Position Battle Spotlight: Running Back

The Hoosier roster will feature a crowded backfield this fall, but what inexperienced players will step up and assert themselves? Can Darius Willis stay healthy and deliver a career year? These questions will help shape what should be an interesting depth chart this fall.

The Cast

Darius Willis
Nick Turner
Matt Perez
Antonio Banks
David Blackwell
Xavier Whitaker
DeAngelo Roberts

The Leader

Darius Willis -- 6-foot, 220 pounds, Redshirt Junior

2010 Production: 4 games played, 64 carries, 278 rushing yards, 4.3 yards per carry, 4 touchdowns, longest rush: 49 yards

Strengths: powerful runner capable of breaking tackles; comfortable running between the tackles and breaking it outside in space; good burst and top end speed for his build

Weaknesses: durability; stamina

The skinny: It's hard to believe that Darius Willis enters his fourth season with the Hoosiers, because he came to Bloomington with such potential and promise and most of it remains undelivered due to frequent injuries. When he has been on the field Willis has proven himself a highly dynamic playmaker and one of the Hoosiers best big play threats. Injuries, however, have stopped him from becoming the workhorse the Hoosiers need. Even in the 13 career games Willis has saw action in IU has often had to limit his snaps due to nagging injuries and the resulting poor conditioning from lack of practice time.

Outlook: Willis sat out this spring as the new coaching staff wanted to make absolutely certain he headed into this summer and fall as healthy as he could possibly be after recovering from knee surgery. He wasn't idle during that time, though, as new strength and conditioning coach Mark Hill pushed him hard to get stronger. If he is able to build cardiac conditioning and endurance this summer and stay healthy during fall camp he will once again enter the season as the Hoosiers starter and top offensive weapon. The real question, as always with Willis, is how long he can stay on the field and if he can be there long enough to realize his amazing potential. The range of possibilities for Willis extend fully from first-team Big Ten star to hobbled non-factor.

The Contender

Nick Turner -- 6-foot, 187 pounds, Redshirt Sophomore

2010 Production: 11 games played; 157 rushing yards; 5.6 yards per carry; 1 touchdown, longest rush: 67 yards

Strengths: good quickness; great top end speed; surprising durability; special teams return threat

Weaknesses: poor blocker; lacks physicality to break tackles; not effective rushing between the tackles; non-factor in passing game

The skinny: Turner is someone that caught former Coach Bill Lynch's eye as an overachiever on the scout team in 2009 as a redshirt. His work ethic and blazing speed made him a favored "change of gears" back last season, but he still only saw 28 carries last season. He made his greatest impact on special teams where he returned 12 kicks for 253 yards.

Outlook: Perhaps no player showed more progress as an overall football player this spring than Turner. He added weight, continued to show his breakaway ability, and most importantly displayed a dogged toughness that new running back coach Deland McCullough insists upon from his players. The usual knocks—lack of size, lack of physicality, shaky blocking—will most likely keep Turner as a role player in this offense. However, his experience, sound execution of assignments, and tough-nosed attitude could see his carries increase dramatically under the right circumstances.

The Darkhorse

DeAngelo Roberts -- 5-foot-10, 180 pounds, True Freshman

2010 Production: N/A

Strengths: good vision; great speed; toughness

Weaknesses: inexperience; blocking

The skinny: Roberts physical gifts and skill set make him seem like a blend of the aforementioned Willis and Turner. He set a bevy of high school records due to an impressive combination of fast, hard running and above average field vision.

Outlook: Roberts was the ultimate workhorse at Bloomington North during his career leading many to speculate that he is a prime candidate to redshirt this season and get his legs under him so to speak. But if Roberts performs in spring camp and exceeds expectations it could be difficult for a coach like Wilson, who doesn't shy away from young talent, to sit him out this season. If Roberts does get a chance this fall he could be the closest thing the Hoosiers have to a multi-purpose back outside of Willis.

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