It was incredibly painful watching seven rounds of NFL Draft coverage without hearing Cierre Wood’s name called. Wood could have been returning to the Irish this year for a 5th season after he sat out his freshman campaign in 2009, but chose to take a shot at the next level. While we’re not here to judge whether or not he made the right personal decision, as fans it’s obvious that it would be a luxury to have Wood in the backfield this year. With Everett Golson out for the season this rings even more true.
Along with Wood, who signed with the Texans, 2012’s leading rusher Theo Riddick will also be playing on Sundays this fall after being drafted in the 6th round by the Detroit Lions. Though Wood and Riddick did account for the vast majority of the carries last season the Irish are fortunate to have some depth at running back. That being said, outside of George Atkinson that depth is entirely inexperienced and unproven. Former USC transfer Amir Carlisle, who has had some difficult luck with the injury bug, has been named as one of the more electric players on the roster. Cam McDaniel was solid in a few appearances last year (most memorable for me was watching him single handedly plow through the Miami defense at Soldier Field to cap off a dominant win), and Will Mahone will look to get his shot at some carries.
Possibly the most talented option for the Irish will be 5-star freshman Greg Bryant who reminds me a lot of Alabama’s standout first year player T.J. Yeldon. With Bryant coming in as the 2nd ranked running back prospect in the class, the Irish have a HUGE luxury in also landing the 6th ranked back – Tarean Folston out of Cocoa, Fla. While I expect Atkinson to be the go-to back for the majority of the season, I will not be at all surprised to see Bryant and Folston fighting for significant playing time as the season progresses.
Irish Player to Watch
George Atkinson III
Height/Weight: 6’1.5”, 220 lbs.
Atkinson was mostly used as a change of pace back for the Irish offense in 2012 and found the most success when he cut outside the tackles. If you were like me last season, you were absolutely convinced he was going to finish with a 10 yards per rush average. Sure, he didn’t quite meet that absurdly high standard, but 7.1 yards per rush is nothing to sneeze at. Atkinson’s speed is ELITE (you may remember he ran the 4th fastest 100 meter time by a college football player last year even though he had minimal training). Yes, yes, I know even the offensive linemen and punters in the SEC are that fast, but it’s pretty damn good for an independent.
The question with Atkinson lies more in his ability to be an every down back for the Irish. While he doesn’t necessarily look to be much over a buck eighty, GA3 is deceptively sturdy at 220 lbs. There has been a lot of talk about Atkinson’s tendency to remain upright when being hit and the resulting effects on not only the likelihood he gets his bell rung like he did in the Blue/Gold game but also the inability to break tackles or fight for extra yards. Our friends at One Foot Down did an excellent job of analyzing his technique a few months ago.
Enemy Player to Watch
Silas Redd – USC
Height/Weight: 5’10”, 200 lbs.
Ugh, it pains me when I have to pick USC players for the Know Thyself, Know Thy Enemy series. Luckily for me, watching Lane Kiffin run the program into the ground while Pat Haden astonishingly continues to keep him employed helps me to sleep like a baby at night. You keep doing what you do, Kiffykins. And Pat, you keep that seat nice and cool for him – the longer the better!
Redd is one of six Irish opponents named to the Doak Walker watch list along with Michael Alisa and Jamaal Williams of BYU, D.J. Foster and Marion Grice of Arizona State, and Damien Williams of Oklahoma. In case you were wondering, no Irish players made the list. Redd was the highest profile player to leave Penn State in the wake of the Sandusky scandal and many thought that he was the missing piece needed to bring pre-season #1 USC to a national title. As an aside, those were the days that gave me nightmares. Thanks again, Kiffykins, for screwing the pooch with an incredibly talented roster.
Redd put up 905 rushing yards at a clip of 5.4 yards per rush with 9 touchdowns in 2012. Additionally, he added 113 yards and a TD through the air. He didn’t put up quite as strong of numbers as he did during his sophomore campaign at Penn State, but he also ran the ball 80 fewer times. Even though Redd missed most of spring practice after having surgery for torn knee cartilage, he is expected to be healthy and starting for the Trojans again this fall.