Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down Possible Starters at RB for Opener

James ShimCorrespondent IAugust 28, 2012

Theo Riddick
Theo RiddickJonathan Daniel/Getty Images

With the Fighting Irish set to open their season early Saturday morning against Navy, they look to build off an 8-5 record from last season. Head coach Brian Kelly returns 14 starters, eight of whom are on offense. 

One of the key returning starters on offense is running back Cierre Wood, who rushed for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns last season. 

However, ESPN reported on Monday that Cierre Wood would be suspended for the first two games of the season for "violating team rules." 

Wood's suspension adds to a long list of Kelly's players already suspended for the opener, which includes quarterback Tommy Reese, linebacker Carlo Calabrese and defensive end Justin Utupo. 

With the loss of Wood, a void is left at the running back position heading into the opener against Navy. Looking at the depth chart, let's see who has a crack at taking the starting running back position. 

The favorite to win the starting job has to be senior running back Theo Riddick. Despite only rushing for 14 attempts last season, he has great ability to make plays in open space. Used mostly as a slot receiver in Brian Kelly's spread offense last season, he was able to catch for 436 yards and three touchdowns. 

One of the team's dynamic offensive players, Riddick's versatility will make defenses spread out on the field. With a spread out defense, he looks to find open space where he proved to be most dangerous. 

Sophomore running back George Atkinson III will also see caries against Navy, especially if Riddick is lined up in the slot. 

One of the fastest players on this team, Atkinson made his mark last season as a kick returner taking two back for touchdowns. His running back production was limited, however, as he only carried the ball nine times. 

At the bottom of the depth chart, you have true freshman Will Mahone. Standing at 5'10" and weighing at 210 pounds, it is highly unlikely that he gets the nod to start because of players like Riddick and Atkinson above him in the depth chart who have more experience. 

Although Riddick and Atkinson both possess tremendous speed, they struggle as runners between the tackles, which may negate a running attack by the Irish. 

Remember, Cierre Wood rushed for over 1,000 yards last season, while both Riddick and Atkinson combined only rushed for 90. Heading into the season, Wood's absence will definitely be felt as the Irish look to win without their star running back.