Notre Dame Football: Breaking Down the Battle for the Starting RB Spot

Connor Killoren@@Connor_KillorenSenior Analyst IFebruary 28, 2013

SOUTH BEND, IN - NOVEMBER 17: George Atkinson II #4 of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish moves past Scott Betros #32 of the Wake Forest Demon Deacons at Notre Dame Stadium on November 17, 2012 in South Bend, Indiana. Notre Dame defeated Wake Forest 38-0.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly's ability to manage egos will be put to the test during the Irish's month-long spring practice session. 

With the starting running back position up for grabs, Kelly, offensive coordinator Chuck Martin and Irish running backs coach Tony Alford have four candidates to carefully evaluate and analyze before the annual Blue-Gold Game on April 20 at Notre Dame Stadium. 

The naming of a starting running back is an unlikely scenario, as incoming freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston won't join the mix until fall camp. 

Until then, the four available backs will be put on display. 

George Atkinson III

A 4-star recruit in the Irish's 2011 recruiting class, George Atkinson III was used primarily as a kick-return specialist as a freshman during the Irish's abysmal 2011 campaign that ended with an 18-14 loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl. 

Atkinson was buried on the depth chart behind the explosive duo of Cierre Wood and Jonas Gray. During that maddening 8-5 season he only earned nine carries for a pedestrian 27 yards, though two of those carries were for touchdowns. 

Gray departed campus in search of greener pastures in the NFL, and Atkinson received an expanded role during the 2012 season. 

His carries multiplied nearly six-fold from 2011, as he toted the ball 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns, including a 123-yard performance against Miami during a 41-3 domination of the Hurricanes. 

However, Wood and Theo Riddick as the Irish's main ball-carriers. Atkinson was the Irish's speed back who entered the game in specific situations when his speed could be taken advantage of. 

That type of utilization of the Livermore, Calif., native may work against him in earning the starting job, as he doesn't possess the size or durability to be a true every-down back. 

Amir Carlisle

A transfer from USC, Amir Carlisle enters the fold after battling a chronic ankle injury throughout the 2012 season. 

What's interesting about his predicament is that Notre Dame petitioned the NCAA for Carlisle to be able to play immediately following his transfer, rather than sit out the typically required one season. The NCAA waived that requirement for Carlisle, but he will now be eligible for a fifth season due to his injury. 

The last time the 5'10", 185-pound Carlisle played, he recorded one reception for two yards during a 38-35 USC victory against Oregon on Nov. 19, 2011. 

Carlisle finished the 2011 season with 19 carries for 118 yards. 

What the Santa Clara, Calif., native provides is agility, speed and burst, all attributes that fit in seamlessly with Kelly's offense, particularly when he desires an up-tempo approach. 

If Carlisle's ankle is back to full health by the time the Irish's first week of spring practices begin, he'll have an opportunity to prove worthy of the 4-star status bestowed upon him during the 2011 recruiting cycle. 

William Mahone

Having served a redshirt season as a freshman in 2012, William Mahone will be a legitimate threat in the race for the starting running back job. 

A 4-star recruit out of Austintown, Ohio, Mahone has the size—he checks in at 5'10" and 211 pounds—to be the bruising running back the Irish are in desperate need of. In fact, compares Mahone to current Pittsburgh Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall. 

Speed will be a question Mahone must answer, after recording a fastest time of 4.6 seconds in the ever-scrutinized 40-yard dash as a prep star. 

If Mahone proves he possesses the speed necessary to be an every-down back at the collegiate level, he may just earn the starting nod from Kelly. 

Cam McDaniel

The comparisons to Rudy have come in abundance for Cam McDaniel, a scrappy back who was recruited out of Coppell, Texas, by Notre Dame cornerbacks coach Kerry Cooks. 

While he's not a legitimate candidate to start for the Irish, McDaniel will provide the hustle and determination expected by the Irish coaching staff on a consistent basis. 

His value at the running back position is minimal. McDaniel was moved to cornerback in an effort to combat depth issues prior to the season, but was switched back to running back soon thereafter. 


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