CULVER - With an abundance of talk – yet again - centered on the quarterback position at Notre Dame this training camp, one offensive group, which is standing just a few feet behind presumed starter Everett Golson, is the running backs. A deep, talented and versatile group of running backs.
With Golson not having taken a snap under fire, real fire, in nearly two years, who knows what Fighting Irish fans will get from him on Aug. 30 (in Notre Dame's home opener against Rice)?
But one thing is for certain, Golson won't have many more allies on the field in helping his level of play than the three-person running tandem of sophomores Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant, as well as senior Cam McDaniel.
“The running backs are going to help me out a lot,” Golson said. “You want to be as diverse as possible. We talked earlier about the wide receivers, we have a great group of wide receivers. The compliment to that is having a great group of backs also.
“When defenses want to spread out and try to cover those wide receivers, we're going to be able to run it down their backs. It's great for us to have them, for sure.”
Golson's enthusiasm is only exceeded by one of those running backs.
Like his coach had days earlier at a news conference, McDaniel spoke of an unmatched anxiousness to participate in this offense following his first practice of the year recently, mainly because it should be unlike any he's played in yet in South Bend.
“We've got guys at the running back position,” McDaniel explained, “including myself that are excited to get the ball and make big plays.”
What limited those “big plays” in years past was the fact that Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly never truly had an experienced and agile quarterback to run his offense.
That is no longer an issue with a more seasoned Golson, as well as fellow quarterback redshirt freshman Malik Zaire, running the offense. And that should significantly impact the play calling by Kelly and Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.
“Just the ability to have that dual-threat (quarterback) opens up the door for a lot of different things (offensively),” McDaniel said. “It allows us to be able to be less predictable in a lot of ways.
Not only will the threat of the quarterback taking off on zone-read options create openings in the defensive secondary for Irish pass catchers, but it will also allow for the backs to catch balls and get into space against single-man coverage.
The Notre Dame backs only caught 18 passes in 13 games a year ago, but that number should increase by a good measure this season.
“Coach Kelly wants to get us involved in catching balls more often,” McDaniel said. “I personally have put an emphasis on running better routes this season. I want to do that. I want to prove myself as a guy that can make plays out of the backfield, get on the perimeter and show a dynamic of my game that many people have seen.”
Just how much McDaniel gets the opportunity to “show a dynamic” remains to be seen, because Kelly has plans to utilize all three of his backs until one gives him a reason to go to him more often.
“I'm not concerned about announcing who the starting running back is,” Kelly said. “If (a separation) happens, that would be fine. There's enough room for all three of those guys to play substantial roles in our offense. And I would expect that all three of them do.”
That's fine for the coach to feel that way, but McDaniel wants his last go around with this program to be one to remember in terms of playing time.
“I'm looking to be a guy that puts this team on my shoulders,” McDaniel said. “I'm a competitor, so I expect to be the guy. This is an offense that I thrive in and we're going to see that more and more as the year unfolds. I'm looking to have a really big year.”