Notre Dame's Playmaker Under Construction

Irish head coach Brian Kelly believes his staff is in the process of developing another playmaker for the 2015 squad -- one three seasons in the making.

Maybe its more than a contingency plan?

Maybe the "C.J. Prosise Experiment," as it has been dubbed by Notre Dame media members, is no longer that at all.

Or maybe Brian Kelly's words of praise regarding his former safety-turned-slot-turned-running back(?) will prove to be nothing more than typical spring topic fodder.

Regardless of the end result, the present appears promising.

"He looks like a natural running back. He can see things," said Kelly. "He's exceptional at the second-level. He's got better speed than any of our 'backs and he's almost 218 pounds. He's a big, long 'back. He's still running routes for us too, so he knows the passing game."

Kelly preceded those comments with an honest answer when pressed to evaluate Prosise after his first 10 spring practice sessions, the bulk of which have been spent in the backfield though the senior-to-be still takes pass-catching reps.

"Surprisingly well. C.J.'s not a natural football player. It just doesn't -- he's a natural athlete," Kelly offered. "He can dunk a basketball, he can run track. He can do so many things effortlessly. (Football) doesn't come to him naturally. I quite frankly thought it would be a more difficult transition for him. But it has come a lot easier than I thought."

Prosise noted at the outset of spring ball that his biggest adjustment would be maintaining a proper pad level. It wasn't his most difficult spring training exercise, the came in 2013 when he moved from the defensive backfield from the slot.

"I don't think there's anybody that's improved more than he has. It's really exciting," said associate head coach Mike Denbrock, the long-time Irish aid that oversees Kelly's wide receivers. "The way he goes about his business, it's really important to him and he understands the game pretty well for a guy that was a safety when he got here.

"One of the things that's really interesting and exciting about the fact that he's been in the running backs room for most of the spring…what's it's going to allow us to do is be more versatile with that position. If he understands the ins-and-outs of our protection scheme, and then understands our passing game enough to go out and make plays in the passing game, that gives us some versatility that we haven't had at the position since Theo Riddick was here.

"You saw how we used Theo," Denbrock continued. "It's exciting to have a guy that can do both roles in one way shape or form. It was born out of necessity because of the depth at running back but it's going to pay dividends in the fall."

Riddick's dual-role in 2012 resulted in 35 receptions (fourth on the squad) plus a crucial 27 chain-moving plays (including two touchdowns) on third down, easily first on the team ahead of quarterback Everett Golson's 16 (rushes).

Prosise last season secured four receptions that resulted in first downs plus five rushes that moved the chains (though none of those carries occurred on third down).

Combined with co-starter Amir Carlisle, the Irish slots were good for nine first down receptions on third down. Including Prosise, Notre Dame's 2014 running backs combined for just seven third-down receptions that resulted in first-down yardage.

It's a point of emphasis to better involve the backfield in the 2015 passing attack. 

While both Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston are comfortable catching the football (Bryant is a natural in that regard), it's incumbent upon the versatile Prosise to provide that extra element to Kelly's ever-evolving offense.

"It's been nice, because it's opened up a lot of reps for Torii Hunter, which he's needed," said Kelly of Prosise's presence among the running backs. "Torii has gotten a ton of work behind Amir Carlisle at the Z position (slot) and it's really allowed us to develop C.J. at the running back position. I think (running backs coach) Autry's (Denson) done a great job with him."

The "experiment" isn't close to reaching its conclusion, but the early returns are promising.


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