Everyone forgets that Jeff Backes started out as a defensive back [and WR] - he has too much speed to allow him to just sit on the bench and wait for an opening. His high school coaches saw that as an early entre on to the field, and didn't really give him a shot at running back until his Junior season. He was Mr. Ohio Football his senior season, a season where he also played d-back and intercepted 7 passes.
If you think back to the recruiting process, most colleges wanted Backes to play corner [or maybe safety] but Northwestern offered him the chance to come play running back.
His first year at NU, he redshirted because there was an All Big 10 guy on the depth chart, Damien Anderson, who was backed up by another fine player, Kevin Lawrence. Two Sophomores were also listed as backs that year: present #1 Jason Wright [NU Photo-left] and #2 Noah Herron [who had redshirted the previous year].So Backes' challenge at NU always has been to try to work his way up the depth chart and pass two other very effective running backs. [During his Redshirt year, he was very effective on the scout team - even played Antwan Randle-El before the Indiana game.]
Last Fall he was still way down the depth chart, and Randy Walker decided to give him some reps at Wide Receiver - he caught a few passes, and gained some yards in an offense that had 4 different quarterbacks handle the ball. Coming into the Spring, Backes was still deep on the depth chart at running back behind Wright, Herron [NU Photo-right] , and probably fellow Soph Terrell Jordan. At 190 lbs he's still small for an "every down" tailback, so what do you do with one of the fastest guys on the team?
I think he could be a very good offensive player [Coach Randy Walker] and I still believe that, but I feel very confident in our tailback situation, with Jason Wright - he might be as versitile a tailback as I've ever coached. The things he's going to be able to give us - not only in the running game [167.8 ypg/5.6 ypc] that he showed last year, but also the things he can do in the passing game [#4 receiver]. Then Noah's [Herron - 5.5 ypc] got better and better, I've got a lot of confidence in him.[D-Back Coach Jerry Brown had hoped for 2 years, and this Spring Randy Walker suggested Cornerback...]
You then go an look at receiver, where we tried to fit him in and that might be the deepest position on the team and you couple that with what might be what we thought was a very good recruiting class at receiver, and now I don't know - I think he can compete and play, but I looked at him and I thought he could be a guy who could play every down.
We could give him work catching kicks and punts, and get his hands on the ball some but...
I want to give him a chance on defense.So far the experiment seems to be working - last Saturday he broke up a long pass play during the 11 on 11's and almost intercepted. He apparently picked Mark Philmore's pocket on pass coverage last Tuesday. Not bad for a first time cornerback and his attitude appears good.
What I challenged the defensive coaches to do is, lets give it a week or so, lets make some decisions .
[Is it a firm commitment?] Yeah, as far as that goes, its up to him, how he performs, if he takes to it well enough and all those things, but I certainly hope its something that he takes to well .
He's a great kid, great work ethic, and this game is real important to him. I think he's one of the best football players and he's trying to find a placed to fit in.
Then again if it doesn't work and he wants to come back to offense and I think he'll contribute but like I said we've got some guys at the skill positions there who are kinda what you're looking for.
Its the kind of kid he is, I'm sure he'd rather run the football, but the NFL, College, Div III are full of DB's who want to run the football.Talking with D-Back coach Jerry Brown, you get the idea that Backes is earning himself a starting slot at right corner. He's got the speed to make up for any mistakes, and he's got the instincts to run to the ball. While he's not All Big 10 at corner yet, Brown thinks Backes has the tools to play a position that Brown had hoped he'd play from the start.
As I reminded him, we're going to try to get you some touches on special teams. Feel free to intercept some and run with it then, that would be a good thing. I think he's got a chance to be a good player.
With Backes, the defensive backfield has 6 corners and 6 safeties and, according to coach Brown, 4 of the 6 fastest kids on the team. With a defense that can have as many as 5 [maybe 6] d-backs on the field, Jeff Backes' contributions in scoring may initially come from the defensive side of the field.
For what it worth, right now he's still listed on the Spring roster as a 5-9, 190 lb Wide Receiver.
Randy Walker's Comments in italics from
Saturday's Post Practice Session
Saturday's Post Practice Session
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