The void was technically filled by 4-star American Heritage High School (Delray Beach, Fla.) prospect Greg Bryant, who committed to the Kelly clan thanks to a well-timed visit during the team's Awards Banquet earlier this month.
But room remains for another top tier 'back, and the oft-mentioned target to join Bryant and 20 other Irish pledges is 5'10" 195-pound 4-star Tarean Folston (Cocoa, Fla.). Folston has visited South Bend (Brigham Young weekend); Kelly has officially visited Folston (early December), and Notre Dame will likely lose its top two running backs from the undefeated 2012 squad.
Not that the latter should matter.
Should Cierre Wood decide to return to South Bend for a fifth season, it would doubtless affect the first-year playing time of both Bryant and Folston. So too does the continued return from injury of Amir Carlisle, possible sophomore to junior year leap by George Atkinson, and the guaranteed presence of Atkinson's classmate, Cam McDaniel, in a versatile backup role. Also in the fold is true freshman Will Mahone, a 4-star from 2012's class wisely withheld from action this fall.
Like Bryant (reviewed above), Folston's talent will allow him to compete with all of the above by 2014. Should Wood (set to graduate as a senior) declare for the NFL draft as expected, he'd join the fray in an open-season competition not only next August, but through the season's first five to six weeks for a role in an offense that relied heavily on three 'backs in 2012, two in 2011, and four in 2010 under the current regime.
Without Wood and with Bryant and Folston in the fold, the 2013 Irish backfield could expand to a four-man group again, with Folston and the aforementioned Carlisle possessing a skill set capable of filling the Slot/RB role so ably manned by graduating senior Theo Riddick this season.
Riddick caught 35 passes (third on the squad) and was targeted for a whopping 54 (also third behind Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones). Add his 180 carries and that's 234 opportunities from scrimmage for the team's lead 'back. Combine that with 115 for Wood (just five pass targets) and 54 for Atkinson (3) and 25 more from McDaniel and that's more than 425 rushing/receiving chances for the Irish backfield -- more than half of the team's 839 total snaps to date.
Well-StaggeredAtkinson and McDaniel enter 2013 with two seasons of competition remaining. Carlisle has three, redshirt-freshman Will Mahone four, and Bryant four with the opportunity for a fifth should he be injured or withheld from action.
Adding Folston to the group would stock coach Tony Alford's running back unit as such for the following two seasons:
2014: Atkinson, McDaniel (1), Carlisle (2), Mahone (3), Bryant, Folston (3/4)
2015: Carlisle (1), Mahone (2), Bryant, Folston (2/3)
Add to that the presence of current starter Everett Golson through 2015, and of prized backup Gunner Kiel plus 2013 pledge Malik Zaire (potentially through 2016-17, respectively), and Notre Dame's offensive backfield would be stocked with ready-to-be-developed raw talent for the foreseeable future.
Folston would add another speed element to the Irish backfield (Atkinson is the only true burner), but its his ability to catch passes, natural footwork in traffic, vision and feel for oncoming tacklers, and overall versatility that would allow him to compete for a major role in the offense by his second season in South Bend.