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Breaking down how running back fits in with the Hokies this season

Running back and even fullback featured in prominently under coach Frank Beamer. But how will the position work under Justin Fuente?

We're almost one week into fall camp. So we’ve got to squeeze in one last summer question before all this stuff starts getting answered. We’ve talked about the wide receivers (or lack of), Ken Ekanem (going to need a big season there guy), top backups (be ready Huelskamp!) and injuries (be ready Huelskamp!). 

Now, let’s talk about running backs. It's the bread-and-butter of any football offense. Every coach would love to have a good running game. Even Mike Leach will take a guy who can get him over 100 yards on the ground. 

The Hokies have one of those guys in Travon McMillian. He finished with 1,043 yards in just seven starts. He topped 100 yards three times and was pretty darn close three other times (98 versus Furman, 96 versus NC State, 99 versus Miami) and just darn close three more times (80 versus UNC, 81 versus UVA, 82 versus Tulsa). 

However, there is a little bit of a question here of how he fits into a Justin Fuente offense. He didn’t have a huge role in the spring, certainly the kind of role you would expect for a 1,000-yard rusher back for year two. But Fuente was encouraged by his work over the summer, so perhaps it was just a matter of staying healthy.

Fuente did use a bunch of running backs at Memphis. He had four guys not named Paxton Lynch rush for more than 300 yards last season. The leader, Doroland Dorceus, got about two times as many carries as everyone else and rushed for just over 600 yards. 

I don’t expect that to be the case in 2016. 

McMillian's Role

I fully expect this to be the McMillian and Rogers show, as both have proven themselves to be talented, versatile playmakers. McMillian has a little game catching passes out of the backfield (12 last season), but certainly not at the level of Rogers. Combined, I think they bring a potent combination of running/receiving/blocking that will make it hard to put, say, DeShawn McClease on the field. 

McClease is a good talent and has a bright future, in my opinion, but McMillian and Rogers are too valuable to both come off the field. 

Marshawn Williams and Shai McKenzie are certainly the wild cards here. They were destined for exceptional careers after both scored a touchdown at Ohio State two seasons ago as true freshmen, but knee troubles (and other issues for McKenzie) had other plans. They are back now, but it’s going to be interesting to see what kind of ability they have left after multiple knee surgeries.

If either one of them is back to full-strength, that’s a nice added boost for the running back depth chart, but McMillian and Rogers should still garner most of the reps. 

Going Forward

Given Virginia Tech’s lack of depth at wide receiver, I imagine you’ll see both of them on the field quite often in 2016, with Rogers splitting out wide, lining up just off the offensive tackle, or becoming a de facto slot receiver where he’ll try and put a quick move on a defender like the one he put on that Ohio State kid in space last season.   

But given the inexperience of a McClease or even D.J. Reid and the injury uncertainty with Williams and McKenzie, it’s difficult to see a rotation that goes much deeper than the top two. 

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