C.J. Prosise continues emergence as reliable threat for Irish offense


SOUTH BEND, Ind. -- C.J. Prosise emerged as the biggest revelation of Notre Dame's spring. The defensive back-turned-receiver-turned-possible-running-back flashed whenever he was granted the chance this past month. And, given that the Irish had exited last season with just two true scholarship running backs on their roster, those opportunities came in droves.

But the redshirt junior hasn't exactly come out of nowhere. And his 50-yard touchdown run in the 31-28 Music City Bowl win against LSU wasn't the only glimpse of what a versatile threat he can be. It was just the most important.

Prosise had a play of at least 20 yards in nine different games last season. He had four plays of 50 or more yards. Prosise had a 78-yard touchdown catch on the second play of a win against Navy, and, on an offense that featured 1,000-yard receiver Will Fuller, Prosise led the team in yards per catch, averaging 17.8.

He also, for the record, was a special teams ace, tallying a team-best 11 tackles on kick and punt returns in 2014.

It should come as no surprise, then, that head coach Brian Kelly capped the spring by saying Prosise is one of Notre Dame's top-11 offensive guys, and that he would find a way on the field for Prosise as much as possible.

"I think it’s my size and my speed," Prosise said of what he brings to the table. "I’m a big enough guy to be outside, tall enough to play receiver and also a big enough guy to be in the backfield running some inside plays and stuff like that."

Prosise spent most of the spring in the running backs meeting room, joining Tarean Folston and Greg Bryant as they learned from new position coach Autry Denson, who knows a thing or two about big plays at Notre Dame.

"He’s taught me so much," Prosise said of Denson, the Irish's all-time leading rusher. "In the month-and-a-half I’ve known the guy he’s taught me so much at running back and taught me everything, the fundamentals of being a running back and also how to be great.

"I mean, who else would I really want coaching me other than the best running back that played here? You walk in the room and you see him on the wall and he’s coaching you, too. You definitely want to be great. And he pushes us to be great every day."

Folston and Bryant were the ballyhooed prospects upon their 2013 arrivals to Notre Dame, a pair of four-star prospects from Florida who still generate most of the outside attention for everything they have and haven't done through two years. And Folston still is the Irish's top true back, having led the team last season with 889 rushing yards.

But Prosise, who entered Notre Dame in 2012 as a three-star prospect from Woodberry Forest (Va.), has a certain set of skills that have seemed to transcend such prep distinctions.

"When you turn on the film, you're going to look at him and go: 'He scares me,'" Kelly said.

During an open scrimmage nearly two weeks ago, Prosise took a hand-off, blew by the defense and went virtually untouched down the right side for a 70-yard touchdown run. In the Blue-Gold spring game this past Saturday, Prosise's team-best 12-carry, 64-yard performance was punctuated with a 15-yard second-half run that ended with safety Max Redfield on his back.

"C.J.'s as good a player as we've got on the offensive football team right now, in my opinion. He's versatile, he could play anywhere we put him," associate head coach for offense/receivers coach Mike Denbrock said, adding: "Every time we put him in a position where he can make a play, he pretty much goes and makes it, so that's on me and (offensive coordinator Mike) Sanford and Coach Kelly to make sure that's a possibility maybe a little bit more often."

Denbrock has said Prosise gives the Irish offense the kind of dual-threat threat it hasn't had since Theo Riddick starred in a hybrid role during his senior season, which was precipitated by two years as a pure receiver and a freshman campaign in the backfield.

All Riddick did after that switch was net 1,287 yards from scrimmage in a senior farewell that ended in the BCS title game. That was Prosise's redshirt year at Notre Dame, and he said the two still talk frequently, including during this past weekend, when the third-year Detroit Lions running back was hanging on the sidelines of his alma mater.

So far, Prosise has exceeded expectations since his switch as well.

"He has," Denbrock said. "You never know, you know what I mean? It seemed like when we handed him the ball on fly sweeps and stuff, he's got a pretty good knack. He puts his foot in the ground, or he outruns, he kind of reads it pretty well. But the thing's he's done, it just seems like it's a natural to him."