Now or Never ’14: Amir Carlisle

Amir Carlisle - Notre Dame WR
Notre Dame Fighting Irish running back Amir Carlisle (3) carries the ball as Stanford Cardinal safety Jordan Richards (8) defends in the second quarter at Stanford Stadium. (Photo: Matt Cashore-USA TODAY Sports)

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.

Amir Carlisle - Notre Dame vs. Temple
Notre Dame running back Amir Carlisle (3) runs with the ball against the Temple Owls at Notre Dame Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

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.

Returns of Jerry Tillery, Tevon Coney Beyond Huge for Notre Dame
Amir Carlisle - Notre Dame WR
A move to wide receiver this spring could help Amir Carlisle rebound from a disappointing 2013 season . (Photo: Robin Alam / Icon SMI)

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.

2014 Outlook

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.

You may also like


  1. Bob 4 years ago

    If people are going to make broad statements, they should at least give some sort of backing to those statements. Maybe some facts or reasons you feel a certain way.

    Reply Like Dislike
    1. HJ Prendergast 4 years ago

      Broad statements are made by those with narrow minds…I agree with what you are trying to get across.

      Reply Like Dislike
  2. clubgitmo 4 years ago

    You can analyze all you want but the production has not been there. I don’t see any monumental season coming from him this year either.

    Reply Like Dislike
  3. Bob 4 years ago

    All these coaches commenting on here!

    “Kelly doesn’t know how to do this…”

    “Kelly doesn’t know how to use running backs…”

    “Kelly doesn’t get that…”

    Give me a break.

    Reply Like Dislike
  4. Jerry Seppanen 4 years ago

    Carlisle will be a key factor in the slot and returning kickoffs. BK just
    doesnt understand punt returns can be a weapon so forget that. GO IRISH!

    Reply Like Dislike
  5. martyhealy 4 years ago

    Over the past few years, there seems to be a tendency IMO that most pass routes are towards the sidelines. Perhaps those are safer routes. We have seen few plays where a receiver like a Carlisle or a Riddick catch a pass in stride somewhere other than the sidelines, make a juke and have every ND fan off their couch.

    Reply Like Dislike
  6. SteelFanBob 4 years ago

    Mmmmm can’t seem to get a word in here????

    Reply Like Dislike
  7. JackedDome 4 years ago

    Sounds like a lot of contradicting ideology…

    A. If we have a talented Offensive line then we can insert running back X and he will have a great year. IE Alabama for the last 3 years, Wisconsin for the last 10 etc etc etc.

    B. If we have great running backs they are NOT living up to potential, great means that you produce on a constant basis. Atkinson can produce when the defense is out of position, most of our backs can make something happen for a few yards in either direction from the line of scrimmage.

    C. We need a back that can break through the line of scrimmage AND make the linebackers and secondary miss. Until we have that running back in place all defenses will be looking for play pass, run pass, or option pass first. If we are basically 1 dimensional then when we run into an Alabama or SEC style defense (all offense meant USC fans) we will get stuffed accordingly.

    Have ANY of you looked at the defenses that Jerome Bettis ran through, over and around? He was by far our greatest asset and it proved to be true on the next level.

    I am tired of Lee Bectons, George Atkinsons, Theo Riddicks etc… We need a Running Back that strikes fear into the defense, then BAM! Everett Golson fakes them deep…

    Reply Like Dislike
    1. SteelFanBob 4 years ago

      Jacked up?

      Reply Like Dislike
      1. JackedDome 4 years ago

        Definitely Jacked up when it comes to ND football. Getting tired of seeing what we need only to get a compromise in another position. Trust me I know the difficulties of having all aspects working on a top tier level at the same time…we were close 2 years ago with the defense dominating until the Title game and the offense moving the ball with a few exceptions. Last year we were mediocre with both…this year can we just be improved on both sides of the ball and make things respectable?

        Like Dislike
  8. Bob 4 years ago

    Tough to use the rbs “enough” when they’ve got 8-9 stacked in the box due to limitations at the QB position. Call it an excuse. It’s a fact as well.

    Reply Like Dislike
  9. jimbasil 4 years ago

    Kelly in his first move (maybe second move) as Irish coach was to move Riddick to Slot. Though this proved helpful in learning to receive better for Riddick when he moved back to RB I can’t help but think how much more he would have done as a RB during his two seasons at slot. (a note: I said Riddick to slot was a bad decision then and I stick to it now.)

    Now Carlisle is at slot from the RB position but this move I see as a smarter move than the Riddick decision. As stated by Frank, Carlisle doesn’t have the build for cutting through a stacked line and he doesn’t have the elusiveness to break through a stacked line either – the way Riddick was able to do. So I like this move for him because of his ability make people miss in space where for some reason Riddick didn’t show that elusive quality once in the open. (I think Riddick never got accustomed to looking back for the ball and once received, he could never make that adjustment to read the open field. He was a look straight ahead type of player.)

    But most of all, I haven’t liked Kelly’s use of RB’s at ND. Like the QB position, I think Kelly has his head up his… when using the players in these positions at game time. I hope Carlisle is given a decent opportunity to succeed and not some one and done type usual move by Kelly. He certainly deserves the opportunity and he’ll have a quick QB who can make the Slot receiver a dangerous position.

    Reply Like Dislike
    1. Bob 4 years ago

      How would you have used the backs differently Jim?

      Reply Like Dislike
      1. jimbasil 4 years ago


        I would have used them.

        Like Dislike
      2. Bob 4 years ago

        Bk didn’t use Jonas Gray, Theo Riddick or Cierre Wood enough?

        I’ll have to respectfully disagree. I think he’s done a great job with the running backs with the exception of possibly abandoning the run in a fee games. Pitt to name am example.

        However I also would have to say that a lot of BKs run game benefits from a QB that can at least pose as a threat to run. When you think that there have been 2 pretty good running attacks under Kelly in 4 years, not too bad.

        Like Dislike
      3. jimbasil 4 years ago

        Well Bob, don’t be a coach.

        Like Dislike
      4. Bob 4 years ago

        Care to elaborate, Jim?

        Like Dislike
      5. Ron Burgundy 4 years ago

        Bob, the “j” is silent.

        Like Dislike
    2. kansirkid 4 years ago

      It is so easy to critize when you are not responsible for the results. What is this with you guys, who always know better after the fact? I would love To see these know it all sports writers HAVE TO COACH FOR 3 YEARS TO SEE HOW IT RELLY IS.

      Reply Like Dislike
      1. jimbasil 4 years ago

        You know champ, all last summer after Goslon was no longer going to be on campus for the season and we knew Rees was going to be the guy every football pundit out there (on UHND, Irishsportsdaily, Inside the Irish, NDN, ESPN, CBS – Lemming, and on and on) said, ND will need to use there RB’s to a fare-thee-well – running the ball would keep the Defenses honest, it would give ND the ball for longer stretches during games giving Rees the freedom from not being pressured to make something happen with his limited physical skills (seeing the D was also going to be an issue) – blah blah blah and until the very end of games, Kelly refused to use a run game – or he’d use one when he had no other place to go, he would then use his RB’s. He had Rees tossing the ball all over the field – a guy who has a weak arm, is inaccurate when rushed and someone who is extremely immobile. Also it was figured ND had a pretty darn good OLine. Use the RB’s. I looks as though the Pundits were right and Kelly was wrong.

        He was wrong with Riddick (for two seasons) he was wrong with Gray, with Robert Hughes, with Wood. As for the QB’s he misplayed AH, Rees and Crist.

        Yeah, it’s easy to “critize” when I’m not responsible for the results.

        Now, the one issue I had with Kelly coming from CI was his ability to recruit. To that, he’s done an amazing job, far better than one could have asked even if he was known as a recruiter which he was not, but then, it’s easy to “critize” knowing Kelly was known for taking not so good players and making them better as in he was known as a QB guru.

        Like Dislike
      2. George 4 years ago

        He was wrong with Wood only because he started Riddick over him their senior year. So you can’t really have it both ways there. And as far as Hughes goes, that was only one year and it seemed to me as though BK gave him a shot when the predecessor wouldn’t.

        Like Dislike
      3. jimbasil 4 years ago

        George – the point is he doesn’t use his RB’s well or at all when the talent is there both at OLine and RB. Weis didn’t use RB’s well either so it’s not as though Kelly is the only coach to blow on using RB’s. (on your point, Kelly used Hughes poorly one year or ten years, it doesn’t matter – if Kelly is such a good coach, he should know better how to use the talent he has and when it comes to QB’s and RB’s he hasn’t shown either, much ability or much desire.)

        But this is about Carlisle now. This to me was a good move, at least for Carlisle. I just wish Kelly would use his RB’s – there’s tons of talent there and at OLine.

        Like Dislike
      4. Shazamrock 4 years ago

        I thought Kelly used the trio of McDaniel, Atkinson, and Folston pretty well.

        Those 3 combined for 333 carries and 1730 yards.

        Now substitute Atkinson with Bryant in 2014 and those numbers should continue to rise.

        Or are we only talking about the running game from 2 years ago and beyond?

        Like Dislike
      5. George 4 years ago

        Kelly loves to run the ball, but it’s only successful against inferior competition. I agree he’s probably abandoned the run too early in a few games, but it’s not as if he has some sort of aversion to running the ball. For the most part, he tries to adjust to his own personnel and what the opposing defenses are giving us. You make it sound like BK flat out refuses to make an attempt at being a balanced offense, and I disagree with that.

        Like Dislike
    3. Toulmin H. Brown 4 years ago

      The Notre Dame Stadium new-turf won’t hurt Amir Carlisle at all. It adds speed and he’s already fast.

      Reply Like Dislike