Summer Report: Gopher running backs

As the Minnesota football team moves closer to the start of fall camp, GopherDigest.com continues our position grade outs of where things are coming out of spring ball. Today, we breakdown the running back position and look at the positives and negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice while also previewing what lies ahead.

As the Minnesota football team moves closer to the start of fall camp, GopherDigest.com continues our position grade outs of where things are coming out of spring ball. Today, we breakdown the running back position and look at the positives and negatives that happened during the four weeks of spring practice while also previewing what lies ahead.

Overall spring grade: B

The good news is that Minnesota is arguably a solid three or even four deep at running back, boasting a variety of talent and skill sets that should help soften the blow of losing all-everything back David Cobb. The bad news is that after four weeks of spring practice, it's still unclear who, if anyone, will emerge from the pack and solidify himself as the clear No. 1.

Senior Rodrick Williams made as good of a case as anyone for the starting job, especially with the flashes he's showed the past few years and after dropping 20 pounds this past off-season for spring ball. However, freshman Rodney Smith made a strong case with his David Cobb like vision and patience, while sophomore Berkley Edwards is finally healthy and making a strong case to be in the mix. Add in the highly touted freshman Jeff Jones and three more true freshman running backs for this fall, and it's clear the competition has only just begun in Gophers backfield.

Spring surprise: Smith's emergence

When Minnesota opened spring ball, it was assumed that the battle at running back would consist of Williams, Edwards, Jones and Smith. About midway through the spring, though, Smith earned the public praise of his coaches and eventually began getting some reps with the first-team offense and really never looked back.

At 5 feet 11 inches, 202 pounds, Smith is more than suited physically to hold his own as a Big Ten running back, but it was his vision and patience are something that sets him a part from the rest of running backs that the Gophers have on campus. Throughout the fall last year, Gopher players and coaches were raving about Smith's abilities on the practice field and even David Cobb mentioned how if Georgia native would have started to get reps with the first-time, Cobb would be very nervous about playing time as Smith was that talented. It'll be very interesting to see how Smith continues to progress throughout the summer heading into fall camp.

Question that still needs answering: Will there be a true No. 1?

Regardless of who ends up taking the field first for Minnesota's 2015 season opener against TCU, there's a very good chance the running back position will end up being one handled by committee rather than one true feature back like Cobb. Because no one has completely separated himself from the pack yet and how diverse each back's attributes are, it might be a good bet that the Gophers could rotate three or even four players in the backfield once the season rolls around.

That's not necessarily a bad thing, either, as it would allow the position to stay fresher and healthier as the season wears on while also giving offensive coordinator Matt Limegrover a ton of options to work with not only in the running game, but with multiple-back sets as well as an expanded screen pass game.

What does the future hold at running back?

At this point, Williams looks to be the leading candidate to win the starting job, but few would argue that Smith, Edwards and maybe even Jones will all be big factors in Minnesota's offense this season. Not only will each back likely be utilized in certain situational packages, it could be common for two backs to be on the field together at times. Jones took a lot reps at wide receiver this spring, which might be one example.

Seeing how Williams is the lone senior in the group, Minnesota should be stacked at running back for years to come. The best part is how many young players are going to be making an impact at the running back position for years to come with from highly touted in-state freshman Jeff Jones to any of the three true freshman coming in this fall with Shannon Brooks, Jonathan Femi-Cole and James johannesson.

Projected depth chart:

1 - Rodrick Williams (5-11, 229), Sr.
2 - Rodney Smith (5-11, 202), RFr.
3 - Berkley Edwards (5-9, 192), RSo.
4 - Jeff Jones (6-0, 207), RFr.
5 - Shannon Brooks (6-0, 205), Fr.
-OR-
Jonathan Femi-Cole (6-0, 218), Fr.
-OR-
James Johannesson (6-0, 205), Fr.

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