Four running backs—Stephen Simmons, Arby Fields, Scott Concannon, and Alex Daniel—left the program, and only one of those departures (Simmons) was due to graduation. With those sudden departures, Northwestern had to sure up their backfield.
Thanks in part to a few big commitments and some emerging spring standouts, Pat Fitzgerald has a lot of options in the backfield. It all starts with Mike Trumpy—the incumbent starter.
Mike Trumpy had a breakout freshman season before suffering a wrist injury which held him out of the final two games. Trumpy finished with four touchdowns while averaging 4.6 yards per carry. The highlight of his season was an 80-yard touchdown run against Illinois at Wrigley Field.
After a strong season, is Mike Trumpy the automatic starter at running back?
"If we played Boston College today, he'd run out there on the first rep," Pat Fitzgerald said after the spring game. "We play a lot of guys."
Northwestern has depth in the backfield that they haven't had in a while. Despite losing four running backs in the offseason, the Wildcats still reloaded with two freshmen and return a group of solid options.
After Trumpy, the Wildcats have a list of viable options that each bring their own skill-set to the offense.
One of those options is another sophomore—the speedy Adonis Smith. He may be in line for a bigger role this season.
During the spring, a few candidates emerged as candidates for playing time this season.
One of the stars of the spring was walk-on Tyris Jones, who is likely to be Northwestern's power back this season. Jones brings a powerful 220-lb. frame, but it's his incredible drive that makes him a great power back.
The junior has never seen a carry as a Northwestern Wildcat. That is likely to change this season after Jones' strong spring.
Another running back that had a breakout spring is another walk-on, redshirt freshman Tim Hanrahan. A standout at Providence Catholic—Hanrahan sat out his first season in Evanston, but a strong spring may change things up. The 6-0, 190-lb. running back caught the eyes of the Northwestern coaches.
"Timmy Hanrahan is a little tough guy," said Pat Fitzgerald after the Northwestern spring game. "He got dinged up in the spring and he just kept battling through it."
After a very impressive spring, Hanrahan may be an emerging candidate for some carries this season.
Northwestern's lone senior at running back is Jacob Schmidt. As a junior, Schmidt missed five games due to an ankle injury suffered against Michigan State, but returned for the TicketCity Bowl. He was forced to sit out during the spring, but has since recovered from the injury.
The 5-10, 205-lb. senior has five rushing touchdowns during his three seasons, and had 14 catches last season. He has been a standout on special teams throughout his three-year career, and likely will continue to do so this season. However, he may be in line for some additional carries this season.
Fitzgerald also added two running backs in the 2011 recruiting class. The first running back commit was Treyvon Green, who committed to Northwestern in August of 2010. Green is best-suited running between the tackles, and lacks the speed on the outside.
Time will tell what type of role Green takes as a freshman, but he may be better off as a redshirt this season.
It's only fitting to mention Lodi, CA. running back Jordan Perkins last, because he committed to Northwestern just before National Signing Day, and was one of NU's last 2011 commits.
Perkins committed to Northwestern after holding a verbal commitment to Stanford for a few months. Once things were left unclear, Perkins chose to become a Wildcat in late January.
Ranked the 35th running back of the 2011 class by Scout.com, Perkins is an agile open field runner, and has breakaway speed that is hard to contain. This season, Perkins could be a candidate for some early playing time, and even could see some time on special teams as a returner.
It's clear that Northwestern has a load of options at running back. Now, it's just a matter of how does Pat Fitzgerald want to use this unit.
Northwestern is a passing team, and that won't change during this upcoming season. However, NU has some versatility at running back. Fitzgerald, Mick McCall, and running backs coach Matt MacPherson have to decide how to use this unit.
One thing that is certain is that this is a highly-skilled unit. Each player brings their own set of skills to the backfield, and could possibly make an impact this upcoming season.