Entering his fifth year, Amir Carlisle has had quite a collegiate journey. Starting as a playmaking running back at USC, he came to Notre Dame and became a hard-luck, injury-plagued runner. A lingering ankle injury cost him 2012 and then a collarbone break robbed him of his next spring.
While his days at running back didn’t stick, Carlisle’s reinvention at wide receiver may be the best part of his story. As a slot receiver he’s created a niche, and one that could expand if C.J. Prosise spends extended time in the backfield.
The end of a whirlwind journey ends as the fifth-year senior tries to accomplish big things for the Irish in 2015. Let’s take a closer look at Amir Carlisle.
5’10”, 192 lbs.
Grad Student, No. 3, WR
Carlisle was a Top-100 player coming out of high school, originally committed to Jim Harbaugh before the Stanford coach left for the NFL. That shifted Carlisle down state to USC, with the Irish bridesmaid for the dual-threat running back.
Carlisle always looked like the type of smaller back that’d need to depend on his hands and shiftiness in space to excel — something he didn’t do as the team’s opening day starter in 2013. But that didn’t mean some of the top programs in the country weren’t after him, especially after he dazzled on the camp scene.
Freshman Season (2011): Played in eight games for USC, carrying the ball 19 times for 118 yards. Ran for 90 yards on ten carries against Colorado. An injury ended his season early.
Sophomore Season (2012): Even though he was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, Carlisle missed the entire season after lingering nerve damage from an ankle break before spring practice kept him off the field.
Junior Season (2013): Started four games at running back while appearing in all 13 for the Irish. Averaged 4.3 yards a carry on 47 attempts. Against Temple saw Carlisle gain 68 yards on seven carries in the season opening victory.
Senior Season (2014): Started six games at wide receiver while playing in 12 for the Irish last year. Had 23 catches for 309 yards and three touchdowns. Also had seven carries for 46 yards. Had a career-best game against Michigan, catching seven passes for 61 yards and scoring two touchdowns. Had three catches for 92 yards and a touchdown against Arizona State.
WHAT WE SAID LAST YEAR
I’m not sure I could’ve done much better than this prediction.
I’ve gone out on a ledge before on Carlisle, putting him among my ten best players on the Irish roster heading into last season. I was wrong then, though I don’t think I’d be wrong now to think he’ll contribute something to the Irish offense as a full-time receiver.
But projecting a guy who couldn’t crack five-yards a touch to all of a sudden become the next Lache Seastrunk is a pipe-dream as well. The reality is usually somewhere in the middle, so let’s just assume that’s what happens with Carlisle. And while it’s tempting to think that Carlisle will finally be the running back/hybrid that Irish fans crave a la Percy Harvin, we might get to see one or two jet sweeps or runs like TJ Jones had last season, but it’ll never be enough.
Carlisle is a talented skill player. He’s got speed and ability that didn’t often exist on this roster before Kelly came to town. A fast track in Notre Dame Stadium will help. So will the scar tissue that comes from a disappointing debut seasonat ND. But Carlisle will either make an early move next season or be surpassed by C.J. Prosise, a 220-pounder with a different physicality at the position.
I think I overrated Carlisle in the past because I mistook his excellent lateral movement skills and his above-average speed for elite athleticism. I just don’t think he’s that good of an athlete, though he’s certainly better than most.
To that point, I think Carlisle’s going to be a very productive football player. So does the coaching staff if they moved C.J. Prosise into the backfield, leaving Carlisle to mostly man the slot.
Saying all that, there’s only so many footballs to go around. And if the Irish are going to run the football more with Malik Zaire, I’m struggling to figure out how Carlisle improves on his numbers from last season, though I certainly think he will if only because he’ll be more consistent.
Ultimately, Carlisle is going to be a handful in the slot just because of the other weapons around him. With Will Fuller on the outside, running back Tarean Folston in the backfield and Malik Zaire forcing defenses to account for him as a runner, Carlisle should have a lot of 1-on-1 opportunities in the slot.
So while I spent the past few paragraphs complaining about his athleticism, we did see a ton of big plays from Carlisle last season in his first year as a receiver. And there’s reason to believe Mike Sanford and the Irish power-trio of offensive minds will figure out how to isolate Carlisle on a safety and make a defense pay. That happened at times last season, so expect it to happen a few more in 2015.
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
Greg Bryant, RB
Devin Butler, CB
Jimmy Byrne, OL
Daniel Cage, DL