Notre Dame enters the 2012 season with a stable of running backs at its disposal. Notre Dame’s leading rusher in 2011 was Cierre Wood who ran for 1,102 yards and 9 TDs. Making a change from wide receiver to running back is Theo Riddick. Riddick is currently pushing for the starting position. The dark horse in the battle for playing time is Sophomore George Atkinson. Atkinson proved to be an explosive playmaker on kick returns with touchdowns against Michigan State and USC. Other players trying to make their way into the mix are Sophomore transfer Amir Carlisle and Freshman Will Mahone.
Cierre Wood obviously is the incumbent on the team. Despite being pushed by Theo Riddick, Wood should get the starting nod. Wood is a proven back who has rushed for 1,705 yards in his career. Riddick has bounced back and forth between wide receiver and running back. In his career, Riddick has rushed for 252 yards in the three years that he has been on field. Of course, Riddick also has racked up 893 receiving yards. Will Riddick become a threat in the running game this season?
Although Riddick’s time as running back against Florida State was limited, he looks natural and aggressive when hitting the hole. Riddick has 8 carries for 36 yards or a 4.6 yard average. If you will recall, Riddick had a crash course during the practices leading up to the Champs Sports Bowl. For Riddick to perform well in this game was very impressive. Now, with Spring and Summer camps under his belt, Riddick should excel if he can stay healthy. For the past two seasons, Riddick has been plagued by injuries. Reports from fall camp have indicated that Riddick may not be 100% at this time. It is very simple for the Senior running back. Stay health and be productive.
Riddick’s time could be affective by the emergence of Notre Dame’s most prototypical running back on the roster, George Atkinson III. Atkinson proved that he was one of the most explosive athletes on the team last year when he returned two kickoffs for touchdowns. In the off-season, GAIII torched the track for the Fighting Irish track team along with fellow teammates, Josh Atkinson and Bennett Jackson. At 6’1” 210 lbs, Atkinson is physically imposing. Many would think that he is only speed. But, he might be the best option for power running as well. Atkinson ran for 124 yards on 15 carries for an 8.3 yard average. He has demonstrated that he can be the most complete back on Notre Dame’s roster. In fall camp, he has shown that he can be the “home run hitter” on the team. The only thing that is separating him from Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick is experience.
Overall, Notre Dame is very deep at this position. Hypothetically, they have three players who could start for the Fighting Irish. All three should see time this season. It will be up to Brian Kelly to get all three of them involved. If he can, it should be a great season out of the running back position.