Preseason Preview: Running Backs

Northwestern's running back depth chart is loaded with potential, though is remains to be seen who will jump into the starting role. PurpleWildcats.com looks at the Wildcats' talented tailbacks.

Treyvon Green

When Adonis Smith announced his intentions to transfer earlier this year, most everyone neglected the defection, shrugged their shoulders and wished Smith better luck at his next destination. The belief was that Smith's departure would facilitate Green's outright wresting of the starting job.

The rising sophomore rushed for 362 yards and four touchdowns on 97 attempts in 2011, but flashed the speed, quickness and sound, well-principled running style that running backs coach Matt MacPherson preaches. His played his best game against Northwestern's weakest opponent, a downtrodden, cup-cake Eastern Illinois squad, when he registered 70 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown.

He was productive against better competition, too. In a pivotal, late-season test at Nebraska, Green averaged nearly 4 yards per carry against one of the conference's stingier, less-forgiving defenses.

All in all, Green, sparsely-used as he was, was consistently average last season. That's reasonably good news, given the fact that he was probably NU's best running back as a true freshman. There were times when Green looked overwhelmed, or confused schematically, but those moments were overshadowed by his maturity, uncanny in-between-the-tackles shiftiness and overall solid play.

Green improved as the season wore on, and with a full year of offseason workouts under his belt, that progression should continue into the fall. His workload will increase as he enters his second year, but it's highly unlikely that Green will ever become a true focal point of this high-tempo, run-averse spread attack, especially with a run-first quarterback like Colter under center.

Mike Trumpy

Trumpy was the Wildcats' No. 1 back last season before sustaining a season-ending knee injury in the second half of the Oct. 1 game at Illinois. The injury was a big blow for the offense, one that requires shrewd, experienced pass-protecting backs like Trumpy to slow down opposing pass rushers.

The Wheaton, IL, native lacks break-away speed, but runs hard, sheds tackles and rarely fails in short yardage situations. Trumpy could work alongside the speedier, quicker Green as a change of pace power back. The brunt of his workload would consist of short-yardage situations and goal line carries as well as obvious passing downs, where his pass-protection could help clear running lanes for Colter.

Of course, this is all speculation: Trumpy is not yet fully recovered from his injury, but expects to be ready for preseason camp. If he can return at full strength, the junior-to-be provides the kind of consistent production that this offense sorely lacked at his position last season. He's the type of dependable backfield stalwart that Colter would appreciate in his first year as the full-time starter.

Tyris Jones

Jones totaled 69 yards on 13 carries last season and scored his first career touchdown against Eastern Illinois. It's a small sample size, to be sure, but Jones showed enough last season and throughout spring workouts to at least throw himself in the running for short-yardage duties. Trumpy, if healthy, will be the first option in those situations, so, barring injury, there probably won't be an appreciable increase in Jones' workload this season.

Jordan Perkins

Highly recruited out of Lodi HS (CA), Perkins is a true home-run threat, a speedy, explosive back who can make plays in the open field. He hasn't been given an opportunity to showcase those talents in meaningful games yet, but he played well throughout spring practice and could work his way into the running back rotation during summer workouts.

Tim Hanrahan

Like Perkins, Hanrahan wasn't able to prove himself in an actual, meaningful game. He may see some game action this fall, whether that be on special teams or as a running back. Either way, coach Fitzgerald likes this "tough guy", so you can bet that he'll find a way to get him on the field in one way or another.

Malin Jones/Stephen Buckley

The Wildcats landed two possible future stars in their 2012 recruiting class, and both could see time as early as this fall. However, expecting true freshmen to make a significant impact, in most cases, is wishful thinking, misguided optimism or some combination therein. I could talk about how talented Buckley is or how good Jones could be, but it's not fair to expect these first-year players to join a new team, learn the playbook—all in a compressed, one-month summer practice slate, mind you—and realize their star potential right away. It just won't happen, or at least is shouldn't. In any case, either one of these highly sought-after prospects might make an impact this fall, but I woudn't expect them to supplant Trumpy or Green atop the depth chart.

Grade: B-

NU hasn't produced a 1,000-yd rusher since Tyrell Sutton accomplished the feat in 2006. It's highly unlikely that someone will break the 1,000-yd threshold this season, even if Green builds upon his impressive 2011 campaign and Trumpy's surgically-repaired knee holds up for all 12 games.

It's not so much NU's lack of talent at the position as it is McCall's prohibitive, pass-heavy, spread offense, which should feature a heavy dose of shotgun sets, quick passes and designed runs for Colter. All of which amounts to the running backs not getting the same workload as say, a Montee Ball (Wisconsin), or a Le'Veon Bell (Michigan State). Green, Trumpy and whoever works their way into the mix will play significant roles this season, but you won't find their names amongst the Big Ten's rushing leaders at seasons end.


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