We continue our look into spring practice by diving into the situation with the running backs heading into a very important spring season for Southern Miss.
In question one, we took a look at the WR's and the potential situation for them which will largely be determined by the crop of JuCo's coming in for spring practice.
Related Story: 10 Questions For Spring Practice, #1
The situation for the RB's seems to be more grounded, no pun intended, as the leading rusher from a year ago returns in Ito Smith. Smith's season was nothing short of spectacular as he rushed for 1,128 yards and 10 TD's. He averaged just over 6 yards a carry. Last season, Southern Miss had two rushers to go over 1,000 yards, quite a feat for a team that struggled to run the ball two years prior.
The key to the success of the running game next year depends a lot on the offensive line, which we will address later. If they can mesh quickly, Smith is poised to be potentially one of the best offensive weapons in the conference. He's ready for the bulk of the carries, and with his experience (he started his first game of his freshman season) and durability, the sky is the limit for the rising junior.
The key to the running game situation next year will be who is behind Ito and if they can maintain the level he's going to play. Last season, USM could run out three running backs, keep them fresh, and never miss a beat. With the graduation of Jalen Richard and Justice Hayes, the two- four deep guys could make the difference in Southern Miss having a good, or great, running game.
Competing for the job will be three guys that have patiently been waiting to get on the field and see action while having to sit out due to either injury or a red shirt year.
Returning is Redshirt Junior George Payne, who went down with a knee injury last season. It is a shame Payne had to go down, but with the crowded group of running backs last year, a redshirt year could really benefit him maturity wise assuming he's able to come back 100%. Payne is a big, strong back that will offer a change of pace to the shifty and explosive Smith. He should be good to go to start back in the spring, too.
Tez Parks also sat out last season and took a redshirt year. After playing with Southern Miss the year before and showing bursts of speed and an ability to take it to the house on any play, Parks will be a welcome addition to the running back core. He'll be a redshirt sophomore and will certainly compete again for carries. Parks, we are told, will be likely held out of contact in the spring and should be released by September.
In redshirt freshman Patrick Brooks, Southern Miss is adding speed, speed, and more speed. Coach Simon would tell me last year how excited he was about Patrick, and that USM fans are going to be impressed with his playmaking ability. Simon also commented at the beginning of the year about Brooks and that he would have been ready to play had they not been so loaded at the top at that position. He'll also be used to catch passes out of the backfield, as he has excellent hands and is a very good route runner.
Don't count out Delaunte Thornton, as the bowling ball type running back earned a few carries last year and proved his worth in his toughness. Though only 5'8, he was up to 210 last year and who knows where he will be after another off-season with Zac Woodfin. A hard worker and great teammate, Thornton could work his way into the rotation if others aren't ready to go out of the spring.
Southern Miss also signed Andre Hale, who won't participate in the spring but will be here in the fall. The RB out of Orlando reminds us a lot of Ito Smith with his shiftiness and also explosion ability in tight spaces.
Southern Miss also has a transfer coming in at running back from Ball State who could compete for carries in Keith Anthony.
He's already on campus and working out with the team. If Southern Miss can find a certain and consistent #2 behind Ito Smith, they'll be once again loaded and ready for big things from the running backs.