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Trio of unproven running backs should surprise

May 22, 2013, 3:14 PM EDT

Amir Carlisle

With Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood gone from the Irish backfield, the Notre Dame running game is missing its two leading men from 2012. Yet there isn’t a huge worry about what comes next. Even with Riddick’s surprising, hard charging senior season and Wood’s three seasons in (and around) the starting lineup, there’s every belief that the Irish running game will be just fine.

That comfort probably comes because the depth chart behind Riddick and Wood features some intriguing prospects. Lead among them is George Atkinson. If it’s possible to call a season where a back averages more than seven yards a carry disappointing, Atkinson’s 2012 was a sophomore slump. He wasn’t special on special teams, he ran somewhat timidly at times, and never forced the coaching staff to get the ball into his hands.

But that doesn’t make him any less intriguing of an athlete. A good spring has the coaching staff saying all the right things. At 215 pounds and with elite sprinter speed, Atkinson is a home run threat waiting to happen. He’s the type of athlete that Notre Dame fans haven’t seen too often in an Irish uniform, and found his way onto Bruce Feldman’s annual “Freaks List.

George Atkinson III, Notre Dame, RB-KR: The reserve Irish running back has good size at 215 pounds to go with blazing speed. Last year, he ran a 10.36 100-meter dash at the Big East track championships. Even though it was a wind-aided time, it wasn’t much over the legal-limit and shows a gear Notre Dame football fans hadn’t seen much of in a few years.

But that’s not all the Irish have in the backfield. While Atkinson will likely get the first chance to take the starting job, both Amir Carlisle and Cam McDaniel should get significant touches in this Irish offense.

Head coach Brian Kelly talked about both players during his Town Hall chat with Tim Brown. He didn’t necessarily say anything we haven’t already heard, but he did confirm that after two seasons of playing mostly mop-up minutes and filling in as a jack-of-all-trades, that McDaniel is ready to help the Irish win.

“I really like the fact that we’ve got a couple of guys at the running back position that have gone kind of under the radar that really could help us,” Kelly said. “Cam McDaniel is a guy that people dismiss right away. He’s 5-foot-9 and he doesn’t have the prototypical speed of the great backs, but god, he does everything. He does all the jobs that you want to win games.”

Kelly also talked up Carlisle, who was featured during the “Strong & True” documentary with his hard luck collarbone injury. After sitting out last year with a broken ankle after transferring in from USC, the injury made some doubt his ability to be an every down player, but Kelly has a chance to use Carlisle as a true hybrid slot player we haven’t seen in the Irish offense.

“And then we have a guy that’s not as big, who transferred in,” Kelly said of Carlisle. “But he’s got great speed and great ball skills. I think both of those kids have a chance to really impact our offense and really make us very versatile in the things that we can do.”

Versatility will need to be on display if Kelly and offensive coordinator Chuck Martin want to find enough touches for the trio. But with Atkinson looking the part of a lead back and McDaniel and Carlisle too good to keep off the field, it will be fun to watch the running game take shape.

  1. NotreDan - May 22, 2013 at 5:21 PM

    I hope all 3 feel like a team in the backfield and work as a unit.

    GAIII still worries me a little up the middle, but maybe he’s gotten tougher?

    Just can’t wait for September.


  2. masalaswag - May 22, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Looks like Carlisle is definitely grabbing a hold of it, making it hard for others to tug away from him.

    • bernhtp - May 22, 2013 at 5:43 PM

      I was expecting Dick to make the first comment on the photo.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 22, 2013 at 11:22 PM

      Let’s all hope he doesn’t end up breaking that bone as well.

  3. fnc111 - May 22, 2013 at 6:27 PM

    There is nothing fun about watching a Kelly led offense at ND. Fourth season coming up and the offense gets worse each year. I’m not putting all the blame on Kelly. This is from Swarbrick. Jack just wants wins and doesn’t care about style points. As long as JS is here the offense will struggle. You can see how the pressure Jack put on Kelly after the Tulsa game to be more conservative has made the offense unwatchable.

    • heisenbyrg - May 22, 2013 at 7:00 PM

      I’m with fnc. I preferred the Weis-era 6 wins per year, but with serious style points. Let’s bring Charlie back as AD and head football coach on a 20 year contract and watch the style points flow.

    • papadec - May 22, 2013 at 9:16 PM

      fnc – were you born a complete idiot, or is it something you work at becoming, everyday?

    • mtflsmitty - May 23, 2013 at 1:16 AM


      Five or more losses this season, as you have predicted multiple times, and I will never post here again.
      Four or fewer, and you never post here again.

      Why don’t you take the bet? Oh, I see. You don’t really believe any of the things you post here. You just come to piss people off; to see how many thumbs down you can get.

      I thought I could leverage the power of your convictions to get you to take a bet in hopes of getting rid of you for good. But it’s now clear you have no convictions. You really just come here to say things to piss people off, and to be an asshole.

      You’re one sad-ass person.

    • 1historian - May 23, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      If the offense is unwatchable – DON’T WATCH

      Next question

    • bb90grad - May 23, 2013 at 2:16 PM

      You remind me of an old Far Side cartoon where a man is effusively praising his dog Ginger; all she hears is “blah blah blah Ginger blah blah Ginger blah blah blah..”

      In your case it’s “blah blah Irish blah blah blah Kelly blah blah…”

  4. 4horsemenrideagain - May 22, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    Swarbrick? He is the one calling he plays? All this time I thought it was father hesburgh even father sorin. Swarbrick! Ahhhh it just makes so much more sense now.

    • bernhtp - May 22, 2013 at 9:55 PM

      Swear brick is clearly the Jerry Jones of college football.

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 22, 2013 at 11:26 PM

      Everyone knows the plays are left in a hermetically sealed envelope under the altar in the Basilica each week by a clandestine figure who eludes detection.

      • papadec - May 23, 2013 at 1:47 AM

        joisey – I thought everyone knew it was Fr. Guido Sarducci that leaves the envelope.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - May 23, 2013 at 7:51 AM

        so is it more like the da vinci code, or something to do with the illuminati?

  5. dudeacow - May 22, 2013 at 10:46 PM

    MY GOODNESS I want to see Carlisle fully healthy. I believe that he is as good as De’anthony Thomas. Sub 4.4, elite elusivity (I kinda just made that word up), and versatility. DAT led Oregon in receiving his freshman year, yet is a running back. Carlisle has the skills to win the Heisman if he stays healthy.

    And now let the comments rain on my optimistic parade…

    • jerseyshorendfan1 - May 22, 2013 at 11:28 PM

      Carlisle is good enough to grade out as an A, B or even C’Anthony Thomas.

  6. oldschoollyons - May 22, 2013 at 11:29 PM

    Well, dudeacow, if you lived here you’d be home now. Carlisle’s challenge is not to win the Heisman but to get into a game. If he does, his next challenge will be to survive it without major injury. He is, unfortunately, like the relief pitcher with a sore arm in Spring training. He could turn out to be a star; but it’s best not to place your hopes in him.

    On the other hand, Cam is, as Kelly recognizes, a fine all-around back who will help a lot in a number of ways this year. Atkinson may have just suffered a sophomore slump. Let’s hope so. However, in the Spring he still didn’t run like a halfback. He was still too upright, and he didn’t hit with enough authority.

    You need to clean your rose-colored glasses, Keith. Far from not suffering a drop off from last year, we are in trouble at running back. And with three new players out of six on the offensive line and two freshmen backs coming in, it will likely take a while for the running game to gel.

    • papadec - May 23, 2013 at 1:51 AM

      The running game will gel in the first game.

  7. yaketyyacc - May 23, 2013 at 7:47 AM

    if swarbrick is the jerry jones od college football, then why isn’t he building a jerry jones type stadium?

  8. irishdog80 - May 23, 2013 at 10:02 AM

    The main reason most people are not that concerned about our RB situation is that we return key components on the O-line and the replacements for Cave and Golic are probably better… certainly in whoever ends up taking over for Golic. Golic was overall fairly productive, but did not have that high of a ceiling– and the offsides calls on him were maddening. Our running attack will be better due to a more talented O-line, Golson’s continued growth as a true dual threat QB and a stable of running backs that are at least as talented as Wood and Riddick if not more.

    Go Irish! Beat Temple!

  9. irishdodger - May 23, 2013 at 11:43 AM

    Let’s not crown Carlisle until he actually plays in a regular season game. I’m wondering if he’s the 2nd coming of James Aldridge. Always battling injury while never living up to the hype.

  10. 1historian - May 23, 2013 at 2:21 PM

    First offensive play v. Temple.

    Irish on their 20.

    Atkinson lines up wide right.

    The snap – Atkinson takes off at top speed, Golson counts to 4 and then throws it as far as he can


    • bernhtp - May 23, 2013 at 2:54 PM

      Chris Brown is reportedly the fastest guy on the team with the Atkinsons and Carlisle not far behind. Carlisle is supposed to be the quickest.

      GA3 is not the one I would run a deep pattern as he has no proven ball skills. Chris Brown has been mixed; he caught the big one against OK but missed others. Carlisle clearly has excellent ball skills in the short-pass game and his kickoff/punt-return capabilities bode well for deep receiving skills, though he is short for a jump-all (as is Brown). Throw it to Carlisle on the screen and the slant and to Brown on the deep post.

    • papadec - May 23, 2013 at 8:41 PM

      emmmmmm – I dunno ’bout that. I think it will be a hand off to Carlisle, going to the right side.

      • papadec - May 23, 2013 at 8:43 PM

        that hand off comment was for 1hist.

  11. getsome99 - May 25, 2013 at 12:55 PM

    Watch out for Cam McDaniel this year. 2013 version of Theo Riddick.

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