20 For a Title: The Difference Maker?

17 days remain before Notre Dame kicks off its 2013 campaign vs. Temple and Irisheyes.com has identified 20 keys if the program is to return to the BCS Championship game. Next in the series: the contributions of Amir Carlisle.

"Versatility is great if you can handle it, right? You can say 'I want you to be versatile' and play all these positions, but if you can't handle it then you can't be versatile. I think what makes him the player that he is, is that he can handle those dual roles." -- Irish head coach Brian Kelly

The roles are running back and slot receiver. The player is Amir Carlisle, and if there's one player capable of replacing Notre Dame's chief offensive weapon from its 2012 title run, Theo Riddick, it's the former USC transfer.

Or so we're told.

"Disappointment is the word that sums everything up," said Carlisle of a 2012 season lost to injury. "But you have to trust in God's plan and not doubt. Although I did get hurt in the spring (a broken collarbone kept him from contact after the first week), I looked at it as I still have the season ahead of me and I'll be healthy for the season. I really didn't get down when I hurt my collarbone."

Carlisle's Christmas-season transfer from arch-rival USC to Notre Dame brought with it an NCAA exemption that allowed him to play without sitting out the 2012 season. A broken ankle suffered in March and complications thereafter rendered the NCAA's waiver moot.

"I had some nerve involvement in the ankle, and that just slowed the entire healing process," said Carlisle. "I was supposed to be back early in the season, but I had sharp pains in my foot and it wasn't allowing me to come back.

"If I practiced, the next day I couldn't run. It just wasn't ready."

He is now. "I'm feeling great, 100 percent, both collarbone and ankle," he said.

"He catches the ball very well, he's got burst. Very smart. Knows the playbook," said head coach Brian Kelly of the "rookie" (Carlisle is a junior in class) weapon. "So, I think you start with he's a very smart kid. When you first look at him you say he's not a physical kid, well, he's almost 200 pounds. He's 192. He's solid. He's running inside out. He can catch the football. Smart and has the skill set to play multiple positions."

Where do they like him?

Flashback to August camp 2010 and a question posed to Kelly regarding then-freshman linebacker Prince Shembo. Asked where he preferred the former high school pass-rusher at the outset of his career, whether it be inside linebacker, outside linebacker, or in a specialized pass-rushing position, Kelly offered, "On the field."

That's likely how Irish fans will first get to know Carlisle. It should be a manner reminiscent of Theo Riddick last fall though likely with fewer overall rushing attempts (Riddick led the squad with 190).

"It's still evolving, it's definitely evolving," said Kelly of the slot position in particular. "If you look at it, you had two really different players in Theo Riddick and (true receiver) Robby Toma. We're looking for that one to be much more similar to a Theo Riddick across the board."

"I can definitely see us playing both Amir and another back at the same time. He's got the ability to play, he's a very good pass catcher, he's got good ball skills, I could see us getting him the football in a number of a different ways with another running back on the field."

Riddick last season augmented his north-south, chain-moving rushing style with 36 receptions (third behind only Tyler Eifert and T.J. Jones) on 56 pass targets. No player accounted for more combined rushing/receiving first downs than did Riddick; only Everett Golson produced more in third-down situations as a runner.

"I just want to be able to do as many things as possible so the coaching staff will feel comfortable putting me anywhere on the field," Carlisle said. "I take it as an honor. It's a blessing that they trust me to put me at multiple positions. I think I can help this team by playing running back, slot or wherever.

That "whatever" will likely include a punt and/or kick returner role, to boot.

"The more things you can do as a player, the more valuable you become. I really took that as my motto this summer, to work on my route running and my pass catching so the coaches could trust me and put me in a position where they might put me at receiver."

"Sitting out last year, I got the opportunity to learn the playbook," he noted. "Since I wasn't able to play, I took notes in meetings and really got into the playbook by myself. That helped a lot in terms of learning multiple positions."

After a year spent watching his new team beat his old team in the Coliseum, then subsequently advance to the BCS Championship game without his contributions, Carlisle is poised to produce when called upon.

"As a competitor, you always have that yearning to get out there and play. I wasn't able to, so I tried to do the things that I could to help my teammates out. Maybe give them water on the sidelines. That's all I could do," he said.

"It was frustrating, but it also was a great experience. Even though I wasn't able to play, we still made it to the national championship, and that's an experience that not many people get to have in their lives. I took the experience in and really enjoyed it while I was there."

If the Irish earn a BCS Championship berth again, Carlisle will doubtless have a major role in that return trip.

Note: For previous articles in the 20 For a Title series, click the links below:

The Assumed: Sheldon Day

The Left-Siders: Martin and Watt

As Advertised? Tuitt and Nix


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