SOUTH BEND – If Notre Dame fans are feeling a bit skittish about the Fighting Irish offense heading into Saturday's annual Blue-Gold game (NBC Sports Network, 1 p.m.), that is certainly understandable.
The Irish lost a pair of veteran offensive linemen in Braxston Cave and Mike Golic Jr. Notre Dame no longer has the nation's best tight end (Tyler Eifert) at its disposal this season. And a pair of Irish backs (Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick) very well may be hearing their names called in next week's NFL Draft.
So there are holes to plug in a number of places. However, there are also new faces, such as junior running back Cam McDaniel, ready to accept more prominent roles become the next fan favorites.
The 5-foot-11, 195-pound runner has the strength to run inside, but also the athleticism that enabled him to spend time at cornerback and on special teams in the past two seasons.
“I'm just taking advantage of all of the opportunities that I get,” McDaniel said. “We're all getting our opportunities and we're all finding our niche in the offense.”
McDaniel is just one of a horde of athletes vying for time in the offensive backfield, and it is only going to get more crowded this summer.
This spring, McDaniel, George Atkinson III and Will Mahone have each gotten carries, and sophomore Amir Carlisle would have if he hadn't suffered a broken collarbone recently. That group doesn't even include incoming freshman Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston, both of whom have a chance to play immediately in the fall.
That depth provides a good problem for Irish coach Brian Kelly, who can devise varied formations to maximize those talents.
“We've got some flexibility with Amir and Cam in particular,” Kelly said. “We'll never rule out playing both of them. If they're among our best 11, we can find a way to get both of them on the field.”
Not only has McDaniel and the backs lined up behind and aside returning quarterback Everett Golson, but they also can line up outside as slot receivers, and that is perfectly fine with McDaniel.
“In our offense, the running back has the opportunity to play the slot receiver at any time,” McDaniel explained. “All of us have been out there. Since the seventh grade, I've been in the spread offense. So going out to the slot is something that I'm used to.”
McDaniel only received limited opportunities a year ago, despite playing in all 13 games. At running back, he got 23 carries for 125 yards, including 55 yards and a touchdown run against Miami (Fla.). McDaniel did find the year beneficial, however, as he studied players such as Riddick.
“Theo was a smart football player,” McDaniel said. “He was always coaching the younger guys. Just being able to watch the way that he ran his routes and he was very technically sound in a lot of the things that he did.”