POPE: Several ND backs in running for playing time
By LaMond Pope 713-2691 or firstname.lastname@example.org August 2, 2013 9:26PM
FILE - In this Sept. 1, 2012, file photo, Notre Dame's George Atkinson III breaks through the Navy defense before getting a touchdown during an NCAA college football game in Dublin, Ireland. Notre Dame running backs Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick would like to get the ball a little more often. Coach Brian Kelly thinks he needs to get the ball to Atkinson more often. The three backs, though, say they are all friends and cheer one another. (AP Photo/Peter Morrison, File)
Updated: August 2, 2013 10:10PM
SOUTH BEND — There has been a lot of talk about the quarterback situation at Notre Dame since news broke in late May that Everett Golson was suspended for the fall because of “poor academic judgment.”
Tommy Rees quickly jumped back into the starter’s role.
Another offensive position deserves close evaluation. And it’s a spot that will play a key role as the Irish look to continue the momentum from last season.
Notre Dame’s top two rushers from a year ago are gone.
Theo Riddick led the team with 917 rushing yards. He had five rushing touchdowns. Cierre Wood was second with 742 yards. He had four rushing touchdowns.
That leaves George Atkinson III and Cam McDaniel as the most experienced backs.
“We know about George,” Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said Friday. “I was talking to coach (Chuck) Martin (the offensive coordinator). We were doing a video clip of some of our big plays last year. When we put it on, we saw George quite a bit. We know we have a big-play guy in George. He has things he needs to continue to work on, ball security, low pads, all the things everybody in this room knows about. But Cam McDaniel showed us he can be a very good back for us as well.”
Atkinson rushed for 361 yards and five touchdowns. McDaniel had 125 rushing yards and one rushing touchdown.
“We’ve got two guys that have done it and we’ve seen,” Kelly said. “The rest becomes, ‘let’s go see in practice and see how they compete.’ That’s where it’s going to be. It’s going to be fun. We know we have really talented young men with great résumés, but we’re going to have to see how they play when it comes to college football.”
Some of the other options include Amir Carlisle and Greg Bryant. Carlisle transferred from Southern Cal last year, but didn’t play due to injury. He had a strong spring, when he was banged up. Bryant is a five-star recruit.
“The guys that are capable of helping us win, we will find a way to get them on the field and get them touches,” Kelly said. “If you look at it from strictly a realistic viewpoint, no, you wouldn’t be able to get six (running backs in the game), but they can help us in other areas. That’s the charge we have. Get the guys that can help us win games on the field.
“… Each one of them will have a role. They’ll have to accept what their role is. Maybe one role will be an expansive special teams role. He’ll have to accept that role. Maybe another role is that if somebody goes down, he now gets more reps. But when you have six, everybody has to accept what that role is. We don’t know what it’s going to be yet. It’s still yet to be determined because we think we have six guys that are fighting for playing time.”
The slot position could come into play.
“You could see one of those running backs playing in the slot. So we have some versatility if we find that our best playmakers come from that position, at least we’re in a good position offensively that the structure of the offense allows those guys to get on the field,” Kelly said.
“And then where can you help us? Are you a red zone player for us? Are you a short yardage? Are you a third-down back? Are you going to catch punts or kickoffs? Are you going to help us on special teams? If they’re all ready to play and help us, we’ll find roles, then it’s up to them to accept the roles we give them.”
The juggling act will be one of the more interesting aspects of fall camp. And during the season.
“We have a great system of allowing a number of players to get involved in the game through our system of communication,” Kelly said. “We don’t have a preconceived notion other than what I talked about earlier. We put a highlight film together and we saw George Atkinson a lot. He’s fast, can do some big things.
“Other than that, we’re going to have to find out where we are at that position.”