Having reached the fifth year of his tenure at Notre Dame, Brian Kelly has made it no secret what he desires to do offensively.
Kelly understands that to win at the highest level and to transform his team into a championship contender, it'll need a consistently strong and efficient rushing attack. And unlike the outset of his career at Notre Dame, Kelly now possesses the services of a high quality group of running backs.
With the early departure of George Atkinson III to the NFL draft, the Irish will feature five running backs next season, a quintet that will battle for limited spots in what will likely be a three-man rotation.
Fortunately for the Irish, their most productive rusher from a season ago returns for his senior season, but he will be facing serious competition for carries.
* Denotes a redshirt season.
Cam McDaniel, Senior
When former Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick departed for the NFL following the 2012 season, the Irish had a rather large question mark as to whom their No. 1 rusher would be entering the 2013 season.
And while that question wasn't ever truly solved, McDaniel was the most consistent presence at the position.
The Coppell, Texas, native finished the season with 705 rushing yards on 152 carries to go along with three scoring runs. McDaniel's 4.6 yards-per-carry average wasn't ideal, but was expected in an offense that experienced difficulties running the football last season.
While the 5'10", 207-pound back won't blow you away with his speed or shiftiness, he'll protect the football, make smart decisions and pick up the gritty yards through a low center of gravity combined with a head-down approach.
Those attributes, along with his experience, will likely earn him the starting nod against Rice on Aug. 30.
Tarean Folston, Sophomore
Perhaps the most talented back on the roster, Folston pieced together a statement season as a freshman in 2013.
The Cocoa, Fla. native didn't make headlines during the preseason or even the early portions of the season, but eventually made himself a known commodity, especially after fellow freshman Greg Bryant was lost for the season to a knee injury.
Beginning during the Irish's 45-10 victory at Air Force, Folston's ascent was initiated. Against the Falcons, Folston rushed for 47 yards on 11 carries, and he followed that performance with a season-best 140 yards on 18 carries in a 38-34 win against Navy the next Saturday.
Folston is the type of rusher who earns those yards through superior athleticism and agility, but he won't be the type of player receiving carries in short-yardage situations.
Amir Carlisle, Senior*
Following a transfer from USC, Carlisle was expected to make waves at Notre Dame, but he missed the 2012 season due to a recurring ankle injury.
Thus, 2013 was expected be a breakout season of sorts for the Santa Clara, Calif. native, but that didn't turn out to be the case. Carlisle finished the season with 204 rushing yards on 47 carries, which was a byproduct of a combination of inconsistency and difficulty fitting in as a hybrid running back/slot receiver.
Whether Carlisle will break out of the perceived slump remains to be seen, though his value as a multi-faceted threat won't go unnoticed.
Greg Bryant, Freshman*
Hailed as one of the best freshman running backs to sign with Notre Dame in the past decade, Bryant suffered a season-ending knee injury following the Irish's 31-24 win at Purdue on Sept. 14.
The 5'10", 204-pound back received a medical redshirt as a result, and will restart his career beginning with spring practices.
It is within those opportunities that Bryant will showcase the tenacity and elusiveness that made him such a coveted prospect out of the American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla. during the 2013 recruiting cycle.
It may be a stretch to say that the hype surrounding Bryant is enough to warrant him as a serious contender in the running back competition, but that may just be the case. It's difficult for a coaching staff to let a talent such as Bryant ride the pine.
Will Mahone, Sophomore*
Mahone's career at Notre Dame has been questionable at best.
After redshirting the 2012 season, Mahone didn't receive a carry as a redshirt freshman last season, and even experimented at slot receiver.
However, Mahone didn't see the field in 2013, which makes any sort of meaningful contribution during the 2014 season as a stretch. What the Austintown, Ohio native does bring to the table is a big-bodied presence to provide in-game situations during practices.
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