After a broken ankle robbed Notre Dame fans of seeing Amir Carlisle in his first season in South Bend and a collarbone crack ended his first spring in its infancy, Carlisle finally hit the field for the Irish in 2013. Starting the opening game against Temple, it was a winding road to South Bend, beginning with the Irish finishing second for his recruitment but transferring to Notre Dame when his family relocated from California to Indiana for his father’s job. (Dad Duane is the head of sports performance at Purdue.)
After a long wait, Carlisle’s time with the Irish started with a bang, a 45-yard burst around the left side of the offensive line on Notre Dame’s first play of the season. But the season ended with a whimper for Carlisle, who lost his place in the Irish running back rotation after a late-game fumble against Purdue started a downward spiral that turned him into a little-used offensive part.
Rebooting things this spring saw Carlisle determined to find his place in the Irish offense, only this time as a slot receiver. That mission seems accomplished, with the veteran likely starting next season’s opener at a new position.
Let’s take a closer look at Amir Carlisle.
5'10", 190 lbs.
Senior, No. 3
A top-100 prospect out of Northern California, Notre Dame got a visit from Carlisle in December, but couldn’t end up closing the deal on the all-purpose running back. Before he broke Notre Dame’s heart, Carlisle broke Stanford’s, backing away from his commitment to Jim Harbaugh and flipping to USC after Harbaugh headed to the NFL.
As a recruit, it wasn’t certain how the relatively slight Carlisle would make it as an every-down running back, but his ball skills and moves in the open field had many teams seeing a pass-catching back and special teams ace from the start.
Carlisle showed that type of talent at USC during his injury-plagued freshman year and actually looked solid returning kicks in George Atkinson’s place against Rutgers.
Freshman Season (2011): Played in eight games for USC, carrying the ball 19 times for 118 yards. Gained 90 yards on ten carries against Colorado, while also catching two passes for 31 yards and a touchdown.
Sophomore Season (2012): Even though he was granted immediate eligibility by the NCAA, Carlisle missed the entire season after lingering nerve damage from an ankle break before spring practice kept him off the field.
Junior Season (2013): Started four games while appearing in all 13 for the Irish. Averaged 4.3 yards a carry on 47 attempts. Also caught seven passes. Season-opening game against Temple saw Carlisle gain 68 yards on seven carries.
What happens with Carlisle from here will be interesting to watch. As Brian Kelly searches for an answer at slot receiver in his spread offense, Carlisle appears to have the diverse skill-set that’s been coveted since Kelly came to South Bend. But after struggling down the stretch and putting up pedestrian numbers in his debut season at Notre Dame, assuming Carlisle is the answer is a reach.
That being said, Kelly’s evaluation of his running back is worth noting. After going out on a ledge by calling Theo Riddick an “elite player,” and waiting until 2012 for that to come true, Kelly has given similar glowing reports to Carlisle. No, he didn’t make a huge impact in 2013. But Carlisle has two more years of eligibility and after a year off and multiple injuries, rust -- not to mention a five-deep depth chart that made establishing a rhythm impossible -- could have played a part.
The undersized pinball runner isn’t the type of three-down back that should be featured in the Irish offense. Assuming (and maybe it’s a stretch) that Carisle returns with confidence and gets rid of the drops that plagued him after the Purdue fumble, Notre Dame might finally have a weapon at the Z receiver.
I’ve gone out on a ledge before on Carlisle, putting him among my ten best players on the Irish roster heading into last season. I was wrong then, though I don’t think I’d be wrong now to think he’ll contribute something to the Irish offense as a full-time receiver.
But projecting a guy who couldn’t crack five-yards a touch to all of a sudden become the next Lache Seastrunk is a pipe-dream as well. The reality is usually somewhere in the middle, so let’s just assume that’s what happens with Carlisle. And while it’s tempting to think that Carlisle will finally be the running back/hybrid that Irish fans crave a la Percy Harvin, we might get to see one or two jet sweeps or runs like TJ Jones had last season, but it’ll never be enough.
Carlisle is a talented skill player. He’s got speed and ability that didn’t often exist on this roster before Kelly came to town. A fast track in Notre Dame Stadium will help. So will the scar tissue that comes from a disappointing debut seasonat ND. But Carlisle will either make an early move next season or be surpassed by C.J. Prosise, a 220-pounder with a different physicality at the position.