Pre-spring breakdown: Running backs

Spring ball is one week from today. Our series continues with the running backs.

Starters returning: None

Players returning: George Atkinson III, Cam McDaniel, Amir Carlisle, William Mahone

Players departing: Theo Riddick, Cierre Wood

Newcomers: Greg Bryant, Tarean Folston (both enroll this summer)

The breakdown: This is likely the most interesting position battle, one that should produce some intriguing competition through the spring, fall camp and likely even into the 2013 season. Atkinson and McDaniel are the only two with experience at Notre Dame, though whether either can assume the No. 1, 15-to-20-carry-a-game role is a question mark. Atkinson carried it 51 times for 361 yards and five touchdowns in 2012, while adding two catches for 4 yards. McDaniel made the most of limited action, netting 125 yards and a score on 23 carries, adding two catches for 41 yards. Both players figure to be split to the slot as well, as that is what running backs/slot receivers coach Tony Alford looks for in a back, something Riddick provided last season. We'll see if either's kick-returning duties interfere with their action in the backfield as well. After notching two touchdowns in 2011, Atkinson averaged 20 yards on 22 kick returns in 2012, while McDaniel averaged 19.3 on seven returns.

Carlisle is one to watch as well. As a true freshman at USC in 2011, he carried the ball 19 times for 118 yards and caught seven passes for 41 yards and a touchdown. The NCAA granted him a waiver to play immediately last season, but a broken ankle suffered before spring ball ultimately forced the staff to use the redshirt option on him. Mahone also redshirted last season, his true freshman year. The 5-foot-10, 211-pound Mahone was an ESPN four-star prospect coming out of Austintown Fitch (Ohio) High School in 2012.

Then there are the summer enrollees, Bryant and Folston. Bryant, a one-time Oklahoma commit, would appear to possess all the tools necessary to become an every-down No. 1 back, but he will have a lot of ground to make up early. ESPN ranks the 5-foot-11, 197-pound American Heritage (Fla.) High School back as the nation's No. 2 prospect at the position. The 5-foot-9, 190-pound Folston is a four-star back, and ESPN's No. 66 player overall, out of Cocoa (Fla.) High School.