SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Amir Carlisle has flashed his potential before.
Whether as a freshman running back at USC in 2011 or in either of his two seasons at Notre Dame, Carlisle has shown glimpses of the ability that made him a 4-star prospect coming out of high school.
He has battled injuries during his career, and now he has a clean bill of health halfway through spring ball. The running back also saw time as a receiver, and now he has officially made the switch and is working exclusively with the receivers out of the slot.
“I’m feeling increasingly more comfortable each and every day with learning how to release off press-man, second-level releases,” Carlisle said of the position switch. “So each day I’m having a greater sense of comfort, but it’s definitely been a learning experience and it’s been a fun experience.”
Amir Carlisle impressed in the slot, one of the biggest catches of the practice. Worked in the slot, but motioned in for handoffs too.— Irish Illustrated (@NDatRivals) March 19, 2014
In practices open to the media, Carlisle has made fine receptions out of the slot and has also motioned into the backfield to take handoffs. Carlisle possesses such versatility, as the Santa Clara, Calif., native carried 47 times for 204 yards and tallied seven receptions for 30 yards in 2013.
“Hopefully it’s just any way to get the ball in my hands in space,” Carlisle said. “I feel like I operate best when I have space to operate, whether that’s maybe taking a stretch play or getting the ball on an under route, or a dig, or whatever. I’m trying to be as versatile as I can be with working, doing the extra work and really learning the little details of the game.”
Carlisle transferred to Notre Dame following his lone season with the Trojans, and he was then granted a waiver, meaning he didn’t need to sit out the 2012 season. But Carlisle did end up sitting out, as he was redshirted because of a broken ankle. Carlisle made noise last year in spring practice, only for it to be cut short after he broke his collarbone.
Still, the 5’10”, 190-pounder was ready when the 2013 season rolled around, and Carlisle had at least nine touches in each of the first three games, including the season opener against Temple, when Carlisle scampered 45 yards around the left side on the first play from scrimmage.
Carlisle played a regular role in Notre Dame’s offense through the first three games, but his production dropped mightily after a fourth-quarter fumble in Week 3 against Purdue (see chart below).
“For me, I’m a team guy. All I care about is winning and my team,” Carlisle said of his lack of involvement. “So I kept high spirits throughout that, stayed optimistic, kept working hard in practice. For me, I was the same guy throughout, worked hard each and every day.”
Irish head coach Brian Kelly said last week Carlisle is performing well in the slot and has seen much of the work at inside receiver, along with junior C.J. Prosise. Kelly said he didn’t know if Carlisle lost confidence as a pass-catcher last season and admitted Carlisle was never given a great opportunity in the passing game.
“I don’t know that I would say that he lost his confidence in that sense,” Kelly said. “His role diminished as the season went on as [sophomore running back Tarean] Folston kind of picked his game up, and he may have felt like he was less involved in the game plan, but he looks pretty confident right now.”
Some of that confidence stems from experience, Carlisle said. Though the production wavered throughout the season, Carlisle called it a “blessing” to have a completely healthy season.
“It’s a great feeling [to be healthy],” Carlisle said. “Coming through last season, getting through the season healthy, being able to get through our entire winter workouts healthy, coming into the spring healthy, that experience is priceless.
“There’s so much you can learn by watching. Mental reps are very valuable, but then there’s a whole other deal with you getting on the field and actually working through the things that you’re learning in the meeting room.”
With his quickness and open-field ability, Carlisle projects as a solid offensive weapon for the Irish, however he gets the ball. Carlisle also mentioned he’s competing for the kick-return and punt-return jobs.
The flashes of potential have always been there, dating back to a 90-yard rushing performance as a freshman against Colorado. Now, Carlisle is fully healthy and feeling increasingly comfortable in a new position.
*All quotes obtained firsthand unless otherwise noted.
Mike Monaco is a lead Notre Dame writer for Bleacher Report. Follow@MikeMonaco_ on Twitter.