Sharing the Wealth

Expect Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson to split time at running back this season -- and look for them to be on the field together, too.

RANTOUL, Ill. - It's said that an offense that has two quarterbacks doesn't really have one.

That may be so, but that kind of thinking doesn't apply at the running back position, where Illinois has two players that could both be starters.

In Donovonn Young and Josh Ferguson, offensive coordinator Bill Cubit has two backs with contrasting styles that will both figure prominently into the game plan.

Both have spent time with the No. 1 offense. Both have also spent time on the field together, in a shotgun formation that includes both Young and Ferguson in the backfield with the quarterback.

"It gives us two skill guys back there that can go catch the ball," Cubit said of the formation. "It gives us some run game with two backs and the other thing is it causes personnel problems because if we have two of them back there we can always move one of them and get in a four-wide situation."

Young led the team in rushing a year ago, gaining 571 yards and scoring four total touchdowns. He also led the team with 38 receptions.

Ferguson battled injuries in 2012, still showing his versatility by catching 29 passes for 251 yards and rushing for 321 yards on 75 carries.

With both healthy in training camp, Cubit had the idea to put both on the field together. He's commonly stated that positions are more of a frame of mind rather than a restraint for getting the best playmakers on the field.

"I think a defense is going to look at it and say 'what is that?' Most of the time with personnel groupings, when you send them in the defense can almost predict what formation you're going to be in," Cubit said. "We never want to be in that."

The concept appeals to both Young and Ferguson, as both are trying to make their mark in their third year on campus. Young is up to 221 pounds and appears to be the more natural north-south runner. At 5-foot-10, 185-pounds, Ferguson is shiftier and more apt to run sweeps or plays designed to get into spaces on the perimeter.

Young says the duo compliments each other well, but that they're both more than one-dimensional backs.

"Josh is a speed back, I'm a power back," he said. "We both got a little bit of both though, I believe that. When I get tired the defense doesn't get a rest because we've got a beast in the backfield when I'm in there and when I'm not."

Said Ferguson of his role in the offense: "For me personally, I'm playing a little bit of receiver so that's fun. It's awesome. It's been great… We're completely different backs. He's a bruiser and I'm a speed back, so it works."

What helps make it work is the relationship Young and Ferguson share. Usually Young is the first to congratulate Ferguson in practice after a big run and vice versa.

"I'll tell you, they're two good kids," Cubit said. "They pull for each other. It's not an animosity thing. It's whatever we can get done. Maybe Ferguson is a little better pass receiver than maybe D is, so we just utilize their talents."

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