Into the Fray?

Notre Dame loses its leading rusher at the conclusion of the BCS Championship game. It will likely lose its leading ground-gainer from 2010 and 2011 as well. Incoming pledge Greg Bryant has a chance to join the backfield committee slated for 2013 that will look to ease the departing duo's absence.

Winter, spring, summer, fall…at no point over the last calendar year did view running back as a position of importance for the 2013 Irish recruiting haul. Yet the recent addition of four-star mauler Greg Bryant seems ideal nonetheless.

Bryant's pure running skills suggest he could compete early in his college career, pushing inconsistent but explosive junior-to-be George Atkinson next fall.

Though likely not in a feature role, Bryant could replace the battering ram mentality of senior Theo Riddick, and more important, he could fill the 1B (or 1A) runner role in 2014 as the Irish running game continues its evolution as a committee with complimentary skill sets, rather than an offensive attack that relies on a lead back to produce 20-plus carries per contest.

Bryant In-Depth

Four positives are readily apparent on film: Bryant's compact gait is that of a natural running back, not an athlete attempting to play the position. He squares his shoulders, sees blocking patterns and potential tacklers developing in front of him, and runs through initial traffic with ease and little wasted motion.

It adds up to the top trait a running back can possess: he's hard to tackle, anywhere on the field.

Quicker than fast and able to absorb contact while remaining balanced, Bryant shows a tendency to gather his feet a bit too much in space, taking short, choppy steps rather than one decisive plant and burst in the open field.

Though he shows good north-south tendency through scrimmage, Bryant looks to cut back a bit too much in the open field, likely because of his success rate doing so vs. high school defenses. When you consistently gain 60 yards by navigating traffic rather than maintaining a north-south approach into the secondary, it understandably becomes ingrained.

His greatest initial challenge in college will be the presence of 11 other tremendous, well-coached athletes defending him. Its not an easy adjustment for a dominant high school 'back, especially in his initial season(s).

Two other nitpicks: Bryant jumps to catch screen passes (not only wasted motion, but fundamentally flawed), and his highlight tape did not feature a rush with the ball in his left hand until the 5:50 mark. Both will be corrected the moment he hits the LaBar Practice Complex.

Should Cierre Wood depart after graduation as projected, Bryant would have a chance to earn meaningful playing time in 2012, in heavy competition with the talented, though unproven group detailed below.

Maturation and assimilation to a situation wholly different to anything he's experienced to date will also play a role in Bryant's first-season in South Bend.

2013 Running Backs

A breakdown of Notre Dame's likely running back unit for 2013. As noted above, senior Cierre Wood has a season of eligibility remaining as well.

George Atkinson, III (Jr/2): Enjoyed a breakout game vs. Navy (9 carries, 99 yards, and two TD including a 56-yard touchdown) and had success vs. Michigan State (one key 32-yard gain) and Miami (10 carries for a career best 123 yards and another 55-yard score), but has scuffled since, earning just 22 carries for 99 yards over the regular season's final seven contests.

Atkinson carried five times or fewer in eight games this season, missing another contest with the flu. However his greatest contribution in the season's second half was crucial: a game-winning touchdown plunge vs. Brigham Young early in the fourth period.

In light of criticisms above gleaned from an admittedly small sample size, it should be noted Atkinson tied for the team lead with five touchdowns and led the backfield at 7.1 yards per rush.

The program's best home-run hitter since Randy Kinder in the mid-90s, Atkinson will get every chance to earn a full-time role next fall as his size/speed blend is too great to ignore. Decisiveness at scrimmage, receiving skills, ball security, and power representative of his frame/speed are essential areas for improvement this spring.

Cam McDaniel (Jr./2): The list of third and fourth-string running backs that occasionally look good vs. opposing teams' backups, or when a contest has been salted away is long and undistinguished -- McDaniel does't appear to be of that mold. He's a natural read-option runner, is aggressive, decisive, shifty, tough, and has enough speed to fill a meaningful No. 2 running back role. He also has a fight on his hands with as talented and more talented 'backs to compete against next spring.

Cam McDaniel will play next fall, how much is not only up to him, but to his competitors.

Amir Carlisle (Jr./3): We're told he's ideally suited for the hybrid slot/RB role. Now Carlisle just needs to remain in good health this spring and throughout the summer and August, because foot injuries and shifty running styles are a poor mix. Carlisle broke his ankle in a non-contact injury last March and never fully recovered, suffering nerve damage during rehab before being officially shelved for the season in September (he was never close to full strength in August, either).

Another update on Carlisle and other untested players is likely in a December 17 media day conversation with Brian Kelly. For more on Carlisle's injury rehab, Click here

Will Mahone (So./4): Was a member of the Scout Team in 2012. To be blunt, a redshirt-freshman 'back can't ask for a better opportunity than what Mahone will face this March and April. He has to seize it, not as a starter or major contributor, necessarily, but as a competitor the staff would trust to play should the opportunity arise (as McDaniel did this fall), because the entire unit will return for 2014 as well.

Jamel James (incoming freshman): "Non-binding oral pledge" is the appropriate term for every recruit. It seems more fitting for James, as South Bend appears an unlikely final destination for the Katy, Texas product according to recruiting analysts. He nonetheless remains part of the speculative class, at present.

Click here for James' senior highlights.

Greg Bryant (incoming freshmen): Detailed above. Click here for Bryant's highlight tape.

Where they Fit

Links to our other "Recruit Fit" stories for the 2013 class:

Cole Luke

Doug Randolph

Will Fuller and Torii Hunter

Jamel James

Alex Anzalone

Michael Deeb

Danny Mattingly

Mike Heuerman

Isaac Rochell

Jaylon Smith

Malik Zaire

John Montelus

Rashad Kinlaw

James Onwualu

Corey Robinson

Offensive Linemen Haul

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