C.J. Prosise out to fill Notre Dame's running back gap

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

SOUTH BEND — There can be circumstances on a football team that can render the depth chart at a specific position worthless.

All hands on deck. Press the emergency button.

Notre Dame head coach Brian Kelly pushed the button Saturday night in the win against Texas.

The running back position has unofficially been declared in a state of emergency. 

Early in preseason camp, Greg Bryant was deemed academically ineligible, and he left the university. Eight minutes into the 2015 season, Tarean Folston was lost with a torn ACL in his right knee.

Suddenly, the two big dogs are gone. 

C.J. Prosise, a former defensive back and then receiver, had been shifted to running back last spring to give the dynamic athlete an opportunity for more touches as a “specialty situation” guy and third-string player.

Once Bryant left, Prosise was elevated to a more significant backup role. He then missed a couple crucial weeks of preseason camp with a hip flexor problem, giving freshmen Josh Adams and Dexter Williams more reps.

Now, with Folston sidelined for the rest of the year, Prosise, a 6-foot-1, 220-pound senior, is the only semblance of experience at the position. He responded against the Longhorns with 98 yards on 20 carries, while leading the Irish to 214 rushing yards.

“(The offensive line) had a great push all night,” Prosise said, deflecting the accolades. “We could have done anything we wanted to do in the running game all night. That was a big reason for our win.”

It isn’t always going to be like that. Sooner or later, maybe not by Saturday at Virginia (like Texas, the Cavaliers have struggles on defense), the Irish are going to run into a team that has a focus of stopping the run.

That’s when, whatever Kelly saw in Prosise to make the move, better kick in.

“When we put (Prosise) there in the spring, I was extremely pleased with what I saw at first glance,” Kelly said. “That was the inclination to run inside and play physical.

“My experience told me that if a guy naturally, instinctively, wants to run inside, you can teach him the other things. There are other things we’ve got to teach him, some of the other things in the offense.”

“It’s kind of a mentality,” Prosise said of his physical approach. “You just have to go up there and say, ‘I’m going to try to run you over. I’m going to try to run through you.’ That’s kind of my mentality the whole day.

“(Playing running back) looks a lot different (from playing receiver); being inside the tackles. I haven’t done this (in a game). I just ran as hard as I can.

“(The Texas game) was a great chance to get out there and feel comfortable about what’s going on. The (middle) linebacker moves this way, so I move that way. I got a lot of experience like that.”

Prosise is mature enough to take a big-picture approach to the situation staring him in the face. His sudden rise up what’s left of the depth chart, which translates into a regular dose of snaps that matter, is an opportunity for him.

“(Being a veteran) helps out a lot,” Prosise said. “There were times last year when I’d (have to switch positions at receiver). (Changing positions) isn’t a new experience for me. Having to have done that before is helping me deal with it now.

“Me, Josh, Dexter, Justin Brent – we’ve got to step up. We’ve got guys in there who can really make plays and run the ball. Tarean’s going to help out however he can. He’ll be there the whole way mentoring everybody. I’ve learned a lot from Tarean. He’s still got my back.”

Especially during a state of emergency.

Notre Dame’s C.J. Prosise (20) runs the ball during the Notre Dame-Texas NCAA college football game on Saturday, Sept. 5, 2015, at Notre Dame Stadium in South Bend. (SBT Photo/ROBERT FRANKLIN)