#12 -- Running BackJuniors George Atkinson, Cam McDaniel, and Amir Carlisle (the latter a redshirt-sophomore), sophomore (redshirt-freshman) Will Mahone, and the incoming freshmen tandem Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.
BCS Championship Level Starter? Not yet.
Proven Depth: Atkinson was dynamite as a No. 3 runner at times, finishing second on the squad in rushing scores (5) and first in yards-per-carry (a robust 7.1) while producing the two-longest touchdown runs of the year (56 and 55 yards). His ability to carry the load as a feature back has been questioned ad naseum in the off-season.
McDaniel showed well, coincidentally, in the same games as did Atkinson, though the former did it vs. first-string defenders. At worst, McDaniel will elevate to the No. 3 role -- a reliable inside runner with wiggle, balance, and good hands in the passing game.
Theoretical Depth: Carlisle is the season's X-Factor offensively: a potential dual-threat runner/slot receiver and overall weapon in space. The former four-star prospect and USC transfer hasn't played since November 2011 -- for the Trojans, against Oregon. If staying healthy is a skill as baseball talent evaluators posit, Carlisle lacks it to date.
The incoming pair of Bryant and Folston could both earn monograms on talent -- their ability to pick up the nuances of the offense and assignments ranks as the likely impediment, a reality shared by most freshman 'backs.
Notre Dame is loaded with theoretical promise, power, speed, and youth-filled depth entering 2013.
Final Analysis: The program is loaded going forward at the position, but the unit's performance in Ann Arbor, West Lafayette, and throughout September and early October is of foremost concern to Irish fans. Simply put: Notre Dame won't make it to the bye week at 4-2 -- never mind unscathed -- if its running backs don't elevate their play from the outset.
While fans pine for Bryant or the gritty McDaniel, there's no doubt Carlisle and Atkinson are the key components to a return to a BCS Bowl -- if both don't play well early, Notre Dame won't be in the picture late.
As the season evolves, Bryant and his fellow untested competitors could emerge, but the die will be cast by the junior pair from California.
#13 -- Field SafetySophomores Elijah Shumate and Nicky Baratti, plus incoming freshman Max Redfield
BCS Championship Level Starter? None, but potentially three in 2014-15-16-17...
Proven Depth: Both Shumate and Baratti saw valuable playing time last season, Baratti as the eventual No. 3 safety behind Zeke Motta and Matthias Farley, and Shumate as the team's starting nickel back. Baratti produced an end zone interception vs. Michigan in a 13-6 win over the Wolverines while Shumate saw most of his successes early as well, especially in a standout effort at Michigan State. Shumate's 2012 role bears no resemblance to the field safety position, however.
Theoretical Depth: Either Shumate or Baratti will rank as the team's most promising back line "backup" … though maybe that mantle will belong to Redfield, a superb athlete with an outside chance to win a starting role as the season progresses. The position houses three of the team's best young defenders and each will play a major role in the future of Bob Diaco's defense.
With five combatants at the other (boundary) safety position, either junior (redshirt-sophomore) Eilar Hardy or sophomore (redshirt-freshman) John Turner could flip to the field safety role to lend depth.
Final Analysis: Its the camp battle to watch, and likely one that will extend through September and into the bye week/matchup with USC in mid-October. Expect Shumate and Baratti to share the role early with Diaco in search of the player who best understands that his first step is back, that he's the last line of defense, and that the goal of any great secondary is to keep the play in front of it -- big plays to follow.
Though I don't think he will win the opening day role, Redfield has a shot at major playing time and a spot in this rotation. (Prior to camp, my guess is Redfield instead finds a role as a starter in the team's dime defense, one it couldn't use last season because of a lack of developed talent in the secondary.)
Shumate has the early edge on Baratti as the latter missed the contact portion of spring ball following off-season shoulder surgery.