IU Position Rank #4 - Running Back

HoosierNation.com continues its position-by-position ranking of the 2006 Hoosiers with the team's fourth-strongest position - running back. Indiana lost a pair of seniors a year ago, but return a handful of talented youngsters, including Demetrius McCray (pictured).

Bloomington, Ind. – Terry Hoeppner knows what he has coming back at tailback this fall.

Little to no experience.

In Marcus Thigpen, Demetrius McCray, Justin Carrington and Bryan Payton, Hoeppner has a quartet of tailbacks who have never lined up behind quarterback Blake Powers in the offensive backfield. McCray, Carrington and Payton are all redshirt freshmen, while Thigpen is a sophomore who started at wide receiver a season ago. The other option is junior Josiah Sears, a converted fullback whose been used on occasion in goal line situations.

One might think that would be reason for reservation, but Hoeppner feels good about what he has at the position, and what they can do this fall.

"It's a very talented group that we've redshirted," Hoeppner said. "It's an inexperienced position, but I've always thought that's a talent position you can play early on."

Unlike along the offensive line or at quarterback, Hoeppner thinks tailback is a spot where physical tools are much more important than time spent on the job. While learning blocking schemes is probably the toughest adjustment for a young tailback, when he gets the ball in his hands it's more about what they can do in the open field.

"We're going to hand them the football and tell them not to get tackled," Hoeppner said. "If they can do that, that's good for us."

So who will be the best at that? Indications are Thigpen and McCray head into camp battling for the No. 1 job. Thigpen, who played tailback in high school at Detroit's Mumford H.S., appeared ever-so-slightly ahead of McCray by the time spring practice came to a close.

Thigpen's greatest attribute is his speed. That's one of the big reasons why he was originally moved to wide receiver when he first arrived on the IU camp two years ago, with the thought that he could provide a deep threat to the IU passing attack. While he did catch 32 passes for 432 yards and a pair of touchdowns in a starting role a season ago, the team's depth at the position prompted a move back to tailback for Thigpen.

IU Assistant Head Coach Bill Lynch thinks the switch will provide more opportunities for big plays form the 5-8, 182-pound Thigpen.

"He's a guy you try to get the ball in his hands because he can make things happen," Lynch said. "It's easier to somewhat guarantee getting the ball in his hands at tailback more so than at wideout because as a wideout you can't control the coverage or what they're doing on the other side."

If Thigpen provides speed, McCray counters with elusiveness. A top-50 player out of Florida two years ago, the 5-11, 189-pound McCray was the team's "Offensive Scout Player of the Year" last season for his work in practice. He will make tacklers miss in the backfield and will be difficult for defenders to wrap up in one-on-one situations.

"He has a great future," Lynch said.

So who will emerge as the starter? It's a toss-up at this point, although odds are that both will see plenty of action this season. Either would be hard pressed to handle 20-25 carries considering both are in the sub-200 pound range. Hoeppner also opted to rotate tailbacks a year ago, using both Chris Taylor and Yamar Washington at length throughout the season.

While McCray and Thigpen are the frontrunners, Carrington and Payton did enough in the spring to warrant a long look this fall as well. A native of Ft. Wayne, Payton ran for a team-best 51 yards on nine carries in the spring game and drew rave reviews from Hoeppner afterwards. Carrington, meanwhile, is easily the biggest of the bunch at 6-0, 204 pounds and might get a look as a goal line possibility. He's also solid catching the ball out of the backfield, evidenced by his five receptions in April's Cream and Crimson contest.

It might be a group that's limited in experience, but Hoeppner is convinced it's also a group that has limitless possibilities.

"We're coaching young guys," Hoeppner said. "But it's a very talented group."

  • Position Rank #1 - Wide Receiver (8/3)
  • Position Rank #2 - Quarterback (8/4)
  • Position Rank #3 - Secondary (8/6)
  • Position Rank #4 – Running Back (8/7)

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