Breaking down B1G West RB battles
There’s a theme among Big Ten coaches in the preseason. To be successful in the Big Ten, they say you need at least two productive backs. The days of 30-plus carries per game are over. Workhorse guys like former Big Ten superstars Melvin Gordon and David Cobb are the exception, not the rule.
That means there are more battles for carries. Here are the guys bidding for those carries in the Big Ten West.
Rodrick Williams Jr. vs. Berkley Edwards vs. Rodney Smith
There is so much work to go around in Jerry Kill’s backfield that even three guys might not be enough to put on this list. He hasn’t officially named Williams the starter, though Kill admitted he had an excellent spring and has the most experience of the bunch. Williams actually started ahead of David Cobb in 2013 but an ankle injury prevented him from regaining his job. Berkley Edwards and Rodney Smith have both impressed Kill as underclassmen and could vie for more of a secondary role than any Gopher back had next to Cobb in 2014. Assuming Williams can stay healthy, he figures to earn the majority of the touches in the Gophers’ ground-and-pound offense.
Terrell Newby vs. Imani Cross vs. Mikale Wilbon
Not only is the new feature Husker I-back following in the footsteps of one of its all-time greats in Ameer Abdullah, it has to follow Rex Burkhead and Roy Helu, all of whom are playing on Sundays. Historically, Nebraska has relied on a versatile back, one that fits Newby’s skill set. But in a new pro-style set, the Huskers could utilize a change-of-pace back more, one that fits Cross’ physical skill set. Wilbon’s scrimmage performance, however, stood out to the new coaching staff. All three candidates could find their way into the mix with a new coaching staff. Nebraska is getting away from the spread attack, which means there could be fewer running opportunities for the mobile Tommy Armstrong. Riley wants to establish more balance in Nebraska’s predominantly run-heavy attack. It would help if one of his backs emerged as the true starter by the end of camp.
Keyante Green vs. D.J. Knox vs. Markell Jones
This might be the most important area to address for Darrell Hazell’s offense. Green is the only returning rusher with game experience. But he only had 27 carries and has been held back this offseason because of weight gain. D.J. Knox was the favorite to win the job out of spring and barring something crazy, he’ll hold on to the job heading into Week 1. But Jones was Indiana’s Gatorade Player of the Year and could steal the job if he capitalizes early. Green, for the time being, doesn’t appear likely to threaten Knox for the lead role. The positive is that Purdue’s running backs will operate behind an offensive line that returns all five starters from 2014. For the Boilermakers to get full use out of that unit, they’ll need a combination of inexperienced backs that can step up immediately.