Chris Carson is gone, Rennie Childs is gone, and Barry J. Sanders is gone. Justice Hill ran for just over 1,000 yards and earned Freshman All-American honors, but he had shoulder surgery after the bowl game to repair an injury he actually had been dealing with since high school at Tulsa's Booker T. Washington.
It's okay, because head coach Mike Gundy, offensive coordinator Mike Yurcich and new running backs coach John Wozniak know what they can expect out of Hill, and Gundy believes he will be even better with the shoulder healthy and strong. What this allows is for the Oklahoma State staff to find out some answers on some backs that are on the squad, but you need to know what they can do to help the team.
"We need to see the young backs pick up the load, and see where we go from a personnel standpoint with the loss of three senior backs," Yurcich told Go Pokes about the running backs and spring football. "We need to see who steps in and will fulfill those roles. With Justice sitting out after his shoulder procedure too, that puts a premium on those other backs. Those are big keys and those are going to be the biggest discussion in meetings. We're really going to have to see how practice goes and see who steps up at those spots."
With the three senior backs gone, Hill sitting out the spring, and exciting recruits like Canadian speedster Chuba Hubbard and Georgia standout J.D. King yet to arrive, that means that the spotlight and the reps will go to junior-to-be Jeff Carr, red-shirt freshman and very promising talent La'Darren Brown, talented walk-on Ja'Ron Wilson, and NEO A&M J.C. transfer and Coweta High School product Jakeem Johnson.
Carr is now a 5-7, 185-pound back who is stronger, still has excellent speed and quickness and has also shown he can catch the ball out of the backfield. He played in seven games last season and finished with 12 carries for 85 yards and a touchdown. He caught just one pass for four yards. I would imagine that Carr is anxious to get a chance to impress new running backs coach John Wozniak and show he is part of the solution to who will compliment Hill in the 2017 season. I've always liked Carr, but there is no doubt that he needed to get bigger and stronger to compete better at this level.
If there is anybody more anxious than Carr then it is Brown. Brown very nearly played last season and both he and Hill showed up well when given the chance in fall camp before the 2016 season. With all the seniors, only one freshman was going to be used and you have to credit the coaches for making the choice of Hill. However, we don't know what Brown would have done. He has speed and showed it in high school at DeSoto. On a packed team he carried 106 times his senior season for 801 yards and 13 touchdowns in just nine games. He is 5-9 and with the extra day of lifting that red-shirts get in the season he is now closing in on 190 pounds. Strong and quick, he is ready to take as many reps as he can get and show he deserves to be in the mix in the offense.
Ja'Ron Wilson sat out football in the fall and likely will need all the reps and drill work he can get to get back in the flow of things. He is 5-10, 185 pounds and was really productive in high school at Euless (Trinity), Texas. This will be interesting.
Johnson is a walk-on who has been very productive on the scout team and has been impressive to Gundy, who at times has complimented him to the media. He is the brother of former OSU defensive end and pro baseball player Tyler Johnson. In fact, like his brother he was also a standout baseball player. His cousin, LeShon Johnson, played in the NFL for the Green Bay Packers. This is his shot to impress because the running back situation will never be this slim and have opportunity there for the taking than it will be this spring.
That last line goes for everybody, Carr, Brown and Wilson too. Lots of reps, lots of opportunity to get a head start before speed and size move in from Canada and Georgia this summer.