Written By T.J. Inman (@TJHoosierHuddle)
Spring 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. David Cobb, Akeem Hunt, Ameer Abdullah, Jeremy Langford, Melvin Gordon, Justin Jackson, Ezekiel Elliott and of course, Tevin Coleman, are just some of the names that terrorized B1G defenses. Many of them have moved on and a lot of teams are spending their Spring practices attempting to find guys to fill big holes in the backfield.
The 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 and freshman DeVonte Williams to supplement a backfield that returned Devine Redding and Tommy Mister. Here’s what we are looking for from each of the Hoosiers running backs as Spring practice kicks off in Bloomington.
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. This Spring is important for Jordan Howard to cement his place as the starting running back at IU (a position we’ve assumed is his since the moment he transferred). It’s important for him to get a feel for running behind his new offensive line and taking handoffs from his new QB. It’s also important for the coaching staff to be able to evaluate exactly what his strengths are and what needs further developing to maximize the fit in this offense.
The Rotation: Devine Redding and Tommy Mister
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 one (or both) of these guys to see 5-10 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 probably the odds-on favorite to land the role of primary back-up. He’s powerful and has game experience. Tommy Mister is not to be dismissed though. Mister held offers from programs like Notre Dame and Wisconsin and the coaches were excited about his ability 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.
So, what do we want to see from these guys? I’d like to see Redding showcase a little bit more burst and I’d love to see him be a viable receiving option out of the backfield. If Redding could be an option on dump downs and screen passes and be a competent blocker, he’ll be a valuable member of this offense in 2015. For Mister, the first thing I want to see is health. Coming off of a knee injury successfully is common today but it’s still no small deal. Assuming he’s healthy, I’m intrigued to see how accurate those comparisons to Tevin Coleman’s running style are (remember, the comparisons would be to Coleman as a freshman…not to the super-human we saw last season). Can Mister provide an explosive option to the battering ram of Howard? My prediction is that he will have at least two or three big runs during the 2015 season that shows us that he could quite special in the future. If he can’t provide an explosive, change of pace option, look for true freshman DeVonte Williams to be given a chance to provide it when he arrives on campus in August. “The Matrix” is only 5’9”/170 and I think he could play a role on special teams this season and two creative minds like Kevin Wilson and Kevin Johns will probably find some unique ways to get him involved on offense.