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SOUTH BEND – As you scan the 2013 Notre Dame football statistics, particularly in the rushing category, it takes a while before you come across the name of Greg Bryant, who just might be the most talented runner on the 2014 Fighting Irish roster. But don’t think for a second that the redshirt freshman running back is bothered – at least as of today – by that.
When Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly unveiled the final depth chart prior to Saturday’s season opener against Rice (3:30 p.m. at Notre Dame Stadium, NBC), Bryant’s name was again at the bottom, trailing senior Cam McDaniel and sophomore Tarean Foltson. However, that will probably mean little once the plays start to be called by Irish offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock.
“I’m not as concerned about that (position) and announcing who the starting running back is,” Kelly said at the beginning of training camp earlier this month. “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.”
Each of the aforementioned backs had their moments to shine over the past few weeks, and each brings a different type of ability to the field. But which one will own the “wow” factor? That would be Bryant, according to Kelly.
“Cam is our best overall running back,” Kelly said recently. “Now is he going to break (a run) and get oohs and ahhs from the crowd and go 80 yards? Probably not. We’ve got some guys like Greg Bryant who can do that.”
Speed isn’t a problem for Bryant, who redshirted after being injured early last season and totaling just three carries. Well, check that, speed just might be a problem at certain times for Bryant.
“The one thing for Greg is that he is 100 m.p.h. all of the time,” Notre Dame running backs coach Tony Alford said. “It’s like ‘Whoa, hold the horses, here.’”
And the reason for that strange (at least initially upon hearing it) coaching advice is that within the Irish zone read concepts, patience is needed before explosion.
“Slow down,” Alford said of the most important trait. “Just slow down, which is an oxymoron because you are taught from little league on up to just scorch it and run as fast as you can, and as hard as you can, all of the time.”
Alford explained that patience is needed in order to “not only understand where the blocking combinations are, but you’ve got to slow down and allow those blocks and allow those double teams to take place.”
Bryant just wants to go, go, go, which stems from an inordinate amount of confidence that he can go, go, go against any defense on Notre Dame’s schedule.
“Do you expect anything else from him,” Alford laughed when addressing Bryant’s confidence. “I sure do want that confidence in him. You don’t want to break him. That’s what has made Greg Greg, but you do have to temper it. But one thing you don’t want to do is steal a man of his confidence, of his swagger.”
McDaniel led the Irish runners a year ago with 705 yards, while Folston chipped in 470. George Atkinson III ran for 555 yards, and then ran to the NFL last spring. With Amir Carlisle (204 yards rushing) moving over to the slot receiver spot, there are a whole lot of yards and carries available for Bryant to seize. And he probably will.
“That (confidence) is why we recruited Greg,” Alford said. “That came out all of the time. But the college game is very, very different. It’s vastly different than a high school game. With that, there is a learning curve that takes place with Greg. He’s still in the midst of that curve, but he’s done a really good job. The good thing is when you talk to him, he knows and can see his improvement as a football player.”
The four Notre Dame players involved in the academic investigation (KeiVarae Russell, DaVaris Daniels, Kendall Moore, and Ishaq Williams) will not play in Saturday's opener, according to Kelly, who addressed the matter Tuesday.
"I know that when we go through an academic process like this, that involves our Honor Code, that this is a process that's out of my hands," Kelly said. "I've been through one already with (Irish quarterback Everett Golson), so I know the workings of it. It does me no good to put a timetable on it. It does me no good to think about what day. I moved on and the process will take care of itself. Just by my experience in dealing with it before."
Kelly also said Tuesday afternoon that the naming of captains would be handled by the team's Unity Council "within 24 hours." The coach didn't wait that long, as he tweeted out the news on who was honored early Tuesday evening.
Honored to announce the @NDFootball captains for 2014. Austin Collinsworth, Sheldon Day, Nick Martin and Cam McDaniel.— Brian Kelly (@CoachBrianKelly) August 26, 2014