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August 26, 2010
If "next man in" is the backbone of Brian Kelly's philosophy when it comes to his ever-fluctuating depth chart, at least running back Cierre Wood knows he's just that.
During his Tuesday press conference Kelly proclaimed Wood had risen from red-shirt freshman without a down of game day experience behind Armando Allen, Robert Hughes and Jonas Gray to the solid No. 2 behind Allen, who many presumed would hold onto the starter's role.
Not a bad move up the depth chart for a guy nobody's seen play in a real game since Santa Clara High School back in California.
"It's real exciting," Wood said. "It's the difference between stepping on the field knowing you're not playing and stepping on the field and like, 'Gosh, in a couple hours I'm about to be playing.'
"I'm real excited. I just hope I don't faint back there. I think I'll handle it pretty well."
So do his coaches.
Throughout camp running backs coach Tim Hinton has seen a player picking up the offense quickly - fast enough to pass veterans on his way up the depth chart - while also learning to stay on an even keel while going through some ups and downs.
Rather than bury his head in the sand, Wood has bounced back and, for lack of a better way of putting it, allowed himself to be coached by a new staff.
"The bottom line is he's a young man that's really taken coaching," Hinton said. "He's trying to get better every day. He is what coach (Kelly) talks about all the time: You can't have thin skin and play for Notre Dame. And he's really taken that part of it. He's not thin skinned about trying to develop.
"He's getting pushed and demanded and he's accepting it. He's studied. He's asked great questions. He's taken good notes. All the things you'd look for on the non-verbal side of it, the non-field side of it. When that part starts being in order the rest of it's gonna take care of itself.
That's not to say Wood hasn't shown the productivity necessary to hang onto his elevated position.
Along with carrying the ball, and securing it, he's picked up on some of the nuances of playing running back in Kelly's up-tempo, spread attack. For starters that means knowing pass protection and catching the ball at a high level.
"The guys you have at Notre Dame, they're recruited because they know what to do with the ball," Hinton said. "The things we're trying to really improve on on a daily basis is what do you do without the ball? We're getting better at doing that without the ball."
Needless to say, pass protection won't make fans rise to their feet at Notre Dame Stadium on Saturdays.
So, what is it they will see from the running back now slated to be the next man in?
"I just wanna show them ain't nothing changed," Wood said. "I've still got it. It's just that much better because it is college."