Poised for Playing Time

Cam McDaniel earned the unofficial "People's Choice" award last season for his hard-charging running style in blowout wins over Navy and Miami. Now the junior-to-be hopes to provide such scoreboard differentials rather than shine late in games as a result.

Had Notre Dame's lead running back tandem not combined for more than 2,000 yards from scrimmage and 11 touchdowns, the fan-base's outcry for Cam McDaniel would have doubtless been greater.

And had accepted No. 3 running back George Atkinson, he of the five touchdowns and 7.1 yards-per-rush, not been a legitimate home run threat, those fans would have clamored more for the undersized fourth stringer who shined every time he touched the ball last fall.

Yes, it was easy to love McDaniel last season. His effort and style: hard-charging, on-balance, north-south with wiggle and purpose. And it was easy to applaud his production as well: 23 rushes, 125 yards. He was thrown to just twice, and 41 yards gained was the result.

McDaniel did little wrong on Saturdays in 2012. But with the lion's share of his opportunity occurring in the fourth quarter of blowout wins over Navy and Miami, he'd like the chance to do more right, (inevitably) wrong, and anything in between in 2013.

"I've always seen myself as a dynamic player, whether its running the football or catching the football, I think I have versatility," said McDaniel, but only after being repeatedly pressed to list his assets. "But what's really cool is that each 'back that we have has something special to bring to the table. And with the offense that we have, we're able to maximize the potential of all the 'backs.

"It benefits me because I've always seen myself as a versatile guy."

That versatility includes a natural ability to catch the football. His hands will never be an issue, not since a childhood spent clutching the pigskin under Friday night's lights.

"I'm a fourth-generation coach's son," said McDaniel of his upbringing in Coppell, Texas. "My first memories are on the sidelines of Friday night football games. Got a little helmet, shoulder pads on, dad's ball boy, (father, Danny McDaniel, is a retired high school coach) so I've carried a lot of footballs around."

Later those skills were honed by the best practice partner he could find, in this case, McDaniel's best friend since grammar school.

"My best friend is Jackson Shipley who's a wide receiver for the University of Texas," McDaniel said. "The guy was like Pistol Pete with a football. I don't know if you've seen the documentary where (Pete Maravich) was always carrying around a basketball, that's how (Shipley) was with a football, so he got me doing the same thing.

"We were always playing catch from seventh grade to ninth grade. I feel like that's something that's definitely been conditioned with me but you can never catch too many balls."

Opportunity Knocks

Lost from the 2012 attack and offensive backfield is Theo Riddick, the team's third most prolific receiver (36 for 370, 2 TD) and intended target (56).

Production needs to be replaced in the team's short passing game.

"I think we've got some flexibility with Amir (Carlisle) and Cam in particular, that they can do a lot of those jobs," said head coach Brian Kelly. "We'll never rule out playing both of them. If we feel like they're (part of the) best 11, the offense is such that we can have a George Atkinson and an Amir Carlisle on the field at the same time. Certainly we could have done that last year with Cierre (Wood) and Theo (Riddick). If they're our best 11, we can find a way to get both of them on the field."

McDaniel's goal is to be an every down back. He's also aware the recent past in South Bend has offered opportunity to two, three, and sometimes four running backs per season.

"I'm always looking to improve my game on every level," he said. "Our running backs run several routes in our pass concepts, so just being able to further improve as someone that can catch the ball out of the backfield is always going to be important for me.

"With the schedule we get sometimes it can be hard to get that extra work in, but summer is going to be an excellent opportunity for me.

"On top of that, being the type of guy that's an every-down back and just fit into our offense that allows me to get the ball as much as possible."

The difference between the No. 2 and No. 3 rusher during the Kelly era has been stark: 63 carries in 2012 (Cierre Wood to Atkinson), a whopping 100 in 2011 (Jonas Gray to Atkinson), and 40 in 2010 (Armando Allen to Robert Hughes).

McDaniel relishes the battle for the ball and the chance to help his offense.

"When i was a freshman (2011) and I came in, I came with the mindset that I was competing for playing time. And I know (incoming freshmen) Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, and they're going to come in with the same mentality.

"If you have a different mentality than that, you really shouldn't be here."

Spoken like a fourth-generation coach's son.

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