NC State running backs coach Des Kitchings is certainly pleased with the way his position is shaping up this spring. The Wolfpack returns four players who received snaps at tailback in the fall, and another, Jaylen Samuels, who could play the position in a pinch, if needed.
Leading the way is senior tailback Matthew Dayes, one of the top tailbacks in the country. Dayes was on his way to becoming the Wolfpack's first 1,000-yard rusher since T.A. McLendon in 2002 when he went down in the eighth game of the season with a toe injury. He still finished third in the ACC in rushing yards per game (108.1), and he finished tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns, despite playing just 7.5 games.
"Matt Dayes is still limited," said Kitchings. "But, he is able to do some of the drills. Coming out of winter conditioning and into the spring, his upper body is defined and filling out... that was good to see."
Junior Dakwa Nichols also returns, along with sophomore Reggie Gallaspy, . Gallaspy operated as the No. 2 running back after Shadrach Thornton's dismissal, and he finished his freshman season with 316 yards (4.8 ypc) and four touchdowns. Like Dayes, he is limited this spring while he recovers from a foot injury, and sophomore Nyheim Hines is back receiving reps at the position as well. Hines averaged 5.1 yards per carry in limited snaps as a true freshman who rotated between slot receiver and tailback.
"Nyheim will have his role," said Kitchings, smiling.
The wildcard of the group is redshirt freshman Johnny Frasier. Arguably the Pack's top recruit in the 2015 recruiting class, Frasier enrolled last summer and wasn't in the best of shape, which played a role in him redshirting.
"Johnny is one kid, probably from August to this point, you've seen the biggest strides from," said Kitchings. "I'm excited to get to work with him in the spring because I wasn't able to as much in the fall with him because the season was going on, and he was with the scout team."
According to Kitchings, there was a lot of buzz about Frasier out at the practice fields, and he confidence grew as the season went on.
"It was really about probably mid-year," he said. "Johnny would come off the field and tell me I needed to check out that run. I'd watch the tape from the scout team and there he is turning the corner and running. That's what we recruited him for... he's a kid that's 230 pounds who can turn the corner and take it all the way.
"To see him do that against our defense... maybe it was discouraging for the defense during the week, but it was encouraging for me as his coach."
While Frasier has improved, he still hasn't reached his ceiling, and with Dayes and Gallaspy limited this spring he should received plenty of reps.
"He is getting there, but there's still room for improvement," Kitchings said. "If he was in this position now as opposed to last year, it would have probably been hard to keep him from playing."
What does Kitchings think of his group?
"It's a talented group," he said. "It is a group that has to play well. Obviously they also have to stay healthy and help give us a chance to get some wins."
With just one senior at the position, NC State didn't sign a running back in February. How did Kitchings approach recruiting tailbacks?
"The approach I took is you can start to look at the 17's and 18's and see what's out there," he said. "W were trying to, within the framework of the rules, recruit them like they are in the 2016 class. You're getting a headstart, and we all know there's some talented players out there in those classes."