With the start of Notre Dame preseason camp approaching fast, we’re looking at what to expect from each unit that’ll take the field Sept. 5 under the lights against Texas.
1. Tarean Folston (Junior)
2. C.J. Prosise (Senior)
3. Greg Bryant* (Junior)
3A. Dexter Williams (Freshman)
3B. Josh Adams (Freshman)
Folston emerged over the last two years as a solid, dependable player more than capable of doing everything asked of him. He responded well to a pass protection-fueled benching against Arizona State to rapidly improve in that area of his game last year, and is reliable as a pass-catcher and back who can pick up necessary yardage. He showed a better ability to pick up big chunks of yards, too, with his longest carry going for 26 yards and his longest reception 37.
But Folston isn’t a home run hitter, which is where Prosise and Bryant — who’s expected to be suspended for the first four games of the season — come into play. Prosise, as a slot receiver in 2014, proved he can be an explosive player in space and took a jet sweep 50 yards for a touchdown against LSU. In a best-case scenario, he’s a more explosive version of 2012 Theo Riddick, a guy who can take handoffs and motion out of the backfield into the slot to create mismatches with opposing defenses.
Bryant has a five-star pedigree but hasn’t shown he can be anything more than a No. 3 running back at the college level. His September suspension is a setback, though with a pair of freshmen behind him he’s not at risk of slipping any farther down the depth chart.
Biggest question: How will C.J. Prosise be used?
Everything appears to be aligning well for Prosise to play most of his snaps as a running back: Bryant is out for September, and Amir Carlisle and Torii Hunter Jr. would be a solid slot combination if Prosise is primarily used out of the backfield. But all his work came in spring practice, which isn't always predictive of success or how a player will be deployed in the fall.
That being said, Prosise's cross-training at running back went smoothy and he impressed coaches with how quickly he picked up the position.
“He’s a natural runner,” offensive coordinator Mike Sanford said during spring practice. “He presses the line of scrimmage well, he sees things, and then he plays with good pad level, which is tough for a tall guy. I’ve been really impressed with CJ and I just think that’s been a great storyline for our offense is just the depth that he brings and the quality he brings and the versatility that he brings to that position.”
With Folston, Prosise and Bryant topping the depth chart, Brian Kelly & Co. should be able to preserve a year of eligibility by redshirting Adams and/or Williams. But running backs rarely stay in college for four or five years, so if there’s any position group in which burning a redshirt isn’t a huge issue, it’s this one.
Every championship-winning team since 2008 (Florida, Alabama 3x, Auburn, Florida State, Ohio State) has averaged at least five yards per carry. This isn’t the end-all statistic for determining a potential champion, but it’s worth noting that Notre Dame hasn’t averaged five yards per carry this millennium.
Irish rushers averaged 4.28 yards per carry in 2014, 4.46 in 2013 and 4.87 in 2012. With Malik Zaire engineering what’s likely to be more of a run-oriented offense, that YPC regression seems likely to be reversed — if it’s not, this group will be in trouble.
They said it
“It's our job to get the best 11 players on the field, and right now it's hard to make the case that he's not one of the best 11.” — Brian Kelly on C.J. Prosise