With 25 percent of Notre Dame's roster not yet on campus, its difficult to accurately grade Brian Kelly's fourth-edition Irish exiting spring ball. Over the next three days, we'll try anyway, looking at each position group and including the unit's incoming freshmen. First in the series: the running backs.

A key defensive line prospect. The nation's best high school linebacker. Two punters (phew!). The offense's quickest player. Two of the defense's three best cornerbacks. One of its three best inside linebackers. Two of its five best safety prospects. Two running backs capable of winning weekly roles. Two freshmen pass targets (one already on campus) capable of filling in at the back end of the rotation. Countless special teams contributors.

The list of potential -- and in many cases, certain -- 2013 commodities not involved in Saturday's quirky Blue Gold Game ranks as one of the spring game's most relevant stories, and leads to my final grade on head coach Brian Kelly's Irish as they exit a 15-session, five-week spring:


Just as it did in 2012 -- a national runner-up season and the best in 19 years for the program -- Notre Dame's 2013 football team will be made whole by its first-time scrimmage contributors.

That list last fall included major contributions from the likes of Tony Springmann, Danny Spond, Keivarae Russell, Matthias Farley, Sheldon Day, DaVaris Daniels, Daniel Smith, Chris Brown, Nicky Baratti, Elijah Shumate, and of course, Everett Golson.

"We're also going to bring in a number of freshmen that I'm certain are going to be involved in special teams, especially some of those bigger-bodied guys," said Kelly during his spring wrap-up press conference. "You've got (Michael) Deeb and (Doug) Randolph and Jaylon Smith and Max Redfield just to name a few. We've got some guys coming in, some DBs, in (Devin) Butler and (Rashad) Kinlaw. There is going to be an influx of talented guys that can help us in that area."

And from scrimmage as well, not only the freshmen, but those returning from injury, little-used players from 2012, and a host of others. The only guarantee for 2013 is that September's lot of key contributors will differ -- perhaps greatly -- from November's.

Over the next three days at, we'll conclude our review of spring ball 2013 with a position-by-position look at where each unit stands, and from who it will receive aid in August camp and throughout 2013.

First in the series: the running backs.

Running Backs -- Parts will Comprise the Whole

None of the team's six 'backs on the 2013 roster exhausts eligibility at season's end…

Spring Pecking Order: George Atkinson, followed by Cam McDaniel, with Amir Carlisle likely the unit's most impressive player, albeit in a spring session spent largely without pads thanks to surgery to repair a broken collarbone. After the junior trio is redshirt-freshman Will Mahone.

Spring Star: Carlisle, and that might be true of the entire offense. But the former USC transfer hasn't played a football game since November 2011 -- he needs to stay healthy throughout August to be a major player in September.

Remaining Spring Questions: Can any member of the current group emerge as an 18-plus carries per-game runner? Is Atkinson adept enough in the passing game to stay on the field in medium-yardage situations? Can the undersized McDaniel maintain his quickness with 12 weeks of game action? Can Carlisle finally stay healthy after two springs in South Bend marred by surgeries? What can Mahone do to crack the rotation? (For a stout 'back, he offered the best downfield reception of the spring game.)

Aid on the Way: Fellow four-star freshmen Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.

Final Thoughts: Its hard to imagine both Bryant and Folston on the outside looking in, at least by late September…I can't see Atkinson becoming a viable threat in the passing game…Atkinson's desire to bounce it outside has to be corrected before he assumes more than 12 carries per contest…Carlisle is the most talented and important player in the group, he's a perfect fit in Kelly's offense…If Folston is on Carlisle's level (only younger and thus less ready to contribute), look out for the offense in 2014…Its a shame Greg Bryant didn't (or couldn't, I have no idea) enroll early…Which 'back do you want to/trust to take on 15 carries in Ann Arbor? Against Oklahoma? In Palo Alto?

Note: Full film reviews of Atkinson and McDaniel will be published as part of our "Irish 101 Series" which begins Thursday, April 25, and runs for 101 consecutive days to the start of August training camp. Also included in the series will be profiles and analysis of Carlisle, Mahone, Bryant, and Folston, though 2012 collegiate film of the quartet does not exist. Top Stories