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Spring Solutions: Running back

Feb 24, 2014, 1:56 PM EDT

Tarean Folston AP

One of the more competitive positions on the Irish depth chart has 15 practices to gain some clarity. Running backs coach Tony Alford has one of the deepest position groups to sort through this spring, though the unit is still looking for a breakout star at the position.

While rising sophomore Tarean Folston showed some flashes of that type of potential last season, he certainly won’t be given the starting job. Classmate Greg Bryant returns healthy this spring, a knee injury behind him as he takes off his medical redshirt. They’ll be joined by veterans Cam McDaniel, the team’s leading rusher, along with Amir Carlisle and Will Mahone.

Let’s take a look at the depth chart before walking through the group’s objectives.

RUNNING BACK DEPTH CHART

Cam McDaniel, Sr.
Tarean Folston, Soph.
Amir Carlisle, Sr.*
Greg Bryant, Soph.*
Will Mahone, Jr.*

*Fifth year of eligibility available.

It’s hard to imagine Brian Kelly starting Folston at the top of the depth chart, especially considering McDaniel is a senior and the team’s leading returning rusher. And after Folston, it’ll be a wide open competition, with all three backs pushing for opportunities. Carlisle gets the No. 3 slot by default.

Atkinson’s early departure opens up some opportunities in special teams and a portion of carries, but certainly doesn’t do enough to provide clarity in a really compelling horse race. There are no additions or subtractions other than Atkinson, making it clear to all contenders how they stack up against their teammates.

SPRING OBJECTIVES

Cam McDaniel: Count me among those that wouldn’t be surprised if McDaniel came into camp a little lighter than he played last season. The senior played at a roster-listed 207 pounds, likely adding some heft to absorb some of the short-yardage, inside-the-tackles pounding that he took because the team’s personnel needed him to play that role.

McDaniels rushed for 4.6 yards per carry last season, a respectable number, but hardly an explosive one. In his final season in South Bend, expect McDaniel to try and add a big play element to his game, something a little less luggage could help him do.

Tarean Folston: The future is now for Folston, who could go a long way towards cementing a featured role in the running game with an impressive spring. Part of that work needs to be happening now, with offseason conditioning the first datapoint the staff will look at in Folston’s maturation. But throughout these 15 practices, Folston’s experience last season needs to lead to complete comprehension of the offense, successfully doing the little things that are expected from an all-purpose starting running back.

At times the game looked to come easy to Folston last season. He’ll need to carry that confidence into spring, where he’ll likely be running against a revamped No. 1 front seven, a matchup that (temporarily, at least) should favor the offense.

Amir Carlisle: You could pinpoint where Carlisle’s 2013 season went south last year. After a late-game fumble against Purdue, Carlisle seemed to lose all momentum, eventually fading out of the team’s game plan until serving as the team’s kick returner in the bowl game. Carlisle needs to put the negatives of 2013 behind him as he reinserts himself into the mix.

There are plenty of positives to take from last season. Carlisle made it through without getting injured, showing some durability that many didn’t expect to see. He ran hard inside the tackles and showed the type of explosiveness on the season’s first play that we expected to see more than once.

Ben Koyack rebounded from a sophomore slump season. Carlisle can do the same, with two years of eligibility left with the Irish. He’s capable of catching passes, making plays in space and making an impact in the return game. But he’s got to repair his psyche this spring first.

Greg Bryant: A meniscus injury gave Bryant a mulligan off the first tee. Shaking off the frustration of a slow start to his career, Bryant can now get on with the business of becoming an impact player for the Irish. Everybody expects Bryant to thrust himself into the conversation at running back. But it appears he’s also being groomed as a punt returner as well.

It’s too hard to gather much from the three carries Bryant had last season. But every report out of preseason camp made it look like Bryant would be an early contributor and someone that had the abilities to dominate as a runner, pass catcher and complete football player. Healthy and returning as a redshirt freshman, Bryant has 15 spring practices to make his mark.

Will Mahone: If there’s been a forgotten man in all of this, it’s Mahone. This will be an important spring for the rising junior, who did some things in fall camp to catch the staff’s eyes before suffering a high ankle sprain.

There’s no question that it’s a crowded depth chart. But Mahone showed enough speed and quickness to spend some time at slot receiver, and provided some intriguing highlights at Camp Shiloh to make it look like he’s more than just another body at the position.

Listed at 214 pounds on last year’s roster, if there’s a role for Mahone in this offense it could be as a power, short-yardage runner. It’ll be interesting to see where he sits in on the spring roster and if he can find a niche in this offense.

  1. irishlee10 - Feb 24, 2014 at 2:27 PM

    How isn’t Tarean Folston the #1 back. He was in the bowl game, and Cam McDaniel isn’t a #1 back on any college football team that wants to make a run to the playoffs. Hopefully Greg Bryant steps up and contributes a ton this season

    • danirish - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:18 AM

      1st: McDaniel does start on the majority of Div. I teams. He is good you know
      2nd: So McDaniel starts for a play and then Folston gets a lot of carries. If we have learned anything about Kelly is “starting” in certain positions means little. Last year Will Fuller was in on the first play of a game, did he start? I don’t think he saw the field for the rest of the game
      3. I think the rotation at rb will continue but unlike last year it will not be because we are finding our guy, it will be because we have too much talent to sit out.

    • alsatiannd - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:18 PM

      Cam McDaniel is probably a candidate for Captain.

      • jimpy49 - Feb 27, 2014 at 10:04 PM

        RKG!

  2. shaunodame - Feb 24, 2014 at 3:58 PM

    These are certainly Champagne problems. A stacked Depth Chart, especially at RB is a beautiful problem to have, as there will certainly be no shortage of opportunities for all of these players to prove themselves.

    Personally, I’m pulling for Run CMD, Folston and GB1 because I think they all have the most upside, and in Cam’s case, the best consistency. Carlisle has been one disappointment after another for me, and I think he might be more valuable in a Slot/RB role ala Theo Riddick, in addition to his return abilities of course. Also, I can’t help but think of Jonas Gray when I ponder the Will Mahone situation. Who knows, maybe he has an out-of-nowhere breakout Senior season, but I doubt it.

    Either way, I wouldn’t put too much stock in any initial Spring Depth charts that are released. Depth Charts are fluid and subject to change, more so than anywhere else at the RB position. However, bottom line, I’m excited to see all these players get a chance to showcase their abilities this coming season.

    Go Irish!

  3. piratey - Feb 24, 2014 at 4:13 PM

    Cam McDaniel had one of the worst 3rd and short conversion rates of any player in the country. He lacks top end speed and the ability to shed tacklers. By seasons end he had ceded much of his load to Folston. I just don’t see it.

    • onward2victory - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:22 PM

      I don’t think we can put that 3rd down conversion stat on Cam. I would blame it on the predictable play calling and opposing defenses complete lack of respect for Rees.

      • mediocrebob - Feb 25, 2014 at 9:48 AM

        Play calling on 3rd and short may have been predictable. That’s still an execution and toughness problem though. If your line can’t push forward for 2 yards consistently in key situations, you may need to find some stronger, tougher guys up front.

    • gtizzo - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:15 PM

      The better question would be why is ND running the ball on 3rd down at all? ND has put out great talent at tight end and yet they never seem to get the call on 3rd and short. Why did Kelly give guys like Rees and Crist a shot at all the position once he recruited Golson? Golson fits the offense you want to run, start him as a freshmen and let him grow into the position. This season is about the offense if it doesn’t get out of the mud Kelly has a problem. Thankfully Kelly being a problem is real simple to fix.

  4. viktory2013 - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:17 PM

    McDaniel has a lot of heart and desire, but not enough physical ability to be a #1 back. Folston and Bryant will likely be the top dogs, while for whatever reason, Carlisle seems to have been infected with Atkinson’s disease and gone flaccid. Mahone just might end up a Robert Hughes type…one way to find out.

  5. knuterocknesghost - Feb 24, 2014 at 7:23 PM

    Sorry to go off topic for a moment.

    This from the NFL combine web site on Aaron Lynch for those who remember the hype and the excitement of this five star recruit who picked ND to start his career, and showed incredible promise as a freshman at ND (as a freshman Lynch’s athleticism demonstrated on the field readily deserved the comment “wow” on several occasions). ND fans had an exceedingly high expectation of an incredibly dominant ND defense that included Lynch and Tuitt on the DL. Unfortunately for Lynch, it was widely reported that he became more than just unhappy with his experience there, and left ND after severe tensions had grown between him and his ND teammates.

    Strengths: Outstanding size and body length. Flashes some playmaking ability. Deceptive strength to leverage the edge. Has a giant wingspan and can corral ballcarriers.

    Weaknesses: Classic underachiever. Questionable effort, motor and desire. Leaves production on the field. Does not play with passion and lacks urgency. Goes through the motions. Is not a strong or creative rusher and does not create plays. Lacks concentration and focus. Will require maintenance.

    Bottom Line: A big, athletic prospect who displayed the most potential as a freshman at Notre Dame. Has underachieved since transferring closer to home and shedding considerable weight. Must prove motivated to reach his potential. Finished the season strong and finally showed signs of the talent he displayed as a standout freshman. Could benefit from a strong, mentoring, veteran position coach. Interview process will dictate draft status.
    …………..

    I wish him luck in ending up with a team where he might find a real personal connection with a coach or even a teammate in the NFL who might motivate him to achieve his full potential as a football player. But, more importantly, I hope that the coach or teammate can mentor him as how to be able to fit in with teammates and his team’s community. I hope that can still happen in the NFL where it’s otherwise thought to be all business.

    I recall reports of how much his mother was so concerned with his giving up on ND. I really think that ND’s emphasis on academics is becoming increasingly important to parents of recruits like her. Unfortunately for some kids, they do not appreciate an education at their young age as much as their parents do. In hindsight, it seems that BK’s remarks about the last recruiting class and the type of player he wants to bring to ND (kids who understand what ND expects of genuine student athletes) were motivated at least in part by the example of Lynch’s career or the lack of one at ND.

    Too many big name schools take advantage of the naiveté of CFB recruits by awarding scholarships and then letting their athletes slide along without having been prepared for life with a real education. I think that the NCAA turns too much of a blind eye to this issue. And paying players is not the answer without any genuine effort at improving the educational achievement and expectations of athletes. Lynch had his chance to grow and mature. I hope he gets another.

    http://www.nfl.com/combine/profiles/aaron%20-lynch?id=2543650

    • farwest99 - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:46 PM

      Kelly’s remarks on the kind of recruits he wants to bring in, echos what the new University of Texas coach said last week. Many of you may be familiar with coach Charlie Strong who recently took over the respected but soft Longhorn football program. Strong coached 4 years at ND under a chap named Holtz. Later, Lou brought him over to South Carolina for a couple of more years as a defensive coach.

      Coach Strong was asked what kind of players he wants. He said he will recruit 25 and the breakdown is 10-10-5.

      First 10 will be 5 star or high profile players. Very skilled and they know it. Those type players you need, but often they play just for themselves and their target NFL dreams.

      The next 10 are bread and butter players — good, tough and very motivated but not usually the top 30-40 players in the state of Texas, a state that sends 300 players to D1 programs every year.. ( Cam McDaniel fits this profile)

      The next 5 are the sleepers. Players not well known but have some size or speed and the potential with good coaching to be good with a couple of years under their belt.

      Strong says the heart and soul of your team is the 10 bread and butter guys. He maintains it’s with those guys you win championships.

      Texas is going to be a very tough opponent in Dallas for 2015.

      • nd1rishfan - Feb 26, 2014 at 4:15 AM

        For Charlie Strong at ND…I believe a couple years under Holtz and a couple under Davie, right?

  6. bearcatboy - Feb 24, 2014 at 9:43 PM

    Cam is a solid back; however, he isn’t going to get the Irish where we all want them to be. Folston and Bryant are the top flight backs and the guys who have to have the ball in their hands a lot this season. I can’t imagine Folston NOT starting. The kid could be playing anywhere in the south but he came north to brave the cold and have a shot at wearing the gold and blue, so I reckon he should be the #1 guy. The first time I saw him run I thought immediately if Lesean McCoy: very fluid running style but deceptively powerful. He even has a similar build and the same number, coincidentally.

    • bearcatirishfan - Feb 26, 2014 at 10:45 PM

      Another bearcat on this board welcome

  7. idratherbeinsouthbend - Feb 24, 2014 at 10:15 PM

    Well, if the offense is dictated by the personnel, shouldn’t we run the triple option or the wing T?

    • 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:56 AM

      fullhouse backfield, with Sheldon Day making a cameo. power football.

      • 1historian - Feb 25, 2014 at 2:57 PM

        Not all day, but have it ready for the last quarter of a game we’re winning and need to just hammer it down the field and use up the clock.

      • 4horsemenrideagain - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:08 PM

        I was thinking goal line situations, but 3rd and short would be fine too. throw some passes to Sheldon too. I bet he’s got soft hands.

  8. onward2victory - Feb 24, 2014 at 11:33 PM

    Don’t sleep on Amir guys. This offense is going to be different than anything we’ve seen so far, and Amir’s gonna get his chance and he’s gonna be explosive and fun to watch.

    Can’t wait to see more of Bryant too.

  9. mtflsmitty - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:08 AM

    RB Depth Chart as of 10-01-14:
    1. Folston
    2. Bryant
    3. McDaniel
    4. Carlisle (Returns kicks and pints)
    5. Mahone

    • danirish - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:24 AM

      Cool, I hope he returns a pint to me!

  10. fitz79 - Feb 25, 2014 at 10:47 AM

    haha! And that better be a pint of Guinness…

    Seriously though Amir has played nothing but crappy football since getting here. But he clearly has the physical size and skills to compete. Leads me to believe there is definitely something psychological holding him back. He gets that sort of deer in headlights look out there. Although in the bowl game he did look a little more comfortable back there fielding punts. I’m willing to quickly forgive and forget if he can get it together and make a real contribution to the team next year.

    • danirish - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:32 PM

      Isn’t there something to the “I’ve been injured a lot so I better be careful” so he plays real tight? Perhaps every time he gets the ball he thinks he might get hurt.

      As a Bears fan I remember my dad constantly talking about how awesome Gale Sayers was until he got hurt, then he played tentative and was never the same?

      Hopefully he will break out as a contributing member, maybe kickoffs?

      • mediocrebob - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:52 PM

        That was my theory. Thought he just looked tentative. Like he didn’t want to hurt that collar bone again.

      • irishdog80 - Feb 26, 2014 at 12:20 AM

        I agree that Carlisle played a bit tentative at times though I was also impressed by his willingness to run between the tackles given that he is coming off of a collar bone injury. That said, the greatest impact on his playing tentative had to be the fumble against Purdue against his Dad’s team. From what I understand, Kelly is not the most supportive guy when it comes to dumb mistakes by his players. Carlisle had to be gun shy on several levels after his miscue against Purdue that could have cost us a game.

        With respect to Sayers, your Dad was right about Sayers. He was not the same player after his knee injury. It was a different time back then and it was remarkable that Sayers even came back from his injury. He wasn’t the same largely due to not having the same physical abilities…speed, cutting ability, etc… after getting hurt.

        I would not be surprised if Carlisle broke out and had a very productive season as a situational RB and slot receiver this year. He is reportedly a hard worker and can improve on his pass catching skills through added practice.

  11. fnc111 - Feb 25, 2014 at 12:49 PM

    Folston should get 20+ carries a game. He is a natural. You never know though, Brian Kelly is the head scratcher coach.

  12. fnc111 - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:26 PM

    Carlisle had more drops last season than he did catches. He can’t be used in the slot, is a fourth string RB, and will be rendered to kick-off returns only. He probably won’t get a fifth year. My guess is he becomes a graduate transfer and heads to Purdue in 2015. He never returned any punts against Rutgers. His only opportunity of the year was against AForce and he dropped the ball. It doesn’t look good but I hope he has a surprisingly good season in 2014. He looked very solid returning kicks vs. RU.

  13. mediocrebob - Feb 25, 2014 at 1:54 PM

    The kid still has 2 years left. I’m not calling it quits on him quite yet. I doubt this coaching staff will either. Plenty of time to turn it around. A few big plays may do a lot for the guy.

  14. rocket1988 - Feb 25, 2014 at 3:44 PM

    You’re all forgetting a huge aspect of RB. Pass blocking is as important to BK as 20 yard rushing plays. Cam isn’t as great a pure runner as Folston or as strong as Mahone or Bryant. But he’s smart and experienced. I think Keith has applied to his formula as well. We need somebody to protect Golson as we’ve seen he gets dinged up a lot.

  15. jem5b - Feb 25, 2014 at 4:10 PM

    Interesting audio from the father of Ms. Seeberg.

    http://thegamechicago.com/2014/02/25/father-responds-to-notre-dames-handling-of-daughters-sexual-assault-case/#axzz2uMFmsgu0

    • dbldmr - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:24 PM

      I don’t know what to say other than Mr. Seeberg seems like a rational man with a sense of disappointment in how Notre Dame handled this situation. I’m not sure I’d be able to demonstrate the same balance.

  16. gtizzo - Feb 25, 2014 at 5:02 PM

    Which back is the best pass blocker? Who can pick up the blitz? Answer those two questions I would bet money you have your starter.

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