Greg Bryant has yet to play up to the 5-star status he entered South Bend possessing. Now for the good news: He’s got three more seasons to try.
The blue-chip prospect has needed more time than many expected, suffering through bumps and bruises and a learning curve that turned his freshman season into a redshirt year. And while he ended up leading the team in yards per carry and served as the Irish’s lead back in September, Bryant settled into a backup role behind classmate Tarean Folston as his carries trailed off near the end of the year.
But with little depth at the position, the future is now for Bryant. While C.J. Prosise’s emergence in spring ball could once again create a challenge for the Floridian to get the touches he may need, he’s also getting a fresh start, working with Autry Denson and Mike Sanford to find new ways to remind opponents—and fans—about his talent.
Let’s take a closer look at Greg Bryant.
5’10”, 205 lbs.
Junior, No. 1, RB
Bryant was a Top 20 player according to Rivals, a five-star talent who was among the top players in the country. While he had options to go just about everywhere, Bryant flipped his commitment to Notre Dame in the middle of an undefeated regular season, leaving Oklahoma—and several other programs—in the dust.
He wasn’t necessarily seen as a burner or a big back, but an all-around runner who was carved from granite. We’ve seen that lack of one-great-skill play into his struggles a bit, though he also had some highlight reel play last season to remind us of the upside recruitniks saw.
Freshman Season (2013): Appeared in three games before missing the rest of the season with an injury.
Sophomore Season (2014): Led the Irish with a 5.4 yards per carry average. Played in 12 games, finishing second on the team in carries and yards. Scored three touchdowns, broke a 27 yard run against USC for a career best. Had a 61-yard punt return against Louisville.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
For as much as most of us were ready for Bryant to play like a returning veteran, he played a lot like a guy doing things for the first time. Which, essentially, he was. And as we suspected, touches were a problem.
Finding touches will be the most interesting part of 2014. With Brian Kelly back calling the plays, we’ll see exactly how often the head coach wants to get Bryant involved. McDaniel has earned his minutes playing for Kelly, and we’ve seen the Irish head coach feed footballs to the running back he trusts most.
If Bryant can earn his way to that status, then he’s poised to have a monster year, as he’s the best power-running short-yardage back on the roster. But a modest goal of 10 touches a game should be where the bar is set, assuming that Folston deserves just as many.
One place for Bryant to help the Irish is in the short passing game and on special teams. He’s been given the first shot at the punt return job, a spot where for years the Irish were happy just fair catching the football. Bryant should also have a chance to replace George Atkinson as kick returner, though his top-end speed isn’t where Atkinson’s was.
As a pass catcher, Bryant could be an electric option. Kelly was quick to kill comparisons to Theo Riddick, who Kelly believes to be a better receiver, but Bryant is a bigger, stronger and faster version of Riddick.
Ultimately, Bryant is a player with a ton to prove. Can a year in the program shed the burden of great expectations? If the Irish offense is going to be as explosive as many expect, the answer needs to be yes.
Bryant didn’t get to 10 touches a game, he capped out right around five. Let’s see what happens in an offense that’ll utilize Malik Zaire in the run game, too.
At this point, there’s no reason to believe Bryant won’t turn into a very good running back. He may not be the star that we expected, but he’s still got a lot of traits that look like they’ll play quite well in South Bend… and on Sundays.
Nobody expected five years in South Bend for Bryant. But that might end up being a very good thing for him, especially if he’s capable of learning from Autry Denson, a new voice that’ll help repurpose some of the information coming in.
Tarean Folston is the team’s best running back. C.J. Prosise stole the spring headlines—and potentially the goal line carries if he’s up to 230 pounds. But Bryant did some electric things last season, and showed a very good mesh with Malik Zaire against USC, hopefully a sign of things to come.
A freshman averaging 5.4 yards per carry? That should get you excited, right? Well, that’s what Bryant did, and it’s only viewing him through the 5-star prism that gets people feeling like he’s underperforming.
If there’s something that has me most excited about Bryant it’s the news that he’s become a guy who recruits visit with. In a recent Irish 247 podcast, Florida running back Dexter Williams pointed to Bryant as a guy that made him choose Notre Dame. It was Bryant’s maturity about why he picked Notre Dame and why he’s never wavered about his commitment to the Irish even after a slow start to his career that had Williams believing he could succeed in South Bend, too.
The talent is there. The maturity seems to be, too. If he can create the opportunities behind a very powerful offensive line, there’s no reason Bryant can’t be very prolific, even if it’s in a less-than-starring role.
THE 2015 IRISH A-to-Z
Josh Adams, RB
Josh Barajas, OLB
Nicky Baratti, S
Alex Bars, OL
Asmar Bilal, OLB
Hunter Bivin, OL
Grant Blankenship, DE
Jonathan Bonner, DE
Miles Boykin, WR
Justin Brent, WR
Chris Brown, WR