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Notre Dame Football: Top Candidates to Be Featured Running Back for Irish

SOUTH BEND, IN - OCTOBER 20: George Atiknson III #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish runs back to the bench after catching a touchdown pass against the BYU Cougars at Notre Dame Stadium on October 20, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated BYU 17-14. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
Mike MoraitisAnalyst IFebruary 21, 2013

The Notre Dame Fighting Irish will have a decision to make at the running back position before the season starts and there are a few candidates to take the job.

Head coach Brian Kelly's squad lost its two-headed rushing attack after Theo Riddick graduated and Cierre Wood left for the NFL.

Both running backs combined for 1,659 yards last season, so clearly there are some major shoes to fill for whoever wins the starting job.

It'll be vital to the success of the Irish offense to have a successful rushing attack next season as it will help keep defenses honest and will help take a ton of pressure off the shoulders of quarterback Everett Golson.

Let's take a look at who will be competing to be the primary back lining up behind Golson in 2013.

 

George Atkinson III

If you take a look at Atkinson III's numbers from last season, it appears he was dominant when he had the ball in his hands.

The Irish back compiled 361 yards and five touchdowns in 51 attempts, which was good enough for an average of 7.1 yards per carry. However, most of Atkinson III's damage came against two lackluster rush defenses: Navy and Miami.

While he can be an explosive back as evidenced by three runs of 32 yards or more during 2012, Atkinson III has not yet displayed his abilities as a multipurpose back.

Atkinson III may be a favorite to land the job because of his obvious experience with Notre Dame, but he is no certainty to win and/or keep it if he doesn't perform up to a starter's standards.

 

Amir Carlisle

The transfer from the USC Trojans is likely the stiffest competition Atkinson III will face this season. Carlisle didn't play a single snap for the Irish last season after suffering an ankle injury.

Questions will remain about Carlisle's long-term viability, but there has been no evidence that his broken ankle from last year will affect him moving forward.

The sample size for Carlisle is small as he only carried the ball 19 times for the Trojans back in 2011. Still, he was able to gain 118 yards and averaged 6.2 yards per carry.

In that season, Carlisle also caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. Those numbers are already superior to Atkinson III's career receiving totals through two seasons, so Carlisle could add another element to Notre Dame's offense by catching the ball out of the backfield.

Again, Atkinson III may be a favorite heading into the spring, but Carlisle could potentially upend him en route to winning the starting job at some point during 2013.

 

Greg Bryant

Bryant is one of the many stellar players in Notre Dame's recruiting class and the 4-star running back has a solid opportunity to become the starter in his freshman season.

At 5'11" and 196 pounds (per 247Sports), Bryant is already physically capable of handling a full-time workload for the Irish.

That size enables Bryant to run the ball up the gut with success and he can even break tackles when necessary. But Bryant also possesses impressive speed and elusiveness, and while he isn't elite in either department, he can still move the chains when running to the outside

A great pair of hands will also enable Bryant to catch passes out of the back field, further adding to his versatility.

He might not have even the limited experience of the first two backs listed here, but Bryant's natural abilities give him a great chance to become a starter right away.

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