Chicago Colleges: Greg Bryant

ND 30, Purdue 14: Three things we learned

September, 14, 2014
Sep 14
1:31
AM CT
INDIANAPOLIS -- Remarkably, Purdue gave Notre Dame a good game. Again. This one was in doubt until the fourth quarter before the No. 11 Fighting Irish pulled away with a 30-14 win to improve to 3-0 and remain undefeated in Shamrock Series games. They now enter a bye week before facing Syracuse on Sept. 27 in East Rutherford, N.J.

Here are the biggest takeaways from Saturday night at Lucas Oil Stadium:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson, Jalani Phillips
Michael Hickey/Getty ImagesDespite being sacked four times, Everett Golson was able to make big plays with his arm and his legs against Purdue.
1) The Irish handle "adversity" well. Yes, that was the buzzword following a 16-point win, appropriate or not. In the context of the number of injuries Notre Dame's secondary suffered, that will work, as starting cornerback Cole Luke left the game with what coach Brian Kelly said was a neck injury and safety Nicky Baratti left with yet another shoulder injury. The unit was already down safety and captain Austin Collinsworth because of a Grade 2 MCL sprain. The Irish also lost receiver Amir Carlisle early in the game with an MCL sprain, were without defensive end Andrew Trumbetti, who was still banged up from the Michigan game, and did not use starting right guard Christian Lombard, still nursing a high-ankle sprain. That doesn't include the five players suspended due to the academic probe.

But seven penalties did not help matters, especially with starting safety Max Redfield getting ejected in the second quarter for targeting, further depleting a thin secondary. Hats off to true freshman Drue Tranquill, a former Purdue commit who was thrust into plenty of meaningful action and performed well.

"He did great," Kelly said. "He doesn't know what he's doing, but he's awesome. He's running around there. I say that kiddingly because he does know what he's doing. But we're trying to really keep it simple for him out there. He was such a locked-in kid. We're able to do some things with him, and he's only been here, what, eight, 10 weeks? Where would we be without that young man? It's really pretty incredible."

2) Everett Golson's still got it going. At times, Notre Dame's offense looked like it went with the gameplan of "let Golson dance around and make something happen." More often than not, he did just that, hitting running back Greg Bryant for his first career catches -- a pair of 17-yarders off broken plays -- and finishing 25 of 40 for 259 yards with two touchdowns and, most importantly, no turnovers. Golson also was the Irish's leading rusher, notching 56 yards on the ground and another touchdown despite being sacked four times being hurried six times by the Boilermakers. His leaps will continue to be a big storyline all season long, and he now boasts a 13-1 record as a Notre Dame starting quarterback (.929), second to only Johnny Lujack (20-1-1, .932).

He has said and done all the right things off the field as well.

"I also missed a wide-open pass, I don't know if y'all watched the film," Golson said, critiquing his 15-yard touchdown run. "I definitely missed a pass. Yeah, it was good for us, we got a touchdown, but as far as me, I want to be more of a pocket-passer. I missed the pass. I just have to execute better."

3) Paging the offensive line. Far too early to hit the panic button here, but the play up front could use some improvements before Stanford comes to town Oct. 4. To be fair, the unit was missing its fifth-year senior in Lombard (Matt Hegarty replaced him), and though only one of the Irish's five offensive penalties came from a lineman (a Steve Elmer false start), Golson was sacked four times by Purdue. That number probably could have been higher if not for Golson's mobility. Notre Dame averaged just 3.7 yards per rush after averaging just 1.7 yards per rush in last week's rout of Michigan. Take away the quarterback on Saturday and that average against the Boilermakers drops to 3.46 yards per rush. Again, it is very early, but if there's one unit that needs to pick up its play as Notre Dame readies for the meat of their schedule, it is the offensive line.

"We're not sustaining," Kelly said. "I mean, we're in position. We're falling off a block here. We miss a fit here. And maybe it's just the continuity took us a little bit longer. It's nothing big, but it's everything.

"It's going to get better. They will get better. It's just we're not where we need to be. We're going to keep working, keep grinding. We'll get there. We're just not there yet. We're on the 3-yard line, we're running a double-team into the B-gap, we slip and fall. Somebody fires through the B-gap. Little things like that. They got to get cleaned up before we get to where we want to be offensively."

ND 48, Rice 17: 3 Things We Learned

August, 30, 2014
Aug 30
9:00
PM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Everett Golson looked much better than the last time he took the field for Notre Dame, tallying five total touchdowns and protecting the football as he led the No. 17 Fighting Irish to a 48-17 season-opening win over Rice.

Here are our three biggest takeaways from this game, starting, of course, with the man under center:

[+] EnlargeEverett Golson
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesEverett Golson was a one-man wrecking crew for Notre Dame in its 48-17 rout of Rice on Saturday.
1) Golson is back and he's better than ever. Brian Kelly finally has an elite quarterback running his offense, and that is not a Week 1 exaggeration. Save for one errant throw he was able to survive -- a mistimed third-down toss intended for Ben Koyack, which could have been six the other way had Rice's Gabe Kaper reacted quicker -- Golson was on-point all day. He completed 14 of 22 passes for 295 yards with two touchdowns -- a 75-yarder and a 53-yarder. He ran for three touchdowns himself, part of his 12 carries for 41 yards. Two of those touchdown runs came on third down, as Golson proved to be the red-zone threat the Irish have sorely lacked in recent years. They went 6-for-6 in the red zone Saturday. And let's not forget C.J. Prosise's 55-yard touchdown drop, a marvelous throw Golson made under pressure that would've given him six total touchdowns and a career high in passing yards.

"Obviously the story of Golson was electric," Kelly said. "He kept his eyes downfield. Knew when to run, knew when to throw it, and those are things we really talked about. We didn't want to overcoach him in that we were going to allow him today to get outside the pocket and be a football player, and just naturally go play the game. And I thought he did that today extraordinarily well. He came back today and I think really showed the kind of player that he can be."

2) Golson's weapons aren't too bad either. Will Fuller was the receiver of a choice Saturday. And while his line (four catches, 85 yards, TD) is hardly eye-opening, it's worth noting that three other players eclipsed the 50-yard receiving plateau. Golson hit seven different targets against the Owls, and with the signal caller being one of five Irish players to rush for 40 or more yards, he showed just how explosive this offense can potentially be later on this season. The Irish showed great balance, tallying 295 passing yards and 281 rushing yards.

"I think I needed to polish a lot of things," Golson said. "There was a couple throws where I stayed in there and made a throw. That's what is in my mind now, but I think just being more on timing I think a lot of stuff today, I was kind of getting out of the pocket and making plays and having the guy scramble and things like that. Definitely going to get the timing down and be more precise."

3) Special teams might finally be a threat. Florida cornerback transfer Cody Riggs' biggest attribute Saturday was as a punt returner, as he brought back the first two punts for 24 and 25 yards, respectively. Greg Bryant added three returns for 31 yards (including a 10-yard return that he probably should not have picked up at the 1.) Notre Dame's average starting field position was at its own 36-yard line. They punted it just three times. Add that with an offense capable of spreading the field and the strain on a young defense is lessened considerably.

"It was driven by personnel and it was driven by wanting to improve in that area," Kelly said. "We had (80) yards in punt returns, and we only had (106) the entire year last year. I think we've improved there. We need to do it consistently.

"Cody Riggs was gassed and we had to take him out. He had not played that much football at Florida I think in a couple years. But Greg Bryant is fearless and does not know what a fair catch is. So all those people wondering why he was catching the ball, he came up with the, 'I can't hear you, my earplug is in.'

"So we have got guys back there that are fearless, that will catch the football and stick their foot in the ground and get north and south, and that is absolutely crucial. And we have guys that are committed to covering people up. So we have got the want to and the resolve to do and we have to continue to do it."

Fighting Irish morning links

August, 14, 2014
Aug 14
7:00
AM CT
Who will be next in the ALS #IceBucketChallenge ...

Kelly open to taking more transfers

May, 16, 2014
May 16
9:00
AM CT
OLYMPIA FIELDS, Ill. — Notre Dame has one transfer on the way this summer in former Florida cornerback Cody Riggs. The Irish are not opposed to adding another one, either.

[+] EnlargeTy Isaac
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesCould the Fighting Irish be interested in former USC tailback Ty Isaac?
With USC on Wednesday releasing running back Ty Isaac from his scholarship, and with the Joliet, Illinois, native expected to transfer closer to home, Notre Dame could be a destination for the former four-star prospect. Kelly, speaking in general terms Thursday, said he is looking at transfers as he is open to accepting players who make sense for his program.

"I always have an interest in adding transfers if they fit academically," Kelly said Thursday. "They've got to fit academically. We've got, obviously the young man coming in from Florida, fit into our accelerated one-year MBA program, was a great fit for us. Went for him. And he fit for us in terms of a veteran presence in the back end of our defense. It's unusual that you take a one-for-one guy, but it was the right time and it was the right place, so that worked.

"For a traditional transfer, my preference is that they have three years of eligibility and they're the right academic fit, and then of course, positionally it makes sense. You know what I mean? That there's not a backlog of players at that particular position. So I've always got my ear to the ground about transfers. There's transfers right now that we're looking at. So we're on top of what's going on."

Kelly said that there is not a backlog on running backs, if things time out the right way.

Riggs announced in February that he would attend Notre Dame as a graduate student following his graduation from Florida. The former Gators defensive back is expected to compete for playing time at cornerback.

With Notre Dame dismissing sophomore cornerback Rashad Kinlaw from the program in April, the Irish are expected to be at 83 scholarship players when all of their incoming freshmen arrive, leaving them two short of the NCAA maximum.

Isaac, who rushed for 236 yards and two touchdowns on 40 carries as a freshman last season with the Trojans, fits the mold of a traditional Notre Dame transfer, as he would have three years of eligibility remaining. The Irish were in the hunt for Isaac during the 6-foot-3, 225-pound prospect's recruitment, and there will be plenty of room on their running back depth chart when Cam McDaniel graduates following this season, as second-year players Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant are the only running backs on the roster behind McDaniel. The Irish also lost out on North Carolina's Elijah Hood during this past recruiting cycle. The four-star running back decommitted from Notre Dame last summer before going to the home-state Tar Heels.

Kelly said that Riggs, who has just one season of eligibility remaining, fit a special case for Notre Dame and was more of the exception to the rule.

"I would only do it after your program is on good, solid ground, you know what I mean?" Kelly said. "That you're not going to upset the locker room. That your locker room is in a good position. Our locker room is in a very good position where you can bring in a guy and not feel like, you know, he's going to upset what's already developed in your locker room. The first couple years I would not have gone that route, but where we are right now, we can bring in a guy for a year and do that."

Notre Dame spring wrap

April, 29, 2014
Apr 29
11:00
AM CT
Three things we learned in the spring
  • The QB rotation is stable: Everett Golson is back from his 2013 suspension, hardened and bigger than ever. And Malik Zaire has taken full advantage of the opportunity Brian Kelly has given him, after Kelly declared the job open. (Notre Dame had just two scholarship quarterbacks this spring.) While few expect Golson to relinquish his hold on the starting role, the prospect of a hungry, capable backup has to make new QBs coach Matt LaFleur happy.
  • Greg Bryant looks like a playmaker: A rough start to Bryant's career last year might have been a blessing in disguise, as knee tendinitis allowed him to redshirt and essentially get a do-over in 2014. The returns this spring have been phenomenal, with the No. 2 running back prospect from the Class of 2013 bringing a burst to the run game that was absent last season. He turned heads in the spring game and says he is carrying a more mature head on his shoulders after last season, as he's hungry to get back on the field and make plays.
  • The secondary is primed to breakout: Notre Dame does not lack for bodies among its defensive backs. KeiVarae Russell enters his third year of starting ready to be one of the nation's top corners, and the Irish return four safeties with starting experience -- one of whom, Matthias Farley, moved to nickelback this spring. Throw in Florida transfer Cody Riggs at corner this summer -- as well as the aggressive approach of new defensive coordinator Brian VanGorder, who will bring more press coverage -- and the secondary has all of the ingredients to be very good in 2014.
Three questions for the fall
  • Where will the pass-rush come from? The Irish said goodbye to Louis Nix and Stephon Tuitt, two linemen who made their living in opposing backfields. There are simply no big, athletic bodies like them on this year's roster. With a revamped front-seven, VanGorder will be tasked with finding new ways to generate pressure on the quarterback. Perhaps senior Ishaq Williams, now primarily at end, can add a boost to the line.
  • Which receivers will step up? With DaVaris Daniels (academics) gone this spring, it was essentially an open audition for Irish receivers, only two of whom had ever caught balls from Golson before (Chris Brown and tight end Ben Koyack). Corey Robinson has continued his growth after a promising freshman campaign, and Koyack will have to emerge as a bigger receiving threat after handling mostly blocking duties next to the departed Troy Niklas. Daniels' expected return this summer will provide a major boost to this group.
  • Will special teams play finally improve? Few areas have given Notre Dame trouble in recent years the way special teams has, particularly the punt return game. Awful weather this spring limited outdoor work, which limited ideal return opportunities. Bryant could emerge as the guy at punt return, though Tarean Folston and Torii Hunter Jr. may contend for chances as well.
One way-too-early prediction

Notre Dame will average better than 30 points per game for the first time in the Kelly era. In Golson, the Irish have the ideal quarterback in place to run the Kelly offense. And with the defense taking massive personnel hits up front while adjusting to a new scheme, the offense will be relied on more than ever to stretch the field, carry the load and put points on the board.

Notre Dame mailblog

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
6:30
PM CT
One more time before the spring game ...

Derrick from Warsaw, Ill., writes: Matt, first off, thanks for doing such a great job covering the Irish! I always look forward to reading everything you write! My question is, with all the great options the Irish have at running back heading into the season, how do you see everything going at the running back position? Will one guy get the lion's share of the carries? Do they go with the hot hand? Or will each guy get a fairly equal share of touches? Thanks! And keep up the great work!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Derrick. I think everyone will get a fair share early. Cam McDaniel is obviously the veteran of the group and will probably "start" the season with the first unit, but I don't see it being a traditional 1-2-3 pecking order. I said it last year (and was wrong) and will say it again now: I do think the bulk of the workload will go to Greg Bryant if he's playing near the top of his game. After all of his talk this spring about being "hungry and humbled," I think the light will click on for him in 2014.


Brian Henighan from Medina, Ohio, writes: During the practices leading up to the Pinstripe Bowl, we heard a lot about how Torii Hunter was looking very good. There was some good hype around this kid before and after his injury. Spring practices are now nearly over and I haven't heard his name mentioned one time. How is he doing/progressing? It's just strange for his name to completely disappear lately.

Matt Fortuna: Brian, I was actually wondering the same thing recently, as he rebounded from his leg injury last year to win offensive scout team player of the year: Here's what offensive coordinator Mike Denbrock said when I asked him Monday: "He is absolutely physically very gifted, and right in the mix with all those young guys as far as what we feel like he can do potentially down the road. Like a lot of young guys, the more he sees things, the more he does things, the better he's going to be. He's not where we need him to be yet, but you can see so many positive things that are going to happen there moving forward. We're just trying to speed up the process as fast as we can."


[+] EnlargeTommy Rees
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsTommy Rees' legacy at Notre Dame will likely grow with time.
Jeremy from Bethlehem, Ga., writes: Hey Matt, great job on the blog! I was curious on your take of Tommy Rees' legacy. He has been on the losing side of some games that they should have won, like Stanford. But he has won some big games in his career, such as against No. 14 Utah in 2010, being the closer in 2012 to go on to the BCS championship game, and against Michigan State this past year.

Matt Fortuna: Jeremy, like most things, I think it will only grow with time. Sure, a lot of the turnovers are what stick out in most fans' minds right now, but you have to look at the bigger picture. Notre Dame had flat-out awful quarterback luck in three of Rees' four seasons there. And yet, the Irish were lucky beyond relief to have a guy like Rees who not only knew, but embraced his role, stepping in unfazed every step of the way. And in the one year they had good quarterback luck, in 2012? That 12-0 regular season doesn't happen without Rees being the great teammate he was, relieving the guy who took his job and leading the Irish to some crucial wins. Speaking of which, that locker room absolutely loved him, which speaks louder to anything the rest of us could say.


Thomas Witty from Northbrook, Ill., writes: Hey Matt! I've been looking at the offensive line for this year and it seems like there is a lot of talent overall. I've seen on various sites that they have Ronnie Stanley and Mike McGlinchey playing tackle, but do you think Steve Elmer could get a chance, too? Also, I was excited last year when they got Hunter Bivin because he seemed like a great player. How do you see him factoring into the mix in the coming years/this year? Lastly, it seems that the talent of the offensive line has increased a lot. Do you think the offensive line could change from good to great in the coming years or even this year? As always, I love reading your blog!

Matt Fortuna: Thanks for the kind words, Thomas. Brian Kelly actually addressed this topic Wednesday, saying that the left guard spot could very well be affected by the right tackle spot, which would be between Elmer and McGlinchey. That could provide an opening at left guard for Matt Hegarty, who has plenty of experience across the line and has filled in at center for Nick Martin this spring. As for the depth question, we'e seen Notre Dame sign nine offensive linemen across the 2013 and 2014 recruiting classes. So while the numbers are down this spring -- especially on days such as Wednesday, when Elmer had a stomach ailment and the Irish were down to eight healthy offensive linemen -- the addition of four more come fall camp should be a big boost to this group's daily progress.

All hands on deck, again, for punt returns

April, 11, 2014
Apr 11
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Yes, Brian Kelly knows you've all been frustrated with Notre Dame's punt return game. Trust him, he's been every bit as frustrated as you have, and a Fighting Irish spring that opened on a minus-1-degree day back on March 3 has not given him ample opportunity to properly evaluate the unit.

Getting outside for five recent practices has presented some clarity, but the fair-catch-only rule for Saturday's Blue-Gold game won't offer many surprises to the public.

"I’m sure we’ll drop three of them and the Internet will blow up on the punt returns," Kelly quipped.

Kelly isn't sure who the main guy will be, saying Greg Bryant, Torii Hunter Jr., Amir Carlisle and even sports information director Michael Bertsch will get a chance Saturday. (He was kidding about the last name ... we think.)

By recent standards, TJ Jones performed the duty remarkably last season, leading the charge on an Irish return unit that averaged 7.1 yards per punt return, good for 80th nationally. Of course, given the averages in Kelly's first three years at Notre Dame -- 2.2 (120th nationally in 2012), 3.7 (112th in 2011) and 5.4 (100th in 2010) -- there was plenty of room for growth.

Some lessons from Jones' time, however, could carry over, as Bryant received plenty of reps among the crowd during his first preseason camp last August.

"We have some previous experience watching him and spending time with him," Kelly said. "We’re relying on some of that, quite frankly, as to why we have some confidence. I can’t say for certain we’ve got that thing figured out."

Bryant admitted to having some difficulty last season adjusting to the hang time of punter Kyle Brindza. His mindset, meanwhile, is already up to speed.

"You've just got to be fearless," the redshirt freshman said. "Football is football. It's what we've been doing since we were little, so it's like one man won't bring me down."

Irish in no rush to name starting QB

April, 3, 2014
Apr 3
8:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Just because the relationship between Notre Dame's top quarterbacks is different this time around doesn't necessarily mean Everett Golson and Malik Zaire are stealing each other's playbooks.

"They are competitive, but they do help each other, believe it or not," quarterbacks coach Matt LaFleur said Wednesday. "Just the other day at practice Malik made a mistake and Everett was trying to explain to him why he made that mistake. Yeah, there is a competitiveness but those guys also help each other at game time."

Golson-Tommy Rees, this is not, as coach Brian Kelly made pretty clear earlier this spring. And the frontrunner to be the Irish's starter will likely have to wait four-plus months to be officially declared the No. 1 guy.

LaFleur, the first-year Irish assistant, said he has been more focused this spring on getting everyone on the same page before drawing any comparisons between the two signal callers, be it through stats or other tangible measurements.

"Honestly, I don't think it makes a difference right now," LaFleur said of knowing a starter this early. "I think each guy, whether you're an offensive lineman, receiver, running back -- you're kind of focused on your job. And No. 1, I tell the quarterbacks, do your job. You've got to do your job before you can even worry about anyone else or any other situation. I think from an offensive standpoint, I think everybody's just focused on improving their own skills and improving each day."

Both quarterbacks have heeded that advice, stressing that their concerns have lied inward, not on what the other was doing.

"It's definitely put me in another level of capability in terms of just being comfortable within the offense," Zaire said. "I think this year and this spring specifically it's gotten better for me because I'm in there a lot more than last year."

Notes: LaFleur, a Mt. Pleasant, Mich., native, said he will recruit Michigan locally while having responsibilities on the West Coast, from the Los Angeles area up through Washington. He has Hawaii, as well. … Notre Dame was finally able to practice outside Monday and Wednesday, making conditions more ideal for the always-intriguing punt return unit. Running backs coach Tony Alford mentioned Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, Torii Hunter Jr. and Josh Atkinson as players who have gotten looks in the return game.

Bryant humbled, hungry after rookie year

March, 31, 2014
Mar 31
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The word used to describe Greg Bryant every step of the way this spring, from players and coaches alike, has been "powerful." Given a chance to finally address his status for the first time since arriving at Notre Dame last summer, Bryant chose other adjectives.

"Real hungry," the ballyhooed running back said. "It's like, I'm so hungry that I got so humble that I don't even want to talk about it."

[+] EnlargeGreg Bryant
Robin Alam/Icon SMIGreg Bryant only tallied 14 yards last season before a knee injury cut short his season.
Bryant had been doing little but talking about just that for the preceding 20 minutes or so, so he can be forgiven for his fatigue after mentioning a variation of "hungry" or "humble" 14 different times. He's hungry after sitting out the final nine games of his rookie campaign; he's humble after seeing little go right for him in those previous four games, tallying 14 yards on just three carries before being shut down for the season because of tendinitis in his right knee.

Now the former ESPN four-star recruit and No. 2 running back from the Class of 2013 is turning heads this spring, the first step toward erasing the bad taste of last season and building toward a breakout fall. He understood the attention surrounding his every move (and non-move) last season, from fan speculation on a potential transfer to questions back home about where things went wrong.

But Bryant, who admitted to reading about himself online last season -- and who is as clueless as everyone else about how such transfer rumors surfaced -- has come to rely on an improved knowledge base to no longer question himself, or concern himself with those who do.

"I went back home in the spring and they're like, 'Oh man, what happened? You're not the same player that you were before,'" the Delray Beach, Fla., native said. "And like I said, all that stuff, all of that negativity just gave me the hunger now not to go back that way and just to come and make a big impact and show people what I can do, because honestly people are sleeping on me right now, so I'm just hungry."

The 5-foot-10, 204-pound Bryant said he rounded into form on and off the field as the Irish prepared for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl last December. The knee soreness that had flared up after Week 3 at Purdue, and that had required a minor procedure finally subsided, and Bryant had better acclimated himself with the life of a college student and with the less-than-ideal weather at his new home.

Knowing he could not play against Rutgers because of his redshirt status only stoked the eagerness that he now speaks so frequently of. So, too, did watching fellow Florida-born freshman Tarean Folston make a name for himself down the stretch last season, rushing for 470 yards and three touchdowns.

The early departure of George Atkinson III has left Bryant in a healthy three-man race in the backfield, headed by senior and leading returning rusher Cam McDaniel.

"All of us are competitors," Bryant said. "If I see Tarean get the ball, get a 10-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 20-yard gain. If Cam get a 20-yard gain, I'm going to want to get a 30-yard gain. So it's like we're just so competitive amongst each other."

Bryant says he has gotten faster, adding that he has surprised even himself with the renewed "power" that everyone speaks of. He hopes to be better at catching balls out of the backfield, and he is itching to reach the end zone, saying that he can't remember going an entire year without a touchdown.

"Greg's a tough runner," McDaniel said. "He's very violent when he runs, that's for sure. I think anybody would say that. It's good for him. He's going to be explosive when he gets the ball in his hands."

Having re-adjusted to a game that had no longer come so easy to him, Bryant feels up to speed now, crediting his father, Greg Sr., a former Northern Illinois lineman, along with running backs coach Tony Alford, whom he says is like a father on campus.

As for why he was rudely awakened, and why that won't be a problem moving forward, Bryant turns to familiar terms to describe his mind set heading into his redshirt freshman season.

"It was because when I first got here, like basically Notre Dame humbled me," Bryant said. "Because when I first got here, I thought I was going to come in because Cierre [Wood] and Theo [Riddick], both of them left, [so] I thought I was going to come in and just jump right in the mix right away, but it didn't happen like that. So like my dad told me, when adversity hits you got to basically just -- I don't know, you just got to -- I'm just so hungry right now, it's crazy."

McDaniel, RBs eager to take next step

March, 13, 2014
Mar 13
9:00
AM CT
SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- The light is not just clicking on for Cam McDaniel because he's entering his senior season. No, the way the Notre Dame fan favorite sees it, those seeds have been planted for three years running now, and not just with him assuming the role of elder statesman in a crowded Irish backfield.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesNotre Dame senior tailback Cam McDaniel, who rushed for 705 yards and three touchdowns in 2013, has big goals for next season.
"To be completely honest, I have had to have that before, and leadership doesn't start when you're a senior, it starts when you're a freshman," McDaniel said. "It starts with the ability to recognize, 'Hey,' and even like the ability to jump in and follow when you need to follow and observe like, who's doing what right and who's doing what wrong, and how you can compound and build off of that going into the next year.

"And so to just I guess jump into a leadership role isn't really possible -- you've got to have the tangibles of being a leader, and I feel like that's something that I carry. And for me leadership is natural. It's stepping into a position to be a standard-bearer for the team."

While that quote is sure to tug at the heartstrings of Notre Dame Nation, McDaniel is eager to push forward a ground game that he feels could be as complete as any in the nation, as a backfield that was uneven at times in 2013 returns everyone but George Atkinson III (draft defection) and welcomes back a mobile signal-caller in Everett Golson, who rushed for 298 yards and six touchdowns in 2012.

As for his goals this season, McDaniel, the team's leading returning rusher (705 yards in 2013), delivered another gem.

"Winning a national championship, that's the end goal for this team," the Coppell, Texas, native said. "And [with] the talent that we have, I feel like we're very capable of doing that. That's our team goal, and if anybody else says anything otherwise then they shouldn't be here."

Coming just within the vicinity of that goal will likely depend in large part on the development of the sophomores behind McDaniel: Tarean Folston (470 yards) and Greg Bryant (14), a pair of former ESPN four-star prospects from Florida.

Coach Brian Kelly likes the bruising mentality of Bryant, who's looking to put behind a forgettable rookie campaign that was plagued by injury. But the fifth-year coach knows he'll need more than a single major backfield contributor this season if the Irish want to return to 2012 form.

"I think he's probably what we've always thought about him -- his workouts, top of the line in everything that he does," Kelly said of Bryant. "I know our guys don't like to tackle him. He's physical. He's got all the tools to be a premier running back, and so you add him to the mix with Cam and Tarean, we feel really fortunate to have three great running backs."

Notre Dame spring predictions: No. 4

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
8:00
AM CT
Our series predicting spring happenings continues today with No. 4.

Prediction No. 4: Folston and Bryant show promise for fall

[+] EnlargeTarean Folston
Matt Cashore/USA TODAY SportsWill Tarean Folston get more touches in Year 2 with the Fighting Irish?
There was a point during last season when it seemed like you couldn't mention the name "Greg Bryant" without immediately being peppered with questions regarding a potential transfer. He was a four-star recruit who saw action in just three games, tallying 14 rushing yards before being shut down for the season because of tendinitis, with the intent of him receiving a medical redshirt.

Tarean Folston, meanwhile, picked things up as the season progressed, finishing with 470 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries, with him carrying the ball 11 or more times for 47 or more yards in five of Notre Dame's final six games. Bryant, meanwhile, returned to practice with the team late last season, meaning there shouldn't be any rough transition period for him to return to the field this spring.

The spring should be a nice opportunity for both of these former blue-chip prospects to build on what they started in Year 1. Obviously Folston has much more to build off after a successful first season, but Bryant could definitely use a re-boot after things got off to a slow start. The talent is definitely there, as the 5-foot-10, 204-pounder was ranked by ESPN as the nation's No. 2 running back from the class of 2013.

With George Atkinson III off to the NFL, there will be more carries to go around for these two, who could team with Cam McDaniel and perhaps even Amir Carlisle to help bolster a ground game that finished just 80th nationally in 2013. Bryant and Folston can go a long way toward earning that increased workload by displaying maturity and savvy in their first spring with the program.

Position battles to watch: No. 2

February, 20, 2014
Feb 20
9:00
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Our series looking at the top position battles this spring turns its attention to the backfield.

Running backs

[+] EnlargeCam McDaniel
AP Photo/Michael ConroyCam McDaniel was a surprising leading rusher for Notre Dame in 2013.
George Atkinson III is off to try his hand at the NFL after a sub-par junior campaign in which he entered the season as the top option before falling out of favor with the coaching staff, which suspended him for the for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl.

Atkinson was second on the team in carries (93) and rushing yards (555), adding three touchdowns. Notre Dame as a whole had a down year running the ball, checking in at No. 80 nationally, at 151 yards per game. But as KC Joyner mentioned a few weeks ago, the running backs might have been better than advertised, as they avoided losses and return some experienced blockers up front. Having a mobile quarterback in the backfield will only help bolster the running attack, too.

The leading returning back is the surprising Cam McDaniel, who enters his senior year coming off a 2013 campaign that saw him tally 705 rushing yards and three touchdowns on 152 carries. Notre Dame knows what it has in McDaniel, a valuable piece to have in this relatively young backfield moving forward.

The biggest guys to keep an eye on this spring, however, are Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant. The four-star prospects came in with plenty of hype last season but only one really delivered on it, with Folston going for 470 yards and three touchdowns on 88 carries. The bulk of his production came late in the season, as he earned a heavier workload and carried the ball 11 or more times for 47 or more yards in five of the Irish's final six games.

Bryant, meanwhile, carried the ball just three times for 14 yards in three games and he was shut down for the season because of tendinitis, likely earning a medical redshirt. He is back at full health and practiced with the team late in the season, though, leaving many to wonder if he can begin to show glimpses of the potential he flashed in high school and help further the Irish ground game.

Let's not forget about Amir Carlisle, either, as the USC transfer played in every game and tallied 204 rushing yards on 47 carries. All of the backs need to become better pass-catchers to help open things up for the offense, and while none of these players lack for experience, the potential they show moving forward makes for an intriguing battle to watch unfold this spring.

ND players leaving early and replacements

January, 22, 2014
Jan 22
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For three years, Brian Kelly had success like few others in recruiting players back to school. Sure, Kyle Rudolph left after Year 1 of the Kelly era, but since then the Notre Dame coach had successfully gotten Michael Floyd, Manti Te'o, Tyler Eifert, Louis Nix and Zack Martin to come back to the Irish for their fourth (and, in Martin's case, fifth) seasons of college ball.

That changed drastically this season. With several highly projected underclassmen on their roster, the Irish figured to say goodbye to one or two underclassmen early. And even when Kelly said in late December that he had submitted paperwork to the NFL advisory board for Stephon Tuitt, Troy Niklas and George Atkinson III, few expected all three to leave school early.

Then January came along, and within one week's span, all three players declared for the draft, choosing to avoid the recent trend and skip their final seasons. Each had his reasons, so here's a look at the trio and a look at who on the Irish roster will be tasked with filling the big shoes in 2014.

(Worth noting: Nix, who had a fifth season of eligibility available to him in 2014, is not included in this group, because he graduated in December.)

Leaving: Stephon Tuitt
Replacement: Isaac Rochell
The outlook: It is worth noting that Justin Utupo will return for a fifth year and that veterans Tony Springmann (ACL, infection) and Chase Hounshell (shoulder) are expected to be back at full health next fall after both missed the 2013 season. Together, all will be counted on to replace the production of Tuitt, who was one of the best pass-rushers in school history. Still, if the Irish are looking for a youngster to step up, they will turn to Rochell, who ended up seeing much more playing time as a true freshman than initially expected this past fall, given the injury bug that affected the Irish in the trenches. ESPN's No. 139 overall player from the class of 2013 played in 11 games, recording 10 total tackles. The 6-foot-3.5, 280-pounder is a far cry from the 6-foot-6.5, 312-pound Tuitt physically, but most typically are. The bottom line is Tuitt will be the hardest of Notre Dame's early departures to replace, but Rochell will probably see his role increase the most in his sophomore season. Junior Sheldon Day, entering his second year as a starter, will be counted on even more this coming fall as well.

[+] EnlargeNotre Dame Celebration
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesCam McDaniel (33) led the Irish with 705 rushing yards in 2013.
Leaving: George Atkinson III
Replacement: Cam McDaniel, Tarean Folston, Greg Bryant
The outlook: Atkinson should be the easiest of the early departures to replace, as his playing time and production took a big dip late during this past season. He was ultimately suspended for the New Era Pinstripe Bowl for what Kelly called a violation of team rules, a violation that Atkinson later tweeted (and then deleted) consisted of him texting during a team meal. Still, the Irish have the always-reliable McDaniel back for another year, and the Coppell, Texas, native actually had more carries (152-93) and rushing yards (742-583) than Atkinson in 2013 while helping with kick-return duties as well. The most important developments to keep an eye on, though, are those of Folston and Bryant, both of whom came to Notre Dame as highly touted four-star backs expected to deliver immediate boosts. Bryant had trouble gaining playing time early and ultimately suffered a knee injury that forced him to take a medical redshirt, but Folston came on strong late in the season, finishing with 88 carries for 470 yards and three touchdowns. Things will be tougher next season with a rebuilt offensive line, and all of these backs need to improve as pass-catchers, but there remains plenty of promise in the fold. Let's not rule out redshirt junior Amir Carlisle, either.

Leaving: Troy Niklas
Replacement: Ben Koyack
The outlook: Niklas, who began his career at linebacker, played tight end at Notre Dame for just two years, coming on this past fall after the departure of Eifert, as he hauled in 32 passes for 498 yards and five touchdowns. He was improving as a blocker and was on track to become one of the best tight ends in the country next season. Now Koyack will be tasked with a bigger workload in his senior season. He, too, came on strong late last season, finishing with 10 catches for 171 yards and three touchdowns, though he often played in two-tight-end sets with Niklas and gave the Irish plenty of offensive flexibility.

Irish more optimistic about injuries

November, 5, 2013
11/05/13
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SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- Notre Dame's injury outlook Tuesday was decidedly more positive than it was Sunday.

The biggest endorsement might have come shortly before coach Brian Kelly began his news conference, with the Irish announcing that end Sheldon Day (ankle sprain) and left guard Chris Watt (PCL tear) will be available for interviews Wednesday, as sure a sign as any that they are expected to play Saturday at Pitt.

Kelly reiterated that he is optimistic about both players' chances of taking the field this weekend, as he is with nose guard Louis Nix III (knee tenditinitis/small meniscus tear), whose knee, he added, will eventually need minor surgery.

Watt has seen inflammation go down in his knee after suffering a PCL tear Oct. 26 at Air Force, with Kelly saying that a full week of practice should help him make the proper adjustments to be play to play.

An MRI on Austin Collinsworth's neck on Monday came back clean, but there are still some lingering issues that will at least keep him out of practice on Tuesday, with his status uncertain for Saturday's game against the Panthers.

Ben Councell's season-ending left knee injury, meanwhile, turned out to be an ACL tear, which he will have surgery on shortly and which could keep him limited come spring ball.

Kelly told a small group of reporters after his news conference that Nix has already undergone PRP on his hurt knee, but will need a minor procedure to clean up the tendinitis. Kelly said running back Greg Bryant had both procedures done earlier this season for his tendinitis issues.

Kelly: No alma mater after home losses

September, 29, 2013
9/29/13
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No alma mater after a loss.

That's Notre Dame's new home-game policy, instituted two years ago and cleared up Sunday by coach Brian Kelly during his teleconference, a day after some postgame confusion ensued following the Irish's 35-21 home loss to Oklahoma, with some players leaving immediately before most bee-lined toward the student section to engage in song.

The Irish's 10-game home winning streak was snapped by the Sooners so the players were not exactly versed in this exercise.

"A lot of our players were confused because they hadn't lost, a lot of them had never lost at home, and they weren't sure what to do," Kelly said. "I didn't communicate it to them clearly, what the protocol was, but we changed that protocol two years ago after a loss.

"We don't stay out on the field to sing the alma mater. We come in. And that wasn't communicated clearly. I wasn't thinking about losing a football game; it wasn't on my to-do list to go over with my team. It's a protocol we changed a couple years ago that we do not stay out on the field after the alma mater to sing after a loss."

Former Notre Dame coach Charlie Weis had started the routine in the 2006 season, his second with the Irish.

"I just don't think it's appropriate to put your players after a defeat in a situation where they're exposed," Kelly said Sunday. "I want to get them in the locker room. It's important to talk to them, and I just felt like in those situations, after a loss, there's a lot of emotions. It's important to get the team back into the locker room and get them under my guidance."

Notes: Kelly will talk to ACC officials about Ben Councell's second-half ejection Saturday for targeting. Councell, by rule, has to sit the first half this coming Saturday against Arizona State. Romeo Okwara will likely take his spot as the No. 2 Dog linebacker. … Sheldon Day "tweaked" his ankle during warmups against Oklahoma, causing Kelly to sit him after he missed last week with an ankle sprain. TJ Jones "rolled" his ankle Saturday but should be fine moving forward. … Greg Bryant did not play because of a knee injury suffered this past week. … Tommy Rees is "certainly" Notre Dame's starting quarterback, with Andrew Hendrix serving as a complementary piece. Kelly said that, barring an injury situation to either signal-caller, he'd prefer not to play freshman Malik Zaire this season.

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