– Irish head coach Brian Kelly, spring 2011
That piece, speculated that day and since on IrishEyes, is likely Granada H.S. (Livermore, Ca.) wide receiver/running back/Skill prospect, George Atkinson III.
Running Back Depth ChartThe number in parenthesis denotes the player's remaining years of eligibility:
1st String – Junior Cierre Wood (3): Emerged late last season as the team's best runner/receiver threat since Darius Walker in 2006. A healthy Wood will lead the team in every rushing category this season but he'll need help to remain dangerous (and upright) through November.
2nd String – Senior Jonas Gray (1): One of the team's five key backups for 2011 as its hard to imagine an efficient offense without Gray's assumption of the power runner role vacated by graduated senior Robert Hughes. Gray has more speed and elusiveness than Hughes…and that might be the problem as his head coach wants the Detroit senior to punish opponents between the tackles.
Freshman George Atkinson: Has a unique, upright gait on film reminiscent of Eric Dickerson. (If we use the name Atkinson and Dickerson in congress at any point after September 3, 2011, the Irish will win a national title during his four seasons). Atkinson's ability to pick up the nuances of pass protection in a read-option offense, and assimilation to a new level of defenders will determine his playing time this fall.
Freshman Cam McDaniel: Ready to hit the ground running as a former shotgun-spread running back at Coppell H.S. (Coppell, TX), with ample experience vs. top tier high school competition. McDaniel's official 40-yard dash time is a tick faster than Atkinson's, though McDaniel appears more quick than fast in pads (a good trait, in my opinion) while Atkinson seemed to have an extra gear in the open field. (McDaniel will receive his own preview column.)
Sophomore Cameron Roberson (4): Likely out for the season after he tore his lateral collateral ligament (LCL), and partially tore an anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) in late March. Roberson won the team's Offensive Scout Team Player of the Year award as a true freshman last fall.
Atkinson's Potential DebutI try to avoid the overrated, underrated tags for incoming freshmen, due largely to the fact that most reels available are of the highlight variety. That's not remotely equivalent to actual game tape that reveals a player's flaws, how they respond to negative plays, etc.
But for the sake of argument, I post one "underrated" recruit per season, and this year's is Atkinson – as a running back. I like him more as a running back than as a wide receiver, regardless of Notre Dame's dearth of scholarship bodies in the backfield. Roberson's injury opened the door for one freshman to debut on September 3 as the team's No. 3 runner – he'll likely travel in Week Two to Ann Arbor as such, and operate in that mold over the season's first month (three road trips).
Regarding his technical field debut: I believe Atkinson will serve as the team's second kick returner with Bennett Jackson in the season opener. (Austin Collinsworth and fellow freshman DaVaris Daniels is the first tandem that comes to mind as the kick return group's second unit.)
Forecast: A first-year monogram as a special teams contributor with at least 30 touches from scrimmage as the team's No. 3 running back.
Full-disclosure: My other "underrated" player of choice – the result of highlight-film analysis only – for the last few freshmen classes included:
- 2007: Duval Kamara (4-star, but I thought he'd be a superstar)
- 2008: David Posluszny (3-star, I thought he was much better than his grade)
- 2009: Theo Riddick (4-star, I compared him to former Miami Hurricane and Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Kevin Williams)
- 2010: Austin Collinsworth (3-star, and honestly liked him at slot receiver a tad more than safety)
My initial review of Atkinson on National Signing Day:
RB/Slot – 6'2.5/198: Ranks among the most intriguing members of the incoming class due to expected offensive versatility…Could debut in the slot or offensive backfield depending on need or developed talent as a freshman…Could compete early for a kick-off return role and will surely get a look as a punt returner – the main position with which the staff struggled to find competent help throughout its first season…
Shows impressive feet for a taller ‘back and appears much faster with the ball in his hands – and at top end speed – than his 4.52 forty-yard-dash time indicates…Star rankings become irrelevant next fall, but this is not a three-star offensive prospect.
Kelly recruiting profile: Skill