Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Season Position Preview: Running Backs
The B1G’s 2014 season was all about three things: Ohio State’s march to a National Title, wonderfully bad commercials on the B1G Network and the abundance of talent at running back. The names are well known: David Cobb, Akeem Hunt, Ameer Abdullah, Jeremy Langford, Melvin Gordon, Justin Jackson, Ezekiel Elliott and of course, Tevin Coleman. Those are just some of the names that terrorized B1G defenses. A few of those players are back with their teams this season and looking forward to pick up where they left off. However, most of the star running backs have departed for the NFL and the teams they left behind have spent the offseason trying to develop a running game in their absence.
Our Indiana Hoosiers need to replace over 2,500 rushing yards from last season as Coleman left for the NFL and D’Angelo Roberts graduated (Myles Graham also transferred to Monmouth). The cupboard isn’t bare though as the Hoosiers brought in talented former UAB running back Jordan Howard to supplement a backfield that returns Devine Redding and redshirt freshman Tommy Mister. Walk-ons Alex Rodriguez and Ricky Brookins should also factor in after starring in spring practice.
The Starter: Jordan Howard
Jordan Howard ran for nearly 1,600 yards (7th best nationally) and earned a spot on the 2014 C-USA All-Conference team. Players like that typically don’t end up on the transfer market. However, Howard’s (and his teammate Marqui Hawkins) circumstances certainly weren’t typical. As we all know by now, UAB’s program was shut down and the players who chose to continue playing football were offered immediate eligibility to whichever program they chose to transfer to. Jordan Howard landed at IU and Kevin Wilson has commented publicly that he feels it’s a perfect match for both sides.
Howard is a 6’1”, 228 pound running back that is capable of pounding out tough yardage and consistently gaining positive yardage on his carries. He’s not as dynamic as Tevin Coleman (that’s not a knock on Howard, Coleman’s explosiveness won’t be replicated at IU for a long, long time) but he’s not a plodder and I think we’ll still see some big runs from the IU running game. A wrist injury during the spring kept Howard sidelined and he remains a mystery to IU fans. He has appeared in great shape during fall practice and I think his talent and proven production will see him get the most carries for this IU team. The excellent offensive line he’ll be running behind will give him an opportunity to continue to put up the kind of big numbers we saw from him while at UAB.
RB2: Devine Redding
Jordan Howard figures to be the starter and see the bulk of the carries. However, there’s plenty of room in IU’s offense for Redding to see something around 10 carries a game (remember, Roberts had 107 carries last season). Devine Redding, a sophomore that ran the ball well in limited action last season, is in-line to land the role of primary back-up. He’s powerful, has game experience, stepped up as a leader for the running backs during the offseason and could be a valuable member of this offseason. One area to look for Redding to have more of an impact than we saw last season is in the passing game as a pass-catcher out of the backfield. Redding could be used as a safety valve for Sudfeld, particularly if the Hoosiers are splitting a tight end out wide in the slot. He needs to show a bit more burst than we saw last year in order to bust through the first line and turn 3-4 yard gains into 10-15 yard gains but Redding appears to be in line for a nice sophomore campaign.
The RB3 Candidates: Tommy Mister, Ricky Brookins, Alex Rodriguez
It may seem a bit trivial to spend much time focusing on who the third running back will be. Don’t dismiss this spot though, IU is probably going to run the ball quite a bit and there will be a handful of carries available for whoever emerges as the best of this trio.
The first candidate is Tommy Mister. Mister, 6-foot, 208 pound redshirt freshman that held offers from programs like Notre Dame and Wisconsin is a player the coaches were excited about before his freshman season came to an early end with a knee injury in fall camp. Mister is similar in build to Tevin Coleman and he’s from Chicago so comparisons between the two are inevitable. He is an explosive runner that appeared healthy during recent practices. If he is healthy, Mister has a very high ceiling and he could earn some playing time.
Ricky Brookins (redshirt freshman) walked onto the squad last fall after leading the state of Indiana in rushing as a senior (2,012 yards). When his career at Terre Haute North High School came to a close, he held six school records. Alex Rodriguez is a powerful back from Indianapolis’ Lawrence Central High School that walked on last fall and redshirted. He is 5’10” and 225 pounds and has been described by Kevin Wilson as “a load, he’s very, very strong, very, very explosive.” I think Mister (if healthy) is the favorite to get the carries as the third back but it is clear that the coaches really like both Brookins and Rodriguez and, if spring ball is any indication, they are both very capable of producing when given the chance. No matter how this situation plays out, these three are going to see the field, either as a running back or on special teams.
Tevin Coleman is gone and he is impossible to replace but the IU running game should still be a strength. There are some question marks at running back but the Hoosiers have five guys they like and an offensive line that is one of the best in the conference.