Notre Dame Football: What You Need to Know About Irish RB Depth
The highly likely scenario of Brian Kelly naming a first-year starter at quarterback will force a change in Notre Dame's offensive philosophy to a heavy dose of the running game.
Thankfully for Kelly, the Irish have amassed a deep stable of running backs that is one of the most underrated in all of college football.
The group of backs will go at least four-deep this season, excluding the incoming freshmen.
Let's examine each of the running backs on the depth chart.
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The most experienced running back on the depth chart, Cierre Wood enters the 2012 season with the goal of eclipsing the 1,000-yard mark for the second time in his career.
In 13 games last season, Wood accumulated 1,102 rushing yards on 217 carries to go along with nine touchdowns. Keep in mind that those figures came during a 2011 season in which Wood split carries with current Miami Dolphins running back Jonas Gray, who accumulated 791 yards in only 11 games.
Now that Wood is considered the "feature back" of the Irish offense, reaching the peak of 1,000 yards won't be nearly as challenging for the Oxnard, Cal. native as it was in 2011.
The 6'0", 215-pound Wood will need to prove his ability to run between the tackles this season to prove his worth to NFL scouts after criticisms came his way for being more of an east-west runner rather than a north-south runner last season.
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Theo Riddick has had quite an up-and-down career in South Bend. After being recruited by former head coach Charlie Weis as a running back in the 2009 class, Brian Kelly moved him to wide receiver during 2010 spring practices.
However, Kelly moved Riddick back to his natural position of running back in November of last season after former Irish running back Jonas Gray went down with a torn ACL.
In three games at running back at the latter end of last season, Riddick accumulated 63 yards on 14 carries, good for an average of 4.5 yards per carry. Riddick also seemed more than comfortable at his natural position after an awkward two-season-long experiment at wide receiver.
Expect to see Riddick used in packages where he's motioned out of the backfield as a slot receiver, taking advantage of his experience at receiver during the past two seasons.
George Atkinson III
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When George Atkinson III committed to Notre Dame in September of 2010, the Irish got a player who would provide a tremendous boost of speed and athleticism to an Irish backfield that had been lacking in those areas in recent seasons.
Atkinson and his 4.4 second 40-yard-dash time were on display in his freshman season, as the Livermore, Cal. native recorded two kickoff return touchdowns.
However, Atkinson wasn't a factor in the run game, only carrying the ball nine times for 27 yards a season ago. But with more carries to go around this season, expect Atkinson to become a significant piece of the Irish offense.
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Amir Carlisle, a transfer from USC, was cleared by the NCAA to play immediately in South Bend, giving the Irish a lethally fast option at running back.
Carlisle transferred from USC after his father accepted a position in athletic training with Purdue University, effectively transitioning the Carlisle family from California to Indiana.
USC fans were shocked when the NCAA approved Carlisle's hardship waiver, specifically because the Trojans were thin at running back at the time of Carlisle's decision to transfer (since then, the Trojans have added former Penn State running back Silas Redd).
The 5'10", 181-pound Carlisle suffered an ankle injury during voluntary spring practice drills, which sidelined him for the rest of the spring. Carlisle was fully cleared in June and will be right in the thick of things on the running back depth chart when fall camp begins this week.
The Incoming Freshmen
Two running backs—William Mahone and KeiVarae Russell—signed national letters of intent to play for Notre Dame back in February and will likely redshirt the 2012 season.
Expect the two to become a part of the running back rotation in 2013, as Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood will no longer be in South Bend.
There is a chance that Mahone could see playing time this year because of his physical running style, something that the Irish currently lack.