Presenting a limited distribution of carries is a formidable task when the options are plentiful at the running back position.
That is the most perplexing issue facing Notre Dame's offensive coaching staff, particularly offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and running backs coach Tony Alford.
The two coaches, along with head coach Brian Kelly, are charged with selecting a lead running back from a group that could, potentially, go as many as six-deep during the 2013 season. The Irish face this positive problem in the wake of former running backs Theo Riddick and Cierre Wood departing for the NFL, though a wealth of talent remains at the position.
Claiming Riddick's vacated starting position is the task at hand for the likes of George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Will Mahone, Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant.
While answers are few and far between through the first week-and-a-half of fall camp, the early favorite to shoulder the load of the carries is Atkinson. As the Irish's third leading rusher last season, the Livermore, Calif. native carried the ball 51 times for 361 yards and and five touchdowns.
However, that assumption has been met with heaping amounts of criticism since the discussion of the 2013 season began.
Many liken Atkinson to a sprinter in a football uniform due to his worrisome high pad level and rigid, straight-line running style.
The junior running back was asked if he's tired of hearing about pad level during a media availability session late last week, and his answer clearly displayed his growing frustration with the question, via Jack Freeman of IrishIllustrated.com.
"No," Atkinson said. "If y'all wanna write about it in whatever y'all doin', then please put it in there so I can read it and look at it some more."
When asked if the raising of the issue was motivation, Atkinson was terse once again.
"I mean, sure, if you wanna call it that way," Atkinson said. "It's just what I need to do."
Lost amidst the constant harping about Atkinson's high pad level is what he brings to the table as a No. 1 running back: jaw-dropping athleticism, world-class speed and a filled-out frame.
In fact, Atkinson has done enough work in the weight room to have transformed himself from a 194-pound freshman kick returner to a 220-pound junior chomping at the bit to earn the starting running back position.
It has been proven time and again that Atkinson possesses the physical tools necessary to win the job, but his fundamental discipline and ability as an every-down back are what continue to be called into question.
Can he effectively run between the tackles?
Is he elusive and strong enough to break tackles and cut upfield?
Those are the questions continuing to linger around Atkinson, though those interested will see if the presented concerns are put to bed by the conclusion of fall camp.
Also worth considering is the rise of Notre Dame's heralded freshmen backs, Bryant and Folston. Each ranked among 247 Sports' 2013 Top 247, and they have firmly entrenched themselves in the competition for the starting job.
It remains to be seen in what capacity either freshman will be used this season, but the lesson to be learned is that Kelly will play the best available players, regardless of age or experience.
These answers will unfold as fall camp progresses, and they will determine Atkinson's fate for the 2013 season.
Yet for now, barring injury or suspension, peg Atkinson to be the Irish's leading rusher when the final stat line is set in stone.
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