Spring Practice Position Battle: Running Back

 Jordan Howard rushes for a touchdown  against MArshall Last Fall. Howard trasnferred to Indiana after UAB closed the doors on its football program after the 2014 season. -  Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

 Jordan Howard rushes for a touchdown  against MArshall Last Fall. Howard trasnferred to Indiana after UAB closed the doors on its football program after the 2014 season. -  Mandatory Credit: Shanna Lockwood-USA TODAY Sports

Written By: Nick Holmes (@HoosierHolmes)

In part three of our "Spring Practice" previews, we take a look at a position that has seen a considerable amount of turnover during the off-season due to graduation, transfers, and players opting to go pro. With only four weeks left until spring practice let's take a look at the running back position.

The Departed

Gone is Heisman candidate and consensus All-American Tevin Coleman. The talented Indiana running back announced on December 29th that he would be forgoing his final year in college after a junior season that saw him rush for a school record 2,036 yards, despite the team having little that resembled a consistent passing attack. As if his efforts were not impressive enough, Coleman announced last week at the NFL Combine that he ran for more than half of the season with a broken toe.

In addition to Coleman, the Hoosiers will need to replace senior backup D’Angelo Roberts. The Bloomington native provided a spark off the bench, coming up huge in some of the season’s most critical moments. Most notably, scoring the go-ahead touchdown in the team’s upset victory over Missouri and setting up the team’s final score with some tough running in their come from behind win over instate rival Purdue.

The offseason also saw the departure of running back Myles Graham, who opted to transfer to Monmouth University in hopes of finding more playing time. The bigger-bodied back played sparingly for the Hoosiers in 2014, carrying the ball 14 times for 81 yards and a touchdown.

RUSHINGRECEIVING
2014 SEASONATTYDSAVGLNGTDRECYDSAVGLNGTD
Tevin Coleman27020367.59015251415.6440
D'Angelo Roberts1074934.64769596.6150
Myles Graham14815.8151000.000

The Contenders

Enter University Alabama-Birmingham transfer Jordan Howard. When news broke that the UAB program would be shutting down the Indiana coaching staff did not hesitate to reach out to the talented running back.As our season ended, we thought it was likely Tevin Coleman was headed to the NFL," Indiana head coach Kevin Wilson said in a release. "Jordan instantly became our top target. What happened at UAB is unfortunate for Jordan, his teammates and everyone involved with the program, but this is a perfect match for both sides.”

While Howard may not be quite the homerun threat that Coleman was, the physical runner possesses the type of size, 6-foot 1, 228 pounds and strength to churn out the tough yards when they are needed most. Another feather in Howard’s cap is that he has already proven to be a productive runner at the FBS level. He rushed for 1,587 yards in 2014, which was good for seventh best nationally at the end of the regular season and ranked 14th best after being passed by players participating in the postseason. As result of his efforts, Howard was named to the 2014 C-USA All-Conference team.

Sophomore-to-be Devine Redding played well in limited action in 2014, rushing for 118 yards and a touchdown on 29 carries. His best performance of the season came against Missouri, carrying the ball 10 times for 49 yards. His tough running help setup a game tying field goal at the end of the first half. Going into 2015, Redding should have an inside track over the Hoosiers’ other options not named Howard, due to his game experience and familiarity with the Hoosiers offense. While Redding only caught one pass last season, look for him to become more of a threat out of the backfield on third down. At 5-foot 10, 202 pounds, he also possesses good size to step in and take on a heavier workload in 2015.

Another viable option at running back is redshirt freshman Tommy Mister. His running style and size 6-foot, 208 pounds, has led to comparisons to Coleman. However, Mister is a bit of an unknown to those outside of the program as he has yet to take a snap at the collegiate level. His freshman season was brought to a screeching halt before it hardly began, suffering a season ending knee injury during the first week of summer camp. The Chicago native was heavily-recruited out of high school, holding offers from Illinois, Michigan State, Notre Dame, and Wisconsin, among many others. As long as Mister has fully recovered and has picked up the nuances of the position, expect him to be in the fold at running back this spring.

RUSHINGRECEIVING
2014 SEASONATTYDSAVGLNGTDRECYDSAVGLNGTD
Jordan Howard30615875.255139728.0221
Devine Redding291184.116111414.0140
Tommy MisterNo Statistics - Redshirt Year

While class of 2015 signee DeVonte Williams won't make it to Bloomington until the summer, he's another name to keep an eye on going into next season. The Maryland native is an explosive, multi-purpose athlete that is extremely dangerous in space and a threat to take it the distance every time he touches the ball. While he doesn't quite possess the size of a traditional between the tackles tailback, 5-foot 9, 170-pounds, it will be interesting to see how the coaching staff plans to utilize him when his number is called.

Predictions

Coach Wilson and his staff are tasked with replacing over 2,600 rushing yards, although, the Hoosiers are hopeful they won't need to lean on the ground game as heavily as they did in 2014. With the return of senior quarterback Nate Sudfeld from injury, a group of young receivers coming back for year two, and the addition of a talented 2014 class, the Hoosiers should once again possess a potent passing attack.

When Sudfeld does hand the ball off, look for Howard to get a lion's share of the carries. While Redding and Mister should get ample opportunity to showcase their abilities, Howard possesses that traditional Big Ten size that is good for gaining those tough yards on those cold Autumn afternoons. Nevertheless, it looks like the Hoosiers will once again have a strong stable of backs at their disposal.