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Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford

Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford talks about the wealth of running backs the team has this season. By Tony Krausz, The Journal Gazette

Wealth of running backs

SOUTH BEND – Amir Carlisle had to wait two years before being healthy enough to play a full season.

Carlisle dealt with a foot injury that limited him as a freshman at USC, and after transferring to Notre Dame and being cleared to play right away, he was lost for last season because of a broken ankle.

Carlisle even had a spring practice setback when he suffered a broken collar bone.

But now that he is healthy, running backs coach Tony Alford said Carlisle looks like the player he saw on film before the injuries set in, with one physical difference.

"He's bigger," Alford said during the team's media day Thursday. "He hasn't really played in two years. He's a lot bigger. That's the biggest thing, I think you throw in the tape and you look and say, 'There's a guy that was 175 pounds, and he's 190 now.' You can see the size differential."

Carlisle will be competing for playing time in one of the Irish's deepest talent pools.

George Atkinson III, who gave up running track to focus on football, and Cam McDaniel return. Atkinson ran for 361 yards and five touchdowns last season, and McDaniel ran for 125 yards and a score.

The Irish could also have Will Mahone in the mix, if the junior can recover from a high ankle sprain that has kept him out of practice recently.

Notre Dame also has two talented freshman running backs in Greg Bryant and Tarean Folston.

"We are just really blessed to have such great talent at the running back position," Kelly said. "I don't know if I've ever had as much depth at the running back position in all of my years of coaching. Everyone can contribute to our success."

Alford said he isn't worried about Carlisle trying to do too much when he gets back in a game for the first time in a long time.

"If he can go and score, I'm not going to harness it at all, like go," Alford said laughing. "I don't think that is going to be a problem with him. He's a very level-headed guy, never too high, never too low. I don't forsee that being an issue with him. He's very mature. He's not going to come in here and be so hyped up that he hyperventilates and can't go. I don't see him being that type of guy."

Alford also sees Atkinson being a different kind of running back.

The junior was behind Cierre Wood and Theo Riddick last season, and he said he often tried to make the big run more than he should have and also ran upright too much.

Alford said Atkinson has learned the importance of staying low at times as a running back.

"Did you see (linebacker Carlo Calabrese) hit him in the face in the spring game?" Alford said. "That helps. What else do you need, right?

"But no, we work on things, running through hurdles and doing some things to help facilitate him dropping his pad level and stuff. It's just something we just to continually remind him, continually talk to him about, 'Drop your pads on contact.' Before he used to duck that system, now he's buying in."