Freshman Focus: Greg Bryant

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Not many skill players have come to Notre Dame in recent years with the expectations of Florida’s Greg Bryant. After a heralded prep career, Bryant walks onto campus with many believing he’s already the best running back in South Bend.

Of course, heralded freshmen phenoms are nothing new for the Irish. But getting the type of performance out of them that you expect is an entirely different story. Still, Bryant is one of the most intriguing players in the Irish recruiting class because of what he brings to the table.

Physically ready to contribute, comfortable in an offensive system like the Irish’s, and capable of carrying the load or catching out of the backfield, Bryant looks the part of an early contributor. Now he’ll have to work hard through summer workouts, and quickly make a name for himself during fall camp.

If he does, a wide open running back race could be his to win.

RECRUITING PEDIGREE

Few names are as shiny and bright as Bryant’s. A five-star prospect by Rivals, he’s the highest ranked skill player to sign with the Irish since Jimmy Clausen. While not all services view him as quite that elite, he’s a consensus top 50 player, one of the elite offensive skill players in the country.

At a position that’s probably the easiest to break into in college football, looking at past years gives you an idea of what type of player the Irish could be getting. Ranked around the same spot as Bryant over the following few recruiting cycles? Freshmen phenoms Duke Johnson of Miami, Todd Gurley at Georgia, Marcus Lattimore of South Carolina, and Silas Redd of Penn State.

Then again, the last big name running back to sign with the Irish was James Aldridge, who never showed the type of promise many expected after a high school knee injury.

No pressure, kid.

EARLY PLAYING TIME OPPORTUNITIES

While most see the starting running back job as George Atkinson‘s to lose, even with his elite speed, he’s not necessarily without his faults. (Nicely documented here and here by our friends at OFD.) With Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle and Will Mahone possessing next to no experience, there’s an opening in the backfield if Bryant sees the hole and hits it (pardon the crummy running back metaphor).

Still, if we’ve learned anything these last three years, it’s that it takes a freshman some time to earn the trust of this coaching staff. Sure, there are examples like KeiVarae Russell learning to play cornerback on the fly, but for the most part, even the most impressive young players take some time to learn the ropes.

But if you are looking for a clear take on the attitude Bryant brings with him on his way to South Bend, he provided it last week when talking with Blue & Gold Illustrated.

“I can tell you right now that I’m not going to redshirt,” Bryant told B&G. “I’m putting myself in the best position to play early and nobody is going to work harder than me to get on the field. I’ve been playing among the best of the best in Florida and I’m prepared to go in and make plays for Notre Dame.”

PROJECTING THE FUTURE

Bryant is an interesting case study for both Rivals rankings and the Irish coaching staff’s player evaluations. While Bryant has an elite grade, he’s not one of the biggest, fastest, or strongest running backs in the country. Tony Alford has compared him to a stronger Theo Riddick, a comparison that should make Irish fans happy, but shouldn’t have them expecting another Jerome Bettis.

Still, Bryant has impressed recruitniks at the US Army All-American Bowl, had an elite set of offers, and has plenty of size, speed, and skill to be a very productive member of the Irish offense. Riddick put together a terrific senior season with below average size and speed. We should expect Bryant’s baseline measureables to probably exceed Riddick’s right now, and he’s known for his elusiveness as well. That’s a scary combination.

The timing is right for a player like Bryant to seize an opening in the Irish offense. Can it be him, Tarean Folston, or incoming blue-chipper Elijah Hood? That’s the big question.