They're the man

Each of Notre Dame's trio of running backs this spring has a chance to start next fall. And it's likely each will earn that opportunity at some point over a 13-game slate. As a result, a definitive team dynamic permeates the unit, which is interesting, since each member of the triumvirate considers himself the best man for the job.

"I think everybody wants to be the guy. But honestly, if you're doing what you're supposed to do, you'll separate yourself anyway. You need more than one 'back in the backfield. It doesn't bother me. I'm going to get mine."

The comment above is attributed to sophomore running back Greg Bryant (for more on Bryant, click here), but it likewise depicts the outlook and confidence of his position mates for 2014, classmate Tarean Folston and senior Cam McDaniel.

After beginning 2013 with six runners, there are just three scholarship 'backs this spring with no incoming freshman set to join in the fall. Senior Amir Carlisle, now a slot receiver/RB and junior Will Mahone (slot), could move back in a pinch, but it's not expected.

McDaniel, Folston, and Bryant have it covered.

"All of them have the skill set we need to be successful in this offense," said running backs coach Tony Alford. "It's a matter of consistency and consistency in your training.

"You know what you're getting with Cam. He's been consistent and steady. Tarean's retention has been good for a young guy. Greg has done a nice job as far as learning the offense, because he really didn't know it.

"By his own admission there were a lot of things he didn't know that he thought he did, but he didn't. His learning curve has been good and he's cut through it nicely and he plays fast. Every time he's doing something it's 100 miles an hour. It's a good thing when you have to pull the reigns to slow down."

McDaniel led the Irish in rushing yards and attempts last fall while tying with Folston and the since-departed George Atkinson for the team lead with three scores. Folston showed his wares late, likely posting the best individual game of the season with his 18-carry, 140-yard, one score performance in a 38-34 November win over Navy.

Bryant led them -- and still does -- in the adoring eyes of the Irish fan base. The next step is to join his fellow runners in the rotation.

Bryant played sparingly early last season

"When he hits something, it moves. When he hits things, things start flying," said Alford of Bryant. "His legs are always churning, moving. He plays the game fast, and furious, and he is a powerful individual. He has the ability to accelerate into contact. That's something a lot of guys don't have. You never truly get a great shot at him because he's dipping and sliding off of things. He's a powerful guy and he's hard to get on the ground.

While Bryant has proven hard to tackle in practice, McDaniel has proven he can perform on Saturdays, racking up 97 yards against USC, the nation's No. 15-ranked rush defense, and a career-best 117 vs. Brigham Young. He likewise hit Arizona State for 82 yards, Rutgers (ranked 4th nationally against the run) for 80, and scored the game-winning touchdown against Rose Bowl champion and the nation's top defense, Michigan State.

"I'm versatile enough to thrive in any situation," said McDaniel of the competition. "In my opinion, I feel like we have the ability to have one of the best running games in the nation this year. With (Everett) Golson back as a dual threat and the talent we have in the backfield, I'm just excited for what we've got going on and the game plan we've got. It feels like it's going to be a great opportunity for all of us."

McDaniel was the team's unquestioned closer last year

Head coach Brian Kelly has already stated that finding one from the three is not the goal, nor is it in most modern offenses.

"At running back, everybody talks about a No. 1 guy," said Kelly "You're going to have two or three guys that play for you. You're never going to have really just one guy. You're always going to have a couple of guys."

Like Alford, Kelly, and his pair of competitors, Folston is fine with that.

"It's everybody's desire (to be No. 1)," he admitted. "Nothing is in concrete. I couldn't tell you who it is. Me, Greg, Cam, we're all going to work to be that. At the end, we're all still teammates.

"It's not necessarily a bad thing to share reps. It can take a little bit of the beating off you as a running back. You can last longer and you can finish off the season strong."

That's the goal, especially after a 2013 campaign that included a near-record low 12 rushing scores from the team and nearly 500 fewer rushing yards than the team's predecessors from 2012.

"I want to know that there's enough consistency within their game that any one of them can go in at any time, in anything that we're doing, and be able to succeed and help this offense," said Alford of his goal for the spring.

As for the reality that all three believe they are the best man for the job?

"I don't think there's any negative to that in any way, shape, or form," Alford offered. "You want guys that are confident, that want to be the guy and believe they are that guy. If you have one that's not, we've recruited the wrong guy. They all have a high competitive nature and competitive level.

"They're not at each other's throats. They coach each other up and champion each other's efforts. We need them all. We can't go in with one guy and expect to have success. They help one another out."

In good health, it will remain that way through season's end. Top Stories