Tandem bikes aren’t really cool. However, tandem running backs are all the rage in college and professional football. Gone are the days of one bell cow that you feed all day long and stat lines of 35+ carries during a game. The game has evolved where teams at every level employ multiple backs, not only for specialization but also for insurance and to try to help ensure durability.
The Gophers are not new to having success with tandem backs, with their most successful duo coming with former Gopher greats and NFL alums Marion Barber III and Laurence Maroney. Over a dozen years since Gopher fans watched Maroney and Barber shred Big Ten foes, they hope to do the same in 2016 with a pair of sophomore backs in Rodney Smith and Shannon Brooks.
Smith, the redshirt sophomore from Mundy’s Mill High School in Jonesboro (GA), is expected to be the back-up running back but also the most versatile. It has been rumored that Smith might see time all over the field, most commonly used at running back and slot receiver. The Gophers would love to develop additional skills sets for Smith so that the duo can be on the field together as much as possible. But life in the Big Ten can be grueling on a young running back and the desire for fresh legs may keep Smith busy in the backfield as well. His running mate Brooks, runs with an aggressive style and that can results in some breathers as well as a few bumps and bruises that may require a series or two off, or even a missed game.
In his rookie season of 2015 Smith played in 12 games and ended up with seven starts. Smith finished with 157 carries for 670 yards and two scores. The 670 yards was the sixth most rushing yards for a Gopher freshman in school history. To show his versatility, Smith also contributed with 16 receptions for 124 yards.
Smith can be a dynamic runner, a change of pace back to give opponents different looks. If Brooks is having success and the defense is slowing down and Brooks needs a breather, Smith can come in and make them pay with his speed and quickness.
I look for Smith to be very active in 2016 and to call him a back-up might be a slight on the contributions he will bring to the table. I put Smith on a season of over 1,000 totals yards, with 825 yards rushing and 375 yards receiving.
Top 15 MIG Countdown
15. Isaiah Gentry
14. Cody Poock
13. Julian Huff
12. Drew Wolitarsky
11. Rodney Smith