(Note: The number listed in parenthesis is the years of eligibility remaining and the listing of a player's class is based upon the upcoming 2012 season.)
ON THE ROSTER
RUNNING BACKS DEPARTED: Jonas Gray
RUNNING BACKS RETURNING: Sr.-Cierre Wood (2), Sr.-Theo Riddick (1), Soph.-George Atkinson III (3), Soph.-Cam McDaniel (3), Jr.-Cameron Roberson (3)
POSSIBLE POSITION SWITCH: Riddick could move back to Z receiver, which is where he played in 2010 and most of 2011. Atkinson III was recruited to play WR, but remained at his more natural running back throughout the '11 season. Verbally committed recruit KeiVarae Russell is and McDaniel might be a slot receiver candidate.
COMMITTED RB RECRUITS: William Mahone (Austintown, Ohio), KeiVarae Russell (Everett, Wash.)
RB OFFERS (2011-12 IN ADDITION TO MAHONE AND RUSSELL):
Keith Marshall (Raleigh, N.C.; Georgia commit), Brian Kimbrow (Memphis, Tenn.; Vanderbilt commit), Jaylen Walton (Memphis, Tenn.; Mississippi commit), Byron Marshall (San Jose, Calif.; Oregon commit), Barry Sanders (Oklahoma City, Okla.; Stanford commit), Bri'onte Dunn (Canton, Ohio; Ohio State commit), Matt Jones (Seffner, Fla.; Florida commit), Warren Ball (Columbus, Ohio; Ohio State commit), I'Tavius Mathers (Murfreesboro, Tenn.; Mississippi commit), Wes Brown (Olney, Md.; Maryland commit), Drew Harris (Exton, Pa.; Virginia Tech commit), Dami Ayoola (Ft. Lauderdale, Fla.; Illinois commit), Chris Mangus (Raleigh, N.C.; Virginia Tech commit), Malin Jones (Naperville, Ill.; Northwestern commit).
RB TRANSFERS IN: Amir Carlisle (from USC; not eligible until 2013).
Gunner Kiel Commits To Notre Dame
Fighting Irish Positional Analysis: Quarterback
Fighting Irish Snub NFL in favor of Senior Season
JUNIOR RUNNING BACKS OFFERED (2012-13): Keith Ford (Cypress, Texas), Ryan Green (St. Petersburg, Fla.), Ty Isaac (Joliet, Ill.), David Williams (Philadelphia, Pa.)
It will take some time to get all of this sorted out because at the present time, the only two certainties at running back - provided, of course, that William Mahone signs with the Irish on Feb. 1 - are Cierre Wood and Mahone.
Wood rushed for 1,102 yards, nine touchdowns and a 5.1-yard average in 2011, and if he continues to show the kind of improvement he made from 2009 to 2010, and 2010 to 2011, he should have a dynamic senior season (with another year of eligibility available in 2013).
Mahone is a big back with nimble feet who may have to compensate early for what was lost by Jonas Gray's departure, which is a lot. Gray burst onto the scene in 2011 and rushed for 791 yards, 12 touchdowns and a 6.9-yard average before suffering a season-ending knee injury in the 11th game of the year against Boston College. Gray and Wood combined for 1,893 yards rushing and 21 touchdowns.
Theo Riddick looked like his old self at running back in the Champs Sports Bowl. But he was a Z receiver for the better part of two years, and with Michael Floyd gone, the Irish need as many experienced Ws, Xs and Zs as possible to assist Tyler Eifert and the rest of the Y gang.
Sophomore-to-be Cam McDaniel likely will stay at running back. But with so many moving parts, he just might be a candidate for a Z receiver position. Cameron Roberson is still trying to bounce back from a serious knee injury that prompted him to miss most of the spring and all of the fall while leaving his status for 2012 up in the air.
Another wild card, along with Riddick, is sophomore-to-be George Atkinson III, who was recruited as a receiver but eventually found himself in the offensive backfield for his rookie season in 2011. Brian Kelly is on record saying that Atkinson III would stay at running back and that his ball skills (re: pass-catching ability) were not quite up to the level they were looking for at receiver.
The other variable is recent verbal commitment KeiVarae Russell, a combination scatback/slot receiver who is expected to sign with Mahone three weeks from today. The futures of Riddick, Atkinson III, Russell and perhaps even McDaniel are all interconnected as the coaching staff tries to strike a balance for 2012 at its offensive skill positions.