We continue our series of players facing now or never type seasons in 2014 for Notre Dame with a move over to the offensive side of the ball where he look at former USC transfer Amir Carlisle after looking at defensive end Ishaq Williams on Sunday.
A year ago his first carry in a Notre Dame uniform on the very first offensive play of the season went for 45 yards. His next 46 carries over the rest of the season combined for just 159 yards or a meager 3.5 yards per carry average. This spring Carlisle moved over to the slot with a crowded backfield forming. Will the move allow the senior to turn his talent into more production this fall?
Notre Dame was locked into a heated battle for the services of Amir Carlisle leading up to Signing Day 2011, but was unable to overcome USC’s proximity to home advantage for the California native. Rivals ranked Carlisle as a Top 100 recruit in 2011 and the elusive running back made a lot of waves in the summer leading up to his freshman season for USC. Injuries would end up derailing his rookie campaign though limiting him to just 118 yards on 19 carries and 7 catches for 41 yards.
Following Carlisle’s freshman season his family moved to Indiana with his father accepting a position in the Purdue University Athletics Department prompting a transfer with Carlisle wanting to be closer to his family. Not only did Notre Dame end up landing a player they coveted just a year before, but Carlisle applied for a hardship waiver from the NCAA that was granted.
Unfortunately for Carlisle and Notre Dame, injuries again derailed Carlisle in 2012 and he ended up redshirting in his first season as a member of the Fighting Irish anyway. Injuries would again cost Carlisle playing time the following spring after drawing some high praise from the media and coaching staff very early on in the spring of 2013.
Finally healthy, 2013 was primed to be a big season for Carlisle who hadn’t played regularly in almost two years at that point. After that huge gain on the first offensive play of the season though, Carlisle struggled to find much success carrying the ball out of the backfield and experienced difficulties catching the football as well all of which contributed to a disappointing junior campaign and prompted a position move this spring.
Reasons for Optimism
Talent has never been a problem for Carlisle. The speedy former running back has impressed many practice observers over the last two years with his ability to make plays in space whenever given the chance. When he finally got a chance to showcase those skills in game action last year though, he struggled to find ways to showcase those talents.
Part of the reason for Carlisle’s struggles were due to the fact that he is the type of player who is dangerous in space and more times than not, opposing defenses crowded the line of scrimmage and forced Notre Dame to try and beat them deep given the physical limitations of 2013 starting quarterback Tommy Rees. An early season fumble against Purdue that nearly proved deadly for Notre Dame also seemed to hurt Carlisle’s confidence as well as his coaches confidence in him.
With Everett Golson at quarterback in what figures to be a much more wide open, spread out offensive attack and the move to the slot, Carlisle stands to find himself in many more situations where he is given the ball in open space with the chance to utilize his playmaking abilities. His past experience as a running back should also make him a weapon for some carries from the slot position which should also allow him to reach the perimeter of the defense and get out in the open field.
Carlisle performed very well in the spring in his new role. He only caught one pass in the Blue Gold Game in April, but it did result in a touchdown. We’ve heard great practices about Carlisle in the past that haven’t lead to greater production on the field.
Reason for Doubt
Even if Carlisle is able to continue to display the steady hands that we saw out of him in the spring, he is going to have a fight on his hands for playing time at the slot position. Sophomore Torii Hunter Jr is back from his nasty leg injury that he suffered as a high school senior and rising junior CJ Prosise was one of the most impressive players in the Blue Gold Game back in April. Both will be looking to stake their claim to the same slot receiver position that Carlisle is looking to lock down in fall camp.
There is also the case of past running backs that have been moved to the slot during the Brian Kelly era that do not bode too well for Carlisle’s success in 2014. Notre Dame moved Theo Riddick to the slot in 2010 and 2011 before eventually moving him back to running back where he thrived as a senior after two inconsistent seasons trying to man the slot in Notre Dame’s offense.
In two full seasons of college football between USC and Notre Dame, Carlisle has hauled in only 14 passes for 71 yards combined.
Carlisle will have a battle on his hands from Prosise and Hunter for the slot receiver position. Freshman Justin Brent could potentially throw his name in the mix at the slot as well given how physically advanced he currently is for a true freshman so projecting Carlisle’s 2014 season is pretty much a crapshot at this point. That said, I still think we are going to see more big plays from Carlisle this year than last.
Notre Dame’s offense just hasn’t had many players who can make plays in space. Players who can take a quick pass and turn it into a big play. TJ Jones did some of that last year but in general that element of the Notre Dame offense has been lacking during the previous four seasons under Brian Kelly. It’s that reason that something tells me Carlisle will be given every opportunity to be that player.
While Prosise was impressive in the spring, he is still more of a big, physical option as opposed to a speedy, playmaker. Hunter, despite having a very bright future will likely take some readjusting to playing again after sitting out a season. They will both push Carlisle in the fall, but I think we will see Carlisle emerge as the top option for Notre Dame out of the slot position.
Because of the overall number of options in the Notre Dame offense in 2014, it would be surprising if Carlisle had a huge, monster type of season, but if he seizes the opportunity in front of him, there will be a few games this year where Carlisle plays a prominent role in the Irish offensive game plan and stands out from the pack.
If Carlisle is unable to hold off the competition at the slot position though, the narrative about Carlisle won’t center around whether or not he can make an impact in the offense and instead will debate whether or not he will be given the opportunity for a 5th year in 2015.