A fan and media darling since his arrival on campus in June 2013, Greg Bryant has yet to make a major mark between the lines for head coach Brian Kelly’s Irish.
His best games to date occurred – perhaps fittingly – 11 games and nearly three months apart, shining in a blowout win over an overmatched foe to begin 2014, and later in an embarrassing blowout loss to the program’s arch-rival USC (more on that below).
But Bryant has offered the Irish staff and the Notre Dame fan base glimpses of his talents, most notably with a momentum-changing 61-yard punt return on Senior Day against Louisville last fall.
Now entering his third season in South Bend, Bryant is on the spot to turn his massive potential and promise into production.
The end result of a dedicated summer session by Bryant places him in direct competition with classmate Tarean Folston and Slot/RB prospect C.J. Prosise for a starting job or at worst, a weekly job share. Bryant then earns the staff’s trust through a consistent August Camp effort, later capitalizing in September to emerge as the lead runner in at least one crucial early-season matchup: vs. Texas, at Virginia, and/or against Georgia Tech.
His attention to detail and adherence to the staff’s preferred method of running the football (i.e., “you owe me the first four yards; the remaining 40-plus belong to you”) affords Bryant 1A or 1B status throughout 2015 for a run-heavy Irish offense.
Bryant’s summer and August Camp efforts result in definitive No. 3 status on the early-season depth chart and both Folston and Prosise enjoy enough success in September that Bryant is no more than a true backup – not a major rotation player -- by the time the Irish roll into Clemson for an early October showdown.
Though Bryant could shine at any point given the opportunity, the same is true of his talented competitors – it’s time to deliver entering his third season at the program.
Irish fans will be pleased with this statistical resemblance: sophomore Lee Becton, 1992.
Like Bryant, Becton’s initial season was uneventful: five games played, 15 carries, just over 60 yards. And like Bryant, Becton thereafter served as the de facto No. 3 runner as a sophomore (in his case behind Heisman contender Reggie Brooks and future NFL Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis), finishing the 1992 season with 68 rushes, 373 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.4 yards per carry.
After a lost freshman season of 2013 in which he played three games prior to injury, earning just three carries, Bryant’s second-year production was similar to Becton’s:
-- Bryant 2014: 54 carries, 289 yards and three touchdowns, averaging 5.35 per carry. Of note, both Becton and Bryant posted a season-long run of 27 yards as sophomore backups, 22 seasons apart.
A dream season would include Bryant mirroring Becton’s ascent as a junior: 164 carries, 1,044 yards and six touchdowns on 6.36 yards per pop. Becton set a program record in that 1993 season (Notre Dame finished 11-1 as a controversial national runner-up to champion Florida State) with six consecutive games of at least 100 rushing yards, plus a seventh in the 1994 Cotton Bowl.
A four-star prospect per Scout.com but a five-star pledge per other services, Bryant is likely a full year behind in his development and lofty projection of “impact player” at the college level.
While he lost the bulk of his freshman season to a knee procedure, and the valuable practice time that resulted, opportunity nevertheless knocked for Bryant at Notre Dame last fall and he failed to take advantage of the situation. Meanwhile his classmate Folston is positioned for a breakout junior season after a solid, at times game-changing sophomore campaign.
Bryant began and ended the 2014 regular season with strong efforts in a backup role, first producing 71 yards on eight carries with a touchdown in the season-opener vs. Rice; and then finishing with a team-high 79 yards plus a rushing score in the blowout loss at USC.
Bryant was Notre Dame’s best weapon on that otherwise hapless Thanksgiving Saturday in Los Angeles last November, and he should have been used much earlier than midway through the second quarter when reasonable hope was lost.
“It's instinct. Sometimes you can wait on that block, but someone else could be coming behind you. I understand that you have to be patient, but if I see something, I'm going to hit it as well.” – Bryant describing his running style last September.