slot — noticed immediately.

Nobody is quite sure what the Irish have in Carlisle. Early reports after he stepped foot on campus were extraordinarily positive, with many inside the program excited by his versatility and quickness, something the program has lacked under Kelly.

Listed at 5-foot-10, 185-pounds, it’ll be interesting to see if Carlisle has the bulk to run the ball inside the tackles. But on an offense desperately looking for playmakers, finding creative ways to incorporate a player like Carlisle should be one of spring’s main objectives.

Cam McDaniel: There might not have been a player on the roster to benefit from Cierre Wood’s decision to go to the NFL more than McDaniel. At best, McDaniel would’ve been fighting for third down snaps, a mix-it-up option that comes behind Wood and the big play threat Atkinson.

Yet with the depth chart clearing out, it’s finally time for McDaniel to seize the type of opportunity that might be best for him — featured back. The thought might be crazy, but McDaniel seemed to do his best work as he found a rhythm in the backfield.

Sure, garbage time stats are a lot different than crunch time carries. But expect McDaniel — who carries with him supreme confidence — to do is best to prove that he’s more than just a part-time player.

Will Mahone: After spending 2012 as a redshirt scout team player, Mahone will now give us the chance to see what he’s made of. Is he a big back that can bruise people for the tough yards? Is he versatile enough to get on the edge of the defense and catch passes? What’s his top end speed?

The coaching staff likely knows what it has in Mahone a year after he went up against the No. 1 defense in practice. But Mahone needs to state his case for playing time this spring, before two new freshman find their way into the mix.

  1. bernhtp - Mar 15, 2013 at 3:07 PM

    What is the scouting report on Carlisle and his receiving ability? Can he fill the Riddick role, not only as a runner, but as a receiver?

    Despite being recruited as an athlete with a preliminary indication of WR, Atkison has shown no signs of receiving ability. Theo showed the importance of the dual-threat RB role, and someone needs to be able to do it.

  2. dudeacow - Mar 15, 2013 at 5:31 PM

    If GA3 makes the same progress this offseason as he did last offseason, he will be a great back. Going from 9 carries for 27 yards to 51 carries and 361 yards and (I think) tying Gipp’s ypc record was more than anyone could ask for. Let’s see if he makes the same progress.

    • bernhtp - Mar 15, 2013 at 10:02 PM

      We were all very optimistic about GA3 after the spring game (despite the fumbles), but outside of a few huge runs, it didn’t materialize. He didn’t get the carries because he didn’t deliver when we needed it. I hope that changes this year because when he gets some space, he outruns everyone on the defense.

  3. thefightinfloyds - Mar 15, 2013 at 11:48 PM

    Atkinson has great straight line speed but he is stiff in the hips. Not gonna break alot of tackles with his feet so if he can develop his strength he could be an effective one-cut power back. I see McDaniel as pretty much the same, he constantly keeps his feet churning, good at picking up yards after initial contact but he’s not a big guy and I worry about him being able to handle alot of carries through a whole season. Dont know much about Bryant or Folston but we need someone to develop into an outside threat, maybe Carlisle?

    • mtflsmitty - Mar 17, 2013 at 10:04 PM

      You guys know exactly as much as I do about how GA III will do next year. Which makes you, like me, completely unqualified to make statements of fact about these 20 yo kids who are receiving the very best training and coaching available anywhere. The potential for massive strides in effectiveness year to year are extremely high. (All that said, I know the stating our opinions as if they are fact-based is part of the fun here.

  4. ajw21 - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:24 AM

    I don’t watch high school film on recruits so I don’t have much data to go on but I hope Mahone gets some carries and turns into a power back. I like the big power backs getting 5-7 yards and breaking the heart of a defense then the fast guys getting one big run a game. Guess I am old school that way!
    Go Irish!

  5. dickasman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:56 AM

    Guys, I am truly sorry to say it but that’s one pathetic depth chart if I ever saw one. I guess I never really thought about it much but seeing it now it looks pretty sad to me, as of now. Hopefully that ll change. A lot of question marks here. Somebody needs to step up quick. Who’s the dark horse here? The two froshmans? I know they are talented but I don’t think they are that level of South Carolina leg breaker kid, his name escapes me.

    Ways the scoop on mahone? Is he fast? Fat?

    • irishpuma - Mar 17, 2013 at 1:49 AM

      As usual wrong DIck! GA3 is a burner with elite speed and 6 to 7 yrd a carry avereage. Feed him. Mahoney could be a Jonas Gray style beast. Amir is going to be the man if he stays healthy. On top of that you have the spark plug cam and what some people say are the top 2 rb recruits in the country or at least in Florida!! If the line does their job these kids will run!!!

  6. dickasman - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:58 AM

    We done need mahoney, I’m looking for Hightower here.

  7. yaketyyacc - Mar 16, 2013 at 7:50 AM

    each player brings his particular talent. much has been made of George Atkinson’s speed and straightforward running. if this is the case,.then it is up to the coaches to design plays that compliment his particular talent, rather then try to make him into a runner he can not be. ie. quick openers. remember, the Rock built the team around Gipp, and not Gipp around the team. of course, there are coaches, and there are coaches. just ask Nick Saban.

  8. NotreDan - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:31 AM

    From my extremely cheap (free) seats, GA3 should not be the #1 back. He can play slot, but he lacks the toughness to run in the middle and block effectively.

    I remember the Miami game well (the pic at the top). I was on the phone with my brother, discussing GA3 and how he could block and got stuffed repeatedly up the middle, right before he broke that long run down the right.

    I’m with DickieDoo, I’m worried about running back. Cam seems promising, but I’m hoping maybe Bryant explodes on the scene…

    I am REALLY going to miss Theo, I thought he was our best, even better than Wood, and deserved more carries.

    Lastly…. IT’S IRISH CHRISTMAS BOYS!!! Everyone got their liver tuned up?

    • bernhtp - Mar 16, 2013 at 12:53 PM

      What evidence do you see that GA3 has the hands and route-running abilities to take some of the passes out of the backfield that Theo had last year, let alone play slot receiver? While hands of stone are a good quality for a boxer, not so much as receiver or receiving back.

      Carlisle is the big unknown. Except for Bryant, he is the highest-rated back we have out of high school. He showed signs of this prodigious ability as a freshman at USC. But we don’t know whether his identity will be that of an exciting and elusive speed back or as an injury-riddled could-have-been bust. I also don’t know how good his hands for a Riddick-replacing receiving threat., assuming he does stay healthy.

      I don’t agree with the pessimism about the position expressed here. We have a lot of talent, they are being aggressively developed, and at least one of them will show themselves to be a complete stud. At least four of them have recruiting ratings higher than Theo had. The percentages and the coaching staff’s track record for developing players works in our favor this season. I don’t know who specifically will emerge, but I feel the position will most likely become one of strength for the Irish.

      • mtflsmitty - Mar 17, 2013 at 10:12 PM

        I like the fact you acknowledge to development these guys are getting, and that you don’t know who will be the next big thing, but that one/some of these guys will be very good. Also appreciate the research I trust you did to asses their high school rankings. Appreciate the facts. Thx.

        Da, you had me as you acknowledged your cheap seats. But you lost me when you aligned with Dick.

    • nudeman - Mar 16, 2013 at 11:51 PM


      I’m there with you, lad. Let’s have a couple pints and some good craic

  9. irish13pa - Mar 16, 2013 at 2:50 PM

    I think Bryant and Folston will contribute right away. I hate to say it, but I do not think Atkinson is anything more that how he was used last year, a change of pace guy who gets 5 carries a game. He is a stiff runner who does not cut very well. Instincts and great vision are big characteristic good running backs have and that is what GA appears to be lacking. Looking at the recruiting films for both Bryant and Folston, they both have great instincts and great vision.
    McDaniel, Carlisle, and Mahone will get their shots, but they better not drop the ball with those 2 freshmen waiting to explode.
    I am pumped to see this battle at running back. This running back battle is going to be as good as the safety and corner battles.

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