Notre Dame turns to committee of running backs

Written By BY LaMOND POPE Sun-Times Media Posted: 03/28/2014, 05:32pm

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — It sounded like a round of “Mad Libs: Notre Dame running backs edition.”

Coach Brian Kelly described Cam McDaniel as “shifty and gutty.” He said Tarean Folston is “smooth.” And that Greg Bryant is “powerful.”

All three are options in Notre Dame’s backfield.

Kelly isn’t as concerned about finding “the man” at running back. The Irish just want to be in a position to utilize the depth this fall.

“All of us are competitors,” Bryant said Friday. “If I see Tarean get a 10-yard gain, I’m going to want to get a 20-yard gain. If Cam gets a 20-yard gain, I’m going to want to get a 30-yard gain.”

Notre Dame finished 80th nationally in rushing offense in 2013, averaging 151.3 yards per game. The figure could improve with Everett Golson or Malik Zaire as threats to run at quarterback.

When they hand the ball off, it will be going to one of three versatile backs.

“You can put those guys in situations and not pigeonhole them into, ‘You’re an outside runner, you’re an inside runner,’ ” offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said.

“Those guys can take all the reps and you can let them sort it out themselves.”

McDaniel is the veteran. He led the team with 705 rushing yards and was effective at getting the extra yards late to put games away.

“I feel like I can make dynamic plays,” McDaniel said, “and I feel like I can do whatever I’m asked to do or called to do.”

Folston became more of a factor in the second half of his freshman season. He finished with 470 rushing yards, including 140 against Navy on Nov. 2.

“It definitely boosted my confidence,” Folston said. “It just so happened that the Navy game was a pretty good game and the Rutgers game was a pretty good game (73 yards). Hopefully, I and Cam and Greg have a couple more of those games next year.”

Bryant was a big-time recruit, but his freshman season was cut short because of a knee injury. He had just three carries.

“When I’m on the field, it’s like all the aggression that I had last year not playing, and when I get the ball now and I’m in the hole, it’s like I don’t want to go back to not playing anymore,” Bryant said. “So that power, I guess it shows.”

Kelly has noticed.

“I know our guys don’t like to tackle him. He’s physical,” Kelly said. “He’s got all the tools to be a premier running back. You add him to the mix with Cam and Tarean. We feel really fortunate to have three great running backs.”


Twitter: @lamondpope

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