CN Spring Cleaning: Running Backs

The second in a series of football position progress reports on CycloneNation.com features the running backs, where Stevie Hicks, Jason Scales and Brian Thompson will try to hold off a fall onslaught of freshmen tailbacks.

Tailbacks:

Pre-Fall Depth Chart:

Stevie Hicks, 6-1, 215, R-SO
Jason Scales, 5-9, 200, FR
Brian Thompson, 5-8, 195, R-JR
David Brown, 6-0, 200, JR

Newcomers:

Greg Coleman, 6-0, 212, FR, Iowa City West HS Brandon Gunn, 5-10, 190, FR, Omaha (Neb.) Central HS Webster Patrick, 5-8, 200, FR, Spring (Texas) Westfield HS Tyease Thompson, 5-10, 180, FR, Lakeland (Fla.) George Jenkins HS

Fullbacks:

Pre-Fall Depth Chart:

Ryan Kock, 6-1, 245, R-SO
Kyle Smith, 6-3, 235, R-SO

Spring evaluation:

Hicks proved this spring that, with an improved offensive line and a clean bill of health, he can become the running back the Cyclones thought he could out of Omaha's Creighton Prep. After battling with a pair of senior backs in 2003, Hicks left no doubt this spring that he was the starter ISU will go with to start the season against Northern Iowa.

As the Cyclones return to a run-dominated attack, Hicks is also the best back in the fold to run Barney Cotton's attack, and will be able to carry 20 to 25 times a game. That durability was on display in the spring game when he rushed for 164 yards and two scores on 21 carries.

But while the job appears to be Hicks' to lose when fall training camp opens, he also knows that he can't sit on his accomplishments this spring.

Scales battled a shoulder injury late in spring ball, but still managed to improve throughout the three-and-a-half week stretch. Against the starting defense, the former West Des Moines Valley rusher netted 40 yards in the final spring scrimmage. But as with any rookie, Scales made his fair share of bad plays to go along with the good, and will need to clean up those mistakes by the fall.

Thompson was also a pleasant surprise this spring. Instead of bowing out of the tailback triumvirate, he dug in and pushed Scales throughout the spring. With the overall youth in ISU's backfield, Thompson's experience from two seasons ago should not be underestimated once coaches start preparing plans for Northern Iowa.

Cyclone fans should feel sorry for Brown, a spring newcomer who gave the reserves a nice look in the backfield. While Scales missed time with his shoulder injury and Thompson had class conflicts this spring, the walk-on transfer from East Texas Baptist College took advantage of every opportunity. However, he will likely go by the wayside when Patrick and company hit the field.

Let's hope Cotton finds a way to incorporate the fullback into this offense, because he will have two solid ones at his disposal. Kock and Smith both had solid springs, and provide the hard-nosed play that head coach Dan McCarney loves.

Fall outlook:

Even though he will be pushed for an army full of tailbacks, I look for Hicks to become the back Cyclone fans hoped he would be last season. But with the mindset of getting Hicks at least 15 to 20 carries a game, Cotton must also find a way to keep the other players in his arsenal happy.

It's hard to envision Scales redshirting this season after what he proved this spring, and Thompson will provide solid special teams play in addition to providing depth in the backfield.

The competition at tailback this spring was nothing like what it will be in training camp, when the Cyclones figure to have as many as eight tailbacks in the mix. Patrick and Thompson figure to push the returnees the most, while Coleman and Gunn could be on their way to a redshirt and position change.

One way to keep everyone happy is to go with more two-tailback formations, but that might be easier said than done because fullbacks Ryan Kock and Kyle Smith also proved their worth this spring.

Position notes:

How McCarney handles a crowded backfield will be one of the stories to watch this training camp. Perhaps the only tailback that is safe in his position is Patrick, whose world-class speed and big-play ability will immediately bolster this backfield.

However, the three others may contribute at other positions. Although he'll be given every opportunity as a tailback, Thompson caught the ball well on high school tape, and he could project as a slot receiver down the road. More of the bruising type, Coleman may shift to fullback or try his luck on the defensive side as a linebacker. Gunn has long been thought of as a college defensive back, but McCarney promised him a look at tailback and he'll get it.


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