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Football: Picking up the slack

Matthew DeFranks | Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Following the suspension of senior running back Cierre Wood, some fresh faces will get their chance to shine in the season opener against Navy on Saturday.

Senior running back Theo Riddick will move into the starter’s role after rushing for 63 yards on only 14 carries last season, while sophomore running back George Atkinson will slide into the backup’s spot.

Riddick was part of the Irish receiving corps a year ago and has since moved to the running back-slot receiver hybrid position created this offseason. Irish coach Brian Kelly said he is not concerned about Riddick’s transition or Atkinson’s development.

“Theo is obviously someone who has a lot of experience at the wide receiver position, so you have someone who is extremely effective at catching the football,” Kelly said. “He is a guy that was bred for this position.

“George is progressing every day. [Before,] he was strictly the tailback, in the [I-formation], getting the ball seven and a half yards deep. Now he’s moving into different venues as a receiver. He’s continued to evolve in that position.”

In addition to Riddick and Atkinson, sophomore running back Cam McDaniel has been exclusively working with the offense after temporarily switching to cornerback. Meanwhile, sophomore running back and USC transfer Amir Carlisle, hampered by an ankle injury, will not play against Navy this Saturday.

“We’re very encouraged [by Carlisle’s development],” Kelly said. “I’m very optimistic as we stand here right now that we may be close. … He’s a really good football player, and we don’t want to play him at 80 percent.”

The active running backs will be counted on to replace Wood’s production first against Navy and again a week later against Purdue. Last season, Wood rushed for 1,102 yards and nine touchdowns on 217 carries.

Notre Dame released a statement Sunday confirming not only the ban of Wood for two games, but also a two-game suspension for junior defensive end Justin Utupo. Both players were suspended for violating team rules.

“When we suspend somebody, I look at it in terms of ‘How are we going to get this young man to live up to the standards that I have for our program?’ ” Kelly said in his Tuesday press conference.

Kelly said the suspensions handed down were his own, independent from the Office of Residential Life.

Lots of receivers to see action

With the departure of receiver Michael Floyd, the Irish lost 100 receptions, 1,147 yards and nine touchdowns. While senior tight end Tyler Eifert is expected to provide a safety blanket for sophomore quarterback Everett Golson, depth behind him is a concern for Notre Dame.

Seniors John Goodman and Robby Toma, along with juniors T.J. Jones and Daniel Smith, should be contributors to the Irish offense. From there, an inexperienced group of receivers will take on expanded roles.

“Each one of them right now has a different skill set,” Kelly said. “None of them are polished to the level where they’re a standalone player other than Tyler Eifert.”

Kelly said freshmen Justin Ferguson, Chris Brown and Davonte’ Neal will all also see playing time this year.

Contact Matthew DeFranks at mdefrank@nd.edu