Running backs: Fierce Competition

In this PurpleWildcats post-spring position breakdown, Steven Goldstein discusses the crowded core of running backs.

What they're saying

"I kind of felt like a doorman at a restaurant with how many guys were going in and out, which is good. It talks to our depth...Now I'm being asked if I have too many."" - Pat Fitzgerald

Progress report

The running backs were without a doubt one of the strongest units for Northwestern this spring. While the offensive line toyed around with personnel up front, Venric Mark showed no signs of regressing from his monster 2012. He reached the second level throughout spring and busted an impressive touchdown in one of the Wildcats' first practices. Mark's speed still looks great, and he was deployed to the shotgun–and of course, the option–in a number of scrimmage sets.

What stood out even more, however, was the sudden emergence of Stephen Buckley and Malin Jones. Both were used heavily in the screen game and look to be nice compliments to Mark this season. Mike Trumpy, as usual, pushed piles and Treyvon Green looked scrappy in the final few practices of the session.

While Northwestern dedicated a lot of scrimmage time to working on shotgun passing plays, the running backs were kept busy this spring with tackle-to-tackle runs. As Kain Colter and even Trevor Siemian spent time working the option, the running game didn't seem to miss a step.

What we're saying

This could be the Cats' strongest unit. Mark should be involved in the offense even more this year after breaking out, but it's important to note that he only had 104 receiving yards last fall. Buckley and Jones should remedy Northwestern's lack of a screen game, which makes the offense all the more dangerous.

With Northwestern's speed on the edge and lack of proven guards, expect the Wildcats to continue attacking the outside on pitches and tackle-to-tackle handoffs.

The Cats often aren't trying to outmuscle anyone. Speed is their game, and the revolving backfield that Fitz alluded to after the spring scrimmage will be built around shuffling in fresh feet and changing paces throughout each drive. Despite Mark's talent, Buckley and Jones will still nuzzle their way into the lineup at times.

Without a clear-cut No. 1 receiver, Northwestern will live and die by the run, at least to start the season. But there's certainly nothing wrong with that: Mark's 6.0 yards per carry last year was a career low.

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