3 Notre Dame backs share the ball like brothers

3 Notre Dame backs share the ball like brothers

SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) Notre Dame's running back situation has all the ingredients for a rancorous relationship - even an occasional face slap.

There are three talented players: Cierre Wood, whose 1,102 yards rushing last season was the 10th best in Irish history; Theo Riddick, a receiver the past two seasons who returned to his natural running back position this year; and George Atkinson III, son of a former Oakland Raiders great defensive back and a lightning-fast runner.

All three want to be the featured back, but they also understand that there's no room for big egos as the fifth-ranked Fighting Irish (6-0) are off to their best start in a decade. Besides, the three, including housemates Wood and Riddick, say they are great friends who get along like brothers.

``Theo will be sitting on the couch and I'll just come up and smack him in the face, just because I feel like it,'' Wood said. ``Sort of take my frustration out on him. But he'll do the same thing to me. I'll be sitting there and he'll smack me in the face. But at the end of the day, it's all love.''

So far, the Irish backs have been saving their best hits for opponents, averaging 181 yards a game rushing - their highest total in 11 seasons. They've done that despite already facing two of the nation's top 10 defenses against the run in Stanford and Michigan State. This week, Notre Dame hosts Brigham Young (4-3), which is ranked third in the country in rush defense, giving up just 67.9 yards a game.

The advantages of the three-back system are that each runner is less tired as the game wears on and opponents are forced to continually adjust. But it's harder for each to get in a rhythm. Wood said that was a hard adjustment to make.

``Basically what I'm trying to do is as soon as I get the ball, I have to be in rhythm,'' he said. ``I trained myself in practice to try to make big things happen every time I touch the ball.''

Riddick is the most versatile, leading the Irish in rushing at 308 yards and his 20 catches for 170 yards leads the team in receptions. His 3.8 yards per carry is the lowest among the three, but he has been called on for some of the toughest runs. In the four games since Wood returned from a two-game suspension, Riddick has gotten the ball most often on third down and in the fourth quarter.

Wood, who split time last season with Jonas Gray and is just 16 yards from 2,000 career yards, is averaging 69.8 yards a game and 5.9 a run. Coach Brian Kelly said he doesn't see the roles of Riddick and Wood changing much in the season's second half, but he is looking to make one change.

``We have to get George some more touches,'' he said.

Atkinson is averaging an eye-popping 9.1 yards on 32 carries, breaking off a 56-yard touchdown run against Navy, a 55-yard TD run against Miami and a 32-yard run against Michigan State. Atkinson is excited about that the chance to get more carries.

``I'd be lying to say it's not in the back of your mind and you should be getting more, because it's your competitive nature,'' he said.

Kelly is looking for the three to be more disciplined in their running and more patient, allowing the linemen to block - and then to run straight ahead.

``We have a tendency to get too much of an east and west mentality. We want to be more north and south in the running game,'' he said.

He also wants Wood, who has two catches, and Atkinson, who has one, to work on their pass receiving and all three to work on their blocking. All three say they will continue to work together.

``We all help elevate each other's games. We put pressure on each other in terms of coming to work every day and performing up to our standards,'' Riddick said.

It could be a slap in the face for whoever doesn't.

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Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

Here's a small example of Dwayne Haskins' leadership, as told by Matthew Berry

ESPN Fantasy Football expert Matthew Berry was at the NFLPA Rookie Premiere last weekend in Los Angeles, where he got the chance to interview the three Redskins rookies in attendance: Dwayne Haskins, Terry McLaurin, and Bryce Love. 

Berry, who was a guest of JP Finlay's on the Redskins Talk podcast on Thursday, has been a fan of the Burgundy and Gold since he was a kid, so he was eager to talk to three of the team's newest players and learn more about them.

It was during those interviews where Berry got a quick glimpse of a side of Haskins that now has Berry really excited.

"I thought what was really cool was... When I was interviewing McLaurin, Dwayne Haskins came in and interrupted the interview to give him some crap," he told Finlay. "It was really a wonderful moment to see. Obviously, they know each other very well from Ohio State, but just the fact that they felt comfortable enough and he wanted to come over and mess with him a little bit and have some fun, I was impressed with that."

Once Haskins left, Berry explained how he asked McLaurin about the interaction. Redskins fans will like McLaurin's answer.

"That's Dwayne, Dwayne is being a leader," McLaurin said, per Berry. 

Haskins did something similar to Love during Love's interview as well. Berry even caught up with Colts receiver Parris Campbell, who also played with the QB at Ohio State, to inquire about the 15th overall pick. 

"I asked him, 'Listen, I'm a diehard Redskins fan, what am I getting?'" Berry said. "He couldn't have been more effusive. 'You're not only getting a guy who puts the ball where you want it, but you're getting a leader. You're getting a guy who makes sure everyone in the huddle is included.'"

You can be skeptical of how much these little moments mean, and that's fair. Ultimately, how quickly Haskins picks up Jay Gruden's playbook and how accurate his arm turns out to be will factor more into his success in the NFL than being able to joke around a bit with some of his guys.

But you can also hope that these little moments are hints of a bigger personality and approach, a look into an athlete who can get a football team to buy into him. That's the side Berry is on.

"I thought that was really cool, and just showed somebody who's very comfortable in the leadership position and who's trying to be inclusive of everyone," he said. "It's early in the process, but I have yet to hear somebody on or off the record say something bad about Dwayne Haskins."


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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

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WNBA Finals loss only more fuel for Elena Delle Donne, Mystics heading into 2019 season

For Elena Delle Donne and the Mystics, last season's heartbreak in the WNBA Finals is only fuel for another potential postseason run in 2019. 

"That's something I don't think I'll ever let go," Washington's star forward told Chris Miller on the latest episode of the Wizards Talk podcast. "It's always tough when you get to that Finals and you can't finish it off. But I think it's something that can fuel you. You don't want to let it just bring you down and depress you and make it so you can't get over that hump."

"If you use it as fuel and motivation, it can help you get better. I think that's what we're all gonna do."

The Mystics reached their first WNBA Finals in franchise history in 2018 but ultimately lost to the Seattle Storm. Delle Donne, recently named in's GM survey as the favorite to win league MVP, is back for her third season in Washington and headlines a strong team that has the talent to compete for the title again.

Her status for Saturday's season opener against the Connecticut Sun is up in the air due to a left knee injury, but Delle Donne believes the Mystics will have another great season given the continuity on the roster from last season and the return of All-Star forward Emma Meesseman. 

"We feel great. We've got our core back," said Delle Donne. "And to be able to add a superstar like Emma to that roster is pretty scary. Especially with her style of play and the way that our team started playing last season, where it was such positionless basketball. Spreading the floor, just spreading it, making it easy for one another to attack, get some threes. She's just gonna add so much to that."

NBC Sports Washington will be broadcasting 10 Mystics home games during the 2019 WNBA season. For the full regular season schedule, click here.