The eighth of 14 storylines as we approach the 2014 football season...
During this off-season there has been a lot of talk about the depth at running back for Notre Dame and that is largely due to the talents of Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. While I don't necessarily agree that there is tremendous depth--the team is one tailback sprained ankle away from relying on walk-ons for quality practice reps--there is no denying that Folston and Bryant have tantalizing potential.
However, that potential has to be realized quickly in order to really hang your hat on the running game. This is college football where careers are through in the blink of an eye, particularly at the running back position. It's conceivable that even if Folston or Bryant aren't stars they will only play for Notre Dame through the 2015 season. That could leave as few as 26 games for each of them if they stay healthy.
Health is a major factor in these discussions, too. We're talking a lot about potential, talent, super-stardom and more when we haven't seen either tailback play a season in good health. Folston nursed a nagging injury through fall camp last year and aggravated another injury during the season while Bryant fought knee tendinitis injury from day one and ultimately was sat down for the rest of the season after a few games.
Being able to remain healthy is an important aspect to carrying the ball and these injuries certainly could be considered a knock on the infamous young duo. At the same time, what kind of players will they be if and/or when they are able to progress through a season without injuries? That's what is exciting to me about projecting Folston and Bryant in this offense.
We've seen enough of Folston in action to know he's got No. 1 back potential and a high ceiling. Besides a long run against Oklahoma he really didn't become a factor in 2013 until late October at which point he finished the season with 10+ carries in 5 out of his last 6 games. He was outstanding against Navy and BYU while just okay against the likes of Pitt, Stanford, and Rutgers. Even though he doesn't have blazing speed, Folston has an enviable combination of size and quickness and he's shown flashes of amazing vision.
Bryant is still a very mysterious player but continues to receive high praise from various sectors for his talent, strength, and work-ethic. During the Weis era, I think such talk was often spoken with a touch of homerism but I don't think this has been the case too often under Brian Kelly. Plus, the talent level of the roster across the board is better now, so if a player is really impressing, you know he's likely to shine during the season. So even though we're talking about someone with 3 collegiate carries to his name there's a lot to like about Greg Bryant. He's similar to Folston in many ways but might have an even higher ceiling.
These two combined for 133 yards on 19 carries during the spring game and chipped in 65 yards on 6 receptions, as well. If they can average around 200 yards from scrimmage during the season I believe we're in for a treat. You'll notice I haven't even brought up rising senior Cam McDaniel yet. He's sure to be a major factor, especially early in the season.
I'm not sure if we'll see ~200 yards from scrimmage per game from them on a consistent basis nor do I think Irish fans should be talking about Folston and Bryant as one of the best running back 1-2 punches in the country. However, I do think they offer a ton to the offense and if they are healthy provide an immediate upgrade to the position. With a mobile quarterback back behind center getting back near the 2,500 yard rushing mark on the season looks like a very realistic goal.