He disappeared like a thief in the dead of night.
After a glamorous high school career at the American Heritage School in Delray Beach, Fla., that included a 4-star ranking from 247sports.com, Notre Dame running back Greg Bryant's freshman season arrived at a screeching yet deceivingly quiet halt following the Irish's 31-24 victory at Purdue on Sept. 14.
It was later revealed that the 5'10", 204-pound running back had suffered a season-ending knee injury, an occurrence that had fans fanning the flames of a rumored transfer. However, Bryant's father was quick to shoot down those rumors during an interview with IrishIllustrated.com's Pete Sampson.
Rumors, people assuming. Yes, he's frustrated, but what five-star freshman wouldn't be? Those are just growing pains. He'll be just fine. He needs a year to mature in the program.
Bryant's father's admission of his son needing to mature in the program, while not what fans like to hear, may in fact be a blessing in disguise for Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly and the Irish offense.
While Bryant spent the remainder of the 2013 season viewing his team from the sidelines, junior Cam McDaniel became the Irish's bell cow of sorts. The Coppell, Texas, native was Notre Dame's leading rusher in 2013, amassing 705 yards on 152 carries to go along with three touchdowns.
At a position with a rather muddied perception and few certainties, McDaniel was a consistent presence along with Tarean Folston, who was originally slotted as the lightning to Bryant's thunder prior to Notre Dame's 9-4 campaign that ended with a forgettable 29-16 win against Rutgers in the Pinstripe Bowl.
Yes, McDaniel has been the epitome of consistency for the program during his three years in South Bend, Ind., but, eventually, pure talent will be the trump card signifying his slide back down the depth chart upon Bryant's return from injury next season.
Some may receive this as a baseless claim and/or a slight to McDaniel, but it's anything but that.
Consider what McDaniel does well: He quickly identifies available running lanes, hits it effectively running north and south and consistently protects the football.
But that's all Kelly and his soon-to-be-offensive coordinator will get from McDaniel on the field.
The 5'10", 207-pound running back lacks the explosiveness and athleticism to break runs to the outside when the designated running lanes are clogged by defenders. He also lacks the pure power to break past defenders in the second level. Essentially, McDaniel is guaranteed to pick up the two to three tough yards between the tackles when necessary.
And that's where Bryant fits into the picture.
What the redshirt freshman-to-be may lack in vision of the play, he makes up for in raw talent and athleticism.
If the hole isn't there, Bryant possesses the footwork and shiftiness to bounce a run outside the tackle to pick up positive yardage, rather than be chased down in the backfield for a loss. But should he follow the progression of the play into an open running lane, Bryant's combination of size, speed, power and athleticism will allow him to consistently pick up significant chunks of yardage each time he touches the ball.
Bryant will become a terrifying presence for opposing defenses already gassed from chasing down the speedy, elusive Folston. It's a two-headed monster that may become one of the best running tandems in the country during the 2014 season.
This isn't to say McDaniel will somehow be forgotten, though.
When the Irish find themselves in short yardage situations and need a guaranteed first down, McDaniel will be the answer. As was previously mentioned, his ability to pick up a few yards through his tremendous north and south running instinct will prove invaluable for the Irish going forward, particularly with the return of quarterback Everett Golson and his ability to open up the running game.
Either way you frame it, no worries will exist at the running back position in 2014.
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