Irish have plenty of options, but featured back has yet to emerge
BY LAMOND POPE Sun-Times Media August 11, 2013 8:11PM
Toting the rock
Notre Dame’s top rushers from 2012:
Att Yds Avg TD
Theo Riddick 190 917 4.8 5
Cierre Wood 114 742 6.5 4
George Atkinson 51 361 7.1 5
Everett Golson 94 298 3.2 6
Cam McDaniel 23 125 5.4 1
Updated: August 11, 2013 9:05PM
SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Notre Dame running back George Atkinson III burst through a hole on the right side for a big gain during practice Friday.
Moments later, fellow running back Amir Carlisle caught a swing pass, avoided a tackle and picked up some extra yards before he was brought down.
The Fighting Irish got another back, Will Mahone, involved next. Mahone caught a pass near the left sideline and juked two defenders.
Atkinson, Carlisle and Mahone are three of the options Notre Dame has in the backfield. Cam McDaniel, Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston also figure to be factors. The Irish are working through the process of figuring out who will be their top back.
‘‘From top to bottom, we have young guys who can make plays.’’ Carlisle said Friday. ‘‘We have older guys — George, Cam — who can make plays. It builds our competitive atmosphere, and it just makes everybody better. It’s the coaches’ job to decide who plays where, but we just compete each and every day.’’
Atkinson and McDaniel are the most experienced backs on the roster. Atkinson finished third on the team last season with 361 rushing yards and scored five touchdowns. McDaniel had 125 rushing yards and one touchdown.
‘‘I’m more comfortable because I know what the coaches are expecting,’’ said Atkinson, a junior. ‘‘I’m just more comfortable with the play-calling and everything else. I know what to expect.’’
Carlisle missed all of last season with an ankle injury. He had a strong spring but missed portions of those practices with a broken collarbone. He said he’s healthy now and ready to contribute.
‘‘I took the mentality that my playing career wasn’t denied, it was just delayed,’’ Carlisle said. ‘‘I stayed positive throughout that, and now I have the opportunity to play football.’’
The younger backs have stood out during the first week of camp. Bryant is a five-star recruit from Delray Beach, Fla., and Mahone showed some nimbleness with his catch-and-run.
‘‘Probably more pleased with that group than any,’’ Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said. ‘‘We’ve got guys who can help us win right now. Greg Bryant can help us win.
‘‘Will Mahone had a great offseason. He’s had a great camp. He’s playing a little bit more in the slot, getting the ball to him. He’s got very good ball skills. We didn’t even know how good his ball skills were until we started to put him in the slot a little bit more. He’s come on. He’s probably been one of those guys in the first few days that’s caught our attention.’’
It has added up to one of the more intriguing position battles in camp.
‘‘If you saw how it shook out last year, Theo Riddick was the No. 1 running back because he ran the ball the way we wanted to play the game last year,’’ Kelly said. ‘‘So that will be the No. 1 running back.
‘‘All the other backs will have a role within the offense. It could be pass-catching, it could be protection, it could be a little bit of both, it could be all those things. It could be a third-down back. It could be a guy who gets us that tough yard. But the No. 1 back will be that guy who runs the ball the most effectively, who is truly the best running back. That has yet to be determined.’’
NOTE: Safety Nicky Baratti reportedly could miss the season with a shoulder injury.
IrishIllustrated.com reported that Baratti re-injured a shoulder that required offseason surgery and that Baratti’s father, Clarke, posted a photo of his son’s interception from the Michigan game last season on Facebook with the caption, “You won’t be seeing this again in 2013 ... Nicky is out for the year.”
Nicky Baratti posted on Twitter on Sunday: “Everything happens for a reason.”
Baratti appeared in all 13 games as a freshman last year, mostly on special teams. He had eight tackles and the interception against the Wolverines.
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly is scheduled to meet with reporters Monday.