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Are We Better or Worse: The 2014 Notre Dame Running Backs

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Hint, they weren't very good last year.

Jeff Zelevansky

Part 5 of this series is back with a look at the running backs. Here's what we've covered so far:

Are We Better or Worse: The Defensive Front Seven

Are We Better or Worse: The Secondary

Are We Better or Worse: The Offensive Line

Are We Better or Worse: Tight Ends and Receivers

*Rankings are from 1 (poor) to 10 (great).

~~~

2013 Running Backs (prediction from 5/7/13)

Experience- 4.3

Depth- 7.1

Versatility- 8.6

Talent- 7.7

Productivity- 7.6

 After last spring I had this to say about the running backs:

I will say that there is plenty of potential with this 2013 unit. Atkinson may not be refined but he offers big-play potential that few runners have. Carlisle is still a mystery but could be the most dynamic back in quite some time. Lastly, Greg Bryant could turn in a sensational freshman campaign or Tarean Folston could do something very similar.

Of course at that time we thought Everett Golson would still be the team's quarterback.

To sum up, I think the running backs will be a little worse this fall but the team might rush for about the same amount of yards as last year primarily because quarterback Everett Golson could double his yardage on the ground.

While Atkinson did offer a few big plays he never realized his potential, saw his carries limited as the season wore on, leading eventually to a suspension for the bowl game before leaving school early for the NFL. Carlisle indeed was a mystery and he stayed that way after some early positive vibes gave way to a loss of confidence and precious few carries. What's more, both freshmen battled injuries with one being shut down early in the season and the other having a very solid but not sensational campaign. Of course, Golson couldn't help out the running game when he missed the entire season with suspension.

The result was 500 less rushing yards and 11 fewer rushing touchdowns from 2012. A retroactive production rating for 2013 would probably fall into the low six area.

2014 Running Backs

Experience- 6.6

Depth- 3.6

Versatility- 8.1

Talent- 8.0

Productivity- 8.2

The experience heading into last season was pretty bad with just 105 career attempts spread out across the entire roster. With the departure of George Atkinson and Amir Carlisle moved to receiver the experience still isn't great but it's better. If you don't count Carlisle's past production (he'll likely get some carries in 2014 anyway) the Irish are bringing back 269 career carries mostly thanks to Cam McDaniel and Tarean Folston carrying the load over the second half of last season.  

I'm worried about the depth. Sure, you can transition Carlisle back to running back if need be but there isn't much comfort level with the amount of bodies. It's not like it'll take a couple backs to get dinged up for Carlisle to move, either. If one running back gets hurt that likely means Amir is going to the backfield. I can understand wanting to open up carries for your young backs in Folston and Bryant but a legit fourth option would be nice.

Assuming the backs can hold their own as blockers they should definitely obliterate the receiving yardage from last year. All of Notre Dame's running backs combined for just 18 receptions, 99 yards, and 0 touchdowns in 2013. If the spring game is any indication (8 catches, 85 yards from McDaniel, Folston, Bryant) even tripling the output from last year may be a modest predcition.

There are so many cliches to use with McDaniel and "we know what we'll get out of him" is another one I'll use. Although I will say this: It feels like he's been a veteran running back for 3 years when he's really only had 1 full season of being a psuedo-starter. I'm interested to see if he improves following a season as the team's leading rusher.

We don't need to speak too much about Folston and Bryant. Let's hope they both stay healthy and light a spark for the offense.