Position Preview: Running Backs

Billy previews the SMU running backs for this year in the latest Pony Stampede position preview!

Returning Players: Daniel Gresham, K.C. Nlemchi, Darius Durall and Prescott Line

Departed Players: N/A

Incoming Players: Braeden West and Xavier Jones

2014 Recap

It was a brutal year to be a running back at SMU with quarterback Matt Davis finishing as the leading rusher. Prescott Line couldn’t get anything in the power run game going with a bad offensive line. Darius Durall’s speed and shiftiness didn’t help him either. K.C. Nlemchi missed some time with off the field issues, but has the ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Daniel Gresham was out all year with an injury. This isn’t all on the running backs as playcalling and the play of the offensive line was terrible. It got better as Davis began to take more on himself late in the year, but SMU needs help upfront in a big way if the running backs are going to have any success.

2015 Outlook

With more creative playcalling, improved strength and conditioning and technique at the offensive line, there may be more holes opened for the running backs. SMU also added some serious speed in Braeden West and Xavier Jones at running back. Both need to bulk up a little bit to be ready physically for a college season, but Chad Morris’ up-tempo offense will see a solid rotation. With Line impressing this spring and Gresham back from injury, SMU does have two backs that have experience (Line) and talent (Gresham) on the roster. Nlemchi is likely to be recovering from a torn Achilles into the season, he told me this spring, but when SMU gets him back it could be a big boost.

Line will be moved around on offense from running back to H-back to even tight end. Couple Line’s power with the speed of West or Jones and SMU can put some stress on the defense with the different options – not to mention Gresham’s strength and power.

The Starters

It’s really a toss-up for me, but after watching how much SMU used Line in the spring, I’m going with Line (at top) over Gresham (above). Gresham also hasn’t been able to stay healthy. While SMU will do a good job of rotating backs, Line will be the starter. If you think about it a little harder, there will almost be a power starter and a speed starter because I believe a Line/Gresham will see the field as much as a West/Jones. Both have different roles so look to see a lot of different backs with Line starting after his impressive spring. This is after all, a power run offense at the heart of it.

The Backups

Hardly backups like I said, but the running backs will be a deep position in a way, but with a lot of unproven depth. Darius Durall could take some reps from West and Jones, but doesn’t have the great speed like they both do. Durall though does have college experience and should compete for playing time. Durall was into the offense in the spring and not pushed aside, but didn’t produce that much. Gresham is another candidate to backup here, but with his strength and power, he has to see the field if healthy. Gresham is a tough man to bring down if he gets going, something that could be deadly in the quick hitter inside handoffs SMU will likely to hurry up and run next year.

The Rest

Depending on which running back separates himself in camp, SMU could choose to redshirt one of the running backs. My pick is that Jones will be redshirted if that’s the case, but with that type of speed, it’s tough to think that’s anything close to a sure thing. It’s what I would do, but I’m not steering the ship. West and Jones might be too big of gamebreakers to keep off the field for a year. They’re far from “the rest” at this position as they’ll contribute early and often most likely, but they’re not at all the biggest question at running back. Durall, who played last year, could also see a redshirt if one of the freshmen come in and really impress.

The Unknown

Will Nlemchi make it back in time to make an impact? Nlemchi had a new attitude, work ethic and everything when he went down with an Achilles injury. It was really sickening to hear that as he battled so much to get ready for what could have been a huge year. According to Nlemchi, he won’t be back in time for the start of camp, which will set him back. Depending on his strength of the ankle, SMU could bring him back during the season, but instead could also use a medical redshirt to get him an extra year if they’d like.

RB1: Prescott Line – RS. Junior
RB2: Daniel Gresham – RS. Freshman
RB3: Braeden West – Freshman
RB4: Darius Durall - Sophomore
RB5: Xavier Jones – Freshman

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